It’s been 116 days since white police officer Darren Wilson shot and killed unarmed black teenager Michael Brown. 116 days since Michael Brown was killed, and less than a fortnight since a Grand Jury (a Grand Jury of 9 white and 3 black people, in spite of the fact that Ferguson’s population is 67.5% black) ruled that Wilson would not be indicted for murder. As I’m sure you’re all aware, the verdict did not go down well, with furious protesters staging riots and demonstrations all over America, and encouraging them overseas as well – on Wednesday 26th of November, solidarity protesters in London shut down Oxford Street.
This is a case which has sparked national and international outrage. Even the UN has condemned the injustice of letting Wilson free. It is a case which, in isolation, would no doubt have been forgotten very quickly. But it was not in isolation. Michael Brown is only one name on an increasingly and disturbingly long list of black people in America being murdered by police officers, and so these protests are not just about him, but about a cultural phenomenon which has been the elephant in the room for a long time now. I am, of course, talking about institutional and systemic racism.
Tamir Rice, DeAndre Joshua, Eric Garner, Vonderrit Myers, Kajieme Powell, John Crawford. These are some of the names of black people who have been killed by police officers since Michael Brown. Tamir Rice was 12 years old, asthmatic Eric Garner was kept in a chokehold by officers even while he protested that he couldn’t breathe. With stories like these appearing almost daily – according to this study, one black man in the USA is killed by police every 28 hours – it seems absurd that anyone, black or white or any colour in between, would even think to deny that there is a serious problem with racism in America.
In the case of Michael Brown, legal experts have expressed their disgust with the way that prosecutor Bob McCulloch did – or rather, failed to do – his job, claiming that his failure to cross-examine Wilson properly was tantamount to defending the officer. The inconsistencies in Wilson’s story, the mishandling of evidence, neither of these was followed up on by McCulloch, a prosecutor with known ties to the St. Louis police department, a reputation of siding with law enforcement and a history of lying to ensure a win. It was as if he didn’t want a trial or conviction, which, I’m sure, he didn’t. As I said in a previous blog, the conviction of Darren Wilson would have set a precedent for how cases of police brutality are handled, and it seems that that is the last thing the so-called ‘justice’ system wants.
I have been following the developments of the Michael Brown story since it happened, so I think I know what I’m talking about when I say that I do not believe that Darren Wilson was not guilty of murder. But that’s not even what the Grand jury was there to decide. As I saw one heart-breaking tweet put it, “This jury wasn’t to decide whether or not Darren Wilson was guilty. It was to decide if we were allowed to ask.”
I know many people will have seen footage of looters and violence in America. I know many people are convinced that Michael Brown was a criminal, that he attacked Darren Wilson and went for his gun, that Darren Wilson (describing himself as “a five year-old wrestling Hulk Hogan” when he spoke about the altercation between himself and Brown despite the fact that they were of equal height), genuinely feared for his life. I know all of this already, but I’m not interested in it. What I am interested in is the social epidemic consuming America, where it is perfectly legal to commit murder as long as you’re a white police officer. I am interested in the bravery and strength of protesters who are doing everything in their power to honour Michael Brown. I am interested in a country having a debate which should have happened a long, long time ago.
In short, what I am interested in is justice. Which is why I offer my unconditional support to the protesters who are out there right now, trying to make their country a better place. The world is watching them, and, I hope, taking note. What they are doing is extraordinary. Whether their slogan is “Black Lives Matter” or “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot,” they are doing something important – and I support them 100%. No justice, no peace, indeed.
– Lana Wrigley, A2 Politics