Rapper KRS-One once coined the phrase “Reality ain’t always the truth” on R.E.A.L.I.T.Y. The reality of Black people's existence in America is as the eternal scapegoat for all her sins. Prior to winning his first election to become the first President of the United States of African descent, Barack Obama was quoted as saying America was at the precipice of a post-racial age in which race and ethnicity were no longer the divisive issue that it had proven to be throughout most of our country’s history.
Those words are have now proven to be inconsistent compared to the reality in which we live. Race is at the forefront of the national discussion, in part, because there is a Black man in the White House. Because the man most believe is among the most powerful people in the world is Black, many African Americans have expressed grave disappointment in his seeming impudence in passing legislation that protects those who are most vulnerable in a racist society in which the innocent are victimized and blamed for their own vulnerability.
On August 9, 2014, reports began pouring out of Ferguson, MO about a young Black male who was gunned down by a police officer. This was only one month after the death of Eric Garner in Staten Island and just four days after John Crawford was gunned down in a Beavercreek, Ohio Walmart while holding an air rifle.
As the facts continued to trickle in, despite clear efforts by authorities in Ferguson to impede a fair investigation, what we knew for a fact was that young Michael Brown was gunned down by a police officer; that part we know for certain. Everything else has been mired in racism and classism from the very start.
Brown and a friend were walking in the street when Officer Darren Wilson drove by and told them to get out of the street. According to Wilson, Brown responded with profanity, after which Wilson then blocked the street with his cruiser and called for backup. The officer then reportedly told investigators that Brown prevented him from exiting his squad car by slamming the door shut and proceeded to grab his weapon. In the investigative report released by the DA’s office, Wilson quoted Brown as saying.
“What do I do not to get beaten inside my car” he told investigators.
“I tried to hold his right arm and use my left hand to get out to have some type of control and not be trapped in my car any more. And when I grabbed him, the only way I can describe it is I felt like a five-year-old holding onto Hulk Hogan,” Wilson reportedly said.
“Holding onto a what?” he was asked.
“Hulk Hogan, that’s just how big he felt and how small I felt just from grasping his arm,” Wilson replied.
Wilson told the grand jury he then drew his firearm. “I said, 'Get back or I’m going to shoot you.'
“He immediately grabs my gun and says, 'You are too much of a pussy to shoot me,' Wilson told grand jurors. He said Brown grabbed the gun with his right hand, twisted it and “digs it into my hip.”
Wilson reportedly fired several shots while still in his vehicle, one of which grazed Brown’s right hand. After those initial shots were fired, Wilson then says Brown attempted to run, stopped, then turned to rush him. It is at that point that Officer Wilson says he fired the shots that killed Brown.
The entire story, from the leaked footage of a man alleged to be Michael Brown, Jr. shoplifting cigars, to Darren Wilson saying Brown reminded him of “Hulk Hogan”, to the alleged “You’re too much of a pussy to shoot me” comments that Wilson attributed to Brown, it was clear from the very beginning that the police and the supposedly impartial DA’s office were going to paint Brown as a criminal and a thug. For many, predicting the playbook of the DA’s office does not mean we’re clairvoyant. It simply means that we’re historians who have witnessed this very scenario play out time and time again through every year and decade of our lives.
Because the United States likes to disguise itself as the bastion of Human Rights when talking down to regimes in Iran, North Korea and Russia, the world immediately took notice as both Black and White Americans flocked to Ferguson to protest the fact that Wilson had not been arrested or even questioned immediately following the shooting death of Michael Brown. For his part, Brown’s corpse was left to rot in the street for hours, in full view of his grieving mother and heartbroken relatives.
Ignoring its own protocol on such matters, the Ferguson Police Department released a video tape of a young man alleged to have been of Brown bullying a store clerk as he stole a box of cigars.
Even the media ambiguously feeds this notion of the possible criminality of these young men who are gunned down in by law enforcement officials by calling them “unarmed” Black men. Of course they’re unarmed. The vast majority of Black men walk to the streets unarmed. Calling them unarmed is superfluous and misleading. It’s almost like they’re saying that being armed is the default position for Black men and so it’s worth noting that these men were unarmed. In reality, the complete opposite is true.
These were innocent Black men, not simply unarmed Black men.
Even if the video of a man shoplifting is Brown, since when is shoplifting considered a death sentence? Well, if you’re Black in America, any reason the police come up with is reason enough for death.
As calls for an immediate indictment began to reach a crescendo, Wilson was spirited away into hiding. The only reason the Ferguson Police Dept. was even compelled to release his name is because hack-tivist group Anonymous attempted to unmask the protected shooter but called out the wrong guy instead.
From the very beginning there were those who were optimistic that justice would prevail, but history said otherwise. Missouri Senator Jamilah Nasheed (D) was well aware of the possibility of legal shenanigans when it was announced that Missouri Prosecutor Robert McCulloch would be tasked with investigating and winning an indictment in the case. She voiced that concern by starting a petition, though that concern would eventually go unheeded by the powers that be.
“This racially charged climate demands an independent investigation, and to be perfectly blunt, the African-American community has no confidence that your office can carry out an impartial investigation and prosecution.”
She cited several reasons for this lack of confidence, including McCulloch's failure to win an indictment against police officers accused of killing two African American men in 2000 – even in the face of the findings from an independent U.S. Attorney Office investigation that those officers had lied about their behavior and fired 20 shots into the unarmed victims’ vehicle.
