We all know about the shooting in Ferguson, Missouri, where an unarmed young black man was killed by a white police officer. We also know that after that shooting riots broke out. The rioters were confronted by police officers, some of whom were clothed in military-type gear. The cops were condemned for being too militaristic. Little condemnation fell upon the heads of those who broke the law.
Unmentioned is that the actions of the police brought the riots to an end with no deaths or major injuries. Rather than suggesting that perhaps using military style responses to riots seemed to work we were told that it was something awful. We were told not to believe our eyes. We were told that indeed something done by the police was quite horrific even though from all we could see the result of their action was quite benign and order was restored.
Having brought about some type of calm, the criminal justice system slowly moved into action. An investigation into the events brought about by Michael Brown’s death commenced. The normal process is to have information about the shooting presented to a grand jury for its determination. That was done. It is near its end of the evidentiary presentation. The grand jury is about to decide whether to indict the white police officer.
Overriding this whole affair is the matter of race. Blacks feel the killing would not have happened had Michael Brown been white; blacks also feel that the cop will get a pass on the killing because he is white. Blacks don’t understand why he has not been quickly indicted and brought to trial. It is well-known in the black and white community that a prosecutor can indict a ham sandwich. Put another way, it is common knowledge that whether a grand jury indicts someone or not is up to the prosecutor. It follows some believe because the prosecutor is white that there will be a white wash.
Another factor many are aware of is the reluctance of prosecutors (I would have said grand juries but that would have contradicted what I just said) to indict police officers in shootings of civilians. One police offer told me that it was better to be judged by 12 than carried by 6. That would be the case if shootings by police officers went before a petit jury of 12, but most are decided in secret behind closed doors by up to 23 jurors who vote by a majority vote and are controlled by prosecutors.
From the black perspective they look upon the grand jury as an implement of the prosecutor. They expect that the whites will stick together and the black man’s death will be given short shrift. It is the general black belief that such a happening is par for the course and that it should not be tolerated anymore.
The gauntlet has been thrown down. Indict the white cop or we’ll respond to your continuing slighting of the black community, perhaps by rioting, not only in Ferguson, and St. Louis, but in other places in your country. Merchants in Ferguson in anticipation of the storm have already boarded up their stores making it look like a tornado just passed through. The FBI put out a national alert to all police departments to expect violence. Missouri has called up its National Guard. One observer noted: “It’s almost like they’re preparing for war.” What to do?
Should the white cop be indicted regardless of the evidence? Our grand jury system with its secrecy and prosecutorial control gives little confidence to those aggrieved. Doesn’t a matter like this demand to be dealt with in the open? Even if the white cop committed no crime isn’t it better that the issue be decided after an open trial before twelve jurors? Isn’t it wrong to just walk away from the death of this young black man?
But if the evidence shows the white cop acted properly then to indict him is to surrender to the mob. Isn’t that the worst of all worlds where justice is decided on the streets? Wouldn’t that be just kicking the can down the road where at the end the demand will be that unless the white cop is convicted there will again be riots?
And if the riots come, will the police be as effective in keeping control without the military-style equipment? If not, will that be an argument for more such equipment?
Should there be a better way to handle matters that may be criminal than the ancient secret grand jury process? Should it be done away with and replaced with an open inquisition system where the evidence is in public view?
Final questions, are the relations between white and black starting to spiral out of control? If so, what is the reason for this? Are whites, as some suggest, unconsciously racists so it is inevitable?