As news regarding that petition circulated and gained steam, there was still some hope that Governor Jay Nixon and Prosecutor Robert McCulloch would act without bias in their investigation.
On November 25, 2014, as protesters flooded the St. Louis Greater Metropolitan area in anticipation of the announcement, the world released a cry of disappointment as it was announced that Wilson would not be indicted.
A closer look at McCulloch’s history gives possible clues as to why he chose to conduct his investigation in the haphazardly manner in which it was handled. Though most prosecutors are “cozy” with their local police, they also have a duty to investigate and bring charges against any officer who breaks the law. However, as is too often case, very few are willing to file charges against the police, no matter what witnesses or the evidence stated.
After McCulloch’s office announced that no charges would be filed, many cried out against this obvious and predictable farce of justice.
As it turns out, the job of the prosecutor was to convince a grand jury to rule in favor of indicting Officer Darren Wilson. But there is sufficient evidence to suggest McCulloch went out of his way to make it difficult for the 12 member grand jury to do anything but refuse indictment.
Following that failure to indict Wilson, long after the most of the protesters returned home, long after the fires had been extinguished and the Missouri National Guard returned to base, the facade of justice began to crumble as new information of the seemingly purposeful ineptitude of the DA’s office. In December, McCulloch told a St. Louis radio station that he knew several witnesses were lying to the grand jury but thought it was better to dump a bunch of information on them and let them decide what was true and what was false.
“I thought it was much more important that the grand jury hear everything, what people have to say — and they’re in a perfect position to assess the credibility, which is what juries do.”
Please forgive our collective ignorance of the law, but isn’t it illegal for a prosecutor to sabotage a case in which his job is to win a grand jury indictment on a suspect? To add insult to injury, on top of Brown being dehumanized by police sympathizers across the country, denied justice in death as many blamed him for his own demise, those who hungered for a favorable resolution were offered a small ray of hope when it was announced that Eric Holder would be opening a federal investigation. But a quick mental inventory of the number of civil rights filed against those who kill under the protection of the thin blue line finds the number is zero.
These days, whenever local authorities fail to meet out justice on officers who kill innocent Black people, calls are made for a grand jury. When that grand jury fails to materialize or fails to indict the offender, which is far more often than not, an announcement rings out from the office of the Attorney General of the United States where a brother named Eric Holder sits. Surely this brother would be able to make things happen, and we are sorely disappointed when nothing does.
In the classic Martin Scorsese film Gangs of New York, Tammany Hall boss William “Boss” Tweed is quoted as saying ‘The appearance of the law must be upheld, especially while it’s being broken.’ It would appear that McCulloch’s actions were exactly the type of thing Tweed was referring to. What looks like a poor job actually stinks of a conspiracy. However, legally, everything appears to be above board. In January, the New York Times reported that a Justice Department legal team likely would not recommend civil rights charges be brought against Darren Wilson after the FBI’s investigation failed to produce any evidence to support that charge. Similarly, the Justice Department failed to charge Trayvon Martin’s murderer George Zimmerman, and will likely have great difficulties levying civil rights charges against the New York Police officer responsible for the death of Eric Garner.
As a Black man, it’s extremely difficult not to be cynical, to not be suspicious and to allow myself to dream of a time when these legal lynchings are in the furthest corners of history rather than contemporary reality.
In addition to performing a data dump on the grand jury, the DA also allowed a known racist and pro-law enforcement juror to serve despite that juror's obvious, documented bias.
MSNBC’s Chris Hayes brought that fact to light during a segment titled "Witness 40" where her statements were highlighted in all their horrifying fervor. He also notes how this witness' story deteriorated under cross examination. Again, we’re not legal experts, but why would you place a witness who is obviously biased in favor of the police, as well as a racist, on a grand jury of this magnitude unless sabotage of the case took precedent over justice?
Six months after his unfortunate death, Mike Brown, Jr. is still being lambasted as a thug and a troublemaker by both Blacks and Whites.
He has been reduced to yet another scapegoat for White supremacy in the modern age, and former Ferguson Police officer Darren Wilson is free to ride off into the sunset as a rich man from the many donations he received for his defense.
Once again, justice is denied.
Once again, Blacks are expected to respect the laws of the land when these very same laws are unequally administered along the lines of race and income.
Through all the protesting, marching and postulating done by cable news talking heads, as well as conservative-minded people of African descent who talk down to the disenfranchised (We’re talking to you Charles Barkley), those who constantly tell us the way to redemption is by embracing our oppressors, denying our Black males the right to have any dignity or pride, and to be satisfied with the heal of fascism firmly affixed to the necks of our women and children.
Six months later, six years later, sixty years later, sometimes you just can’t tell what era we’re living in. Post racial? No, as far as law enforcement is concerned, things are more openly racial than they have ever been.
On Tuesday it was announced that rookie officer Peter Liang, responsible for the accidental shooting death of Akai Gurley in a dark project stairwell, will face criminal charges. The announcement was made exactly six months after Brown was gunned down. Any feelings of ironic justice that may have occurred in my mind were instantly snuffed out at the realization that an Asian man who accidentally shot an innocent Black man is facing second degree manslaughter charges yet White men who have purposefully shot innocent Black men were exonerated by their peers.
The appearance of the law- upheld, yet so broken.