WASHINGTON -– From the start, Americans have been inspired by the idea of “equal justice under law.” The phrase is on the pediment of the U.S. Supreme Court, the temple of our faith in the rule of our precious Constitution.
And so it is agonizing, or worse, to see that noble idea once again undercut by our own contradictions and hypocrisy on race.
They produced a civil war, and continue to provide the core narrative tension in our public life. Yes we elected Barack Obama -– twice -– but that was hardly the end of the story.
The conflict between justice under law and racial torment is on display again this week in St. Louis, Missouri. The world is watching, as it should be. Can we live up to our ideals?
It’s in our DNA to try, but we have a long way to go.
By now, people across the globe know the essence of the episode. A police officer -- a white man on a force made up mostly of white men -- shot and killed a young black man in a neighborhood made up primarily of African-Americans.
On Monday night, the local prosecutor in suburban St. Louis announced that Officer Darren Wilson would not be prosecuted because of state law and the available testimony. Wilson, the prosecutor said, was deemed to be acting reasonably, within the scope of his official duty: The officer had reason to believe that the slain teenager, Michael Brown, was a robbery suspect who may have posed a deadly danger to the officer and to others in the area.
Stated blandly and without context, the decision sounded fair enough. But it produced violence on the streets of St. Louis and elsewhere in America. Vandals and looters were part of equation, but most of the outrage was genuine.
Because there IS a context.
Critics noted that state law and its use in this case were weighted against those killed by police in general and Michael Brown specifically.
In U.S. law, local prosecutors have much freedom to decide whether a suspect should stand trial. In this case, a prosecutor widely known for his sympathetic treatment of police cases declined to make that decision by himself.
Instead, he asked a secret preliminary jury (a grand jury) to do so. Normally, prosecutors present just enough evidence to this kind of jury to allow it to make a decision. Grand juries almost always vote in favor of calling for a full trial.
But in this case, the prosecutor, Bob McCulloch, gave the grand jury ALL the evidence that police and the FBI had collected.
He did so, apparently, to get himself off the hook and to guide this preliminary jury in the direction he wanted to go.
In essence, he conducted a full trial on the merits of the case, and one in which (according to transcripts that were released later) the prosecutor was friendly to Wilson and his best witnesses and harsh on those with a different view.
Wilson also had state law on his side. Missouri’s law on “use of force” by police is broadly written to protect officers. It’s broader than U.S. Supreme Court rules set down in 1985. States are supposed to rewrite their laws to follow the high court, but Missouri hasn’t fully done so.
It would be nice to think that none of this has a racial motivation. In places such as St. Louis, disproportionate amounts of shootings by police have a white-on-black profile.
The St. Louis region combines the history of the slave-holding South and the order-loving towns of the Midwest. The city and its suburbs are starkly segregated for the most part; Even adjacent neighborhoods can vary vividly.
It would be nice to say think that St. Louis was the exception, but it’s not. Many other cities, including Washington, D.C., are just as segregated, racially and by income.
In 1776, we declared our faith in the idea that “all men are created equal.” We say that we believe above all in the rule of law, written by elected representatives and justly applied.
Including in St. Louis.
More On Ferguson From HuffPost:
Photographic Evidence Reveals | 'First Year Law Student Could Have Done Better Job' | 61 Arrested | Ferguson Smolders After Night Of Fires | Protest Locations | Americans Deeply Divided | Police Chief: 'Worse Than The Worst Night We Had In August' | What You Can Do | Darren Wilson Interview | Darren Wilson Could Still Face Consequences | Timeline | Students Protest | Photos Of Darren Wilson's Injuries Released | Shooting Witness Admitted Racism In Journal | Peaceful Responses Show The U.S. At Its Best | Reactions To Ferguson Decision | Prosecutor Gives Bizarre Press Conference | Notable Black Figures React | Jury Witness: 'By The Time I Saw His Hands In The Air, He Got Shot' | Thousands Protest Nationwide |
11/30/2014 3:28 PM EST
Wilson Resigned Over Safety Concerns, Lawyer Says
he white police officer who shot and killed an unarmed black teenager in Ferguson, Missouri, this summer, resigned from the force without any severance deal, the mayor of the St. Louis suburb said on Sunday.
The officer, Darren Wilson, announced his resignation late Saturday, saying he feared for his own safety and that of his fellow police officers after a grand jury decided not to indict him in the fatal Aug. 9 shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown.
11/30/2014 7:27 AM EST
10 People Arrested During Portland's Ferguson Protest
PORTLAND, Ore (AP) — Authorities say 10 people have been arrested in Portland during a protest related to the Ferguson, Missouri, police shooting.
The city police bureau says the arrests came Saturday night "after a large group of protesters laid down in the street and refused lawful orders to clear the roadway."
Earlier, the gathering over the Missouri shooting death of a black man by a white police officer included a speech by the Rev. Jesse Jackson.
The Oregonian reports that Jackson urged nonviolence and said the resignation of the officer was "a step in the right direction," but that much remained to be done to achieve justice for the victim.
Police say that after Jackson left, some protesters marched around downtown and sporadically disrupted traffic.
Officials say some bottles were thrown at officers and a police car was damaged.
The nine adults and one juvenile arrested will face charges that include disorderly conduct.
11/29/2014 10:15 PM EST
11/29/2014 10:01 PM EST
Large Police Presence
11/29/2014 9:42 PM EST
Saturday Night Protest In Ferguson
11/29/2014 9:26 PM EST
Armed 'Oath Keepers' Plan To Protest
The NYT reports that armed members of the group "Oath Keepers" are in Ferguson to offer their help protecting businesses from damage.
From the NYT:
The volunteers, who are sometimes described as a citizen militia — but do not describe themselves that way — have taken up armed positions on rooftops here on recent nights....
But on Saturday, with the county police said to be threatening the Oath Keepers with arrest, the volunteers decided to abandon their posts and instead protest against the authorities. Late in the day on Saturday, a protest was being planned for that night.
Read more here.
11/29/2014 6:56 PM EST
Darren Wilson Resigns From Ferguson Police Department
Darren Wilson has resigned from Ferguson police department.
Read his resignation letter below, via St. Louis Post-Dispatch:
"I, Darren Wilson, hereby resign my commission as a police officer with the City of Ferguson effective immediately. I have been told that my continued employment may put the residents and police officers of the City of Ferguson at risk, which is a circumstance that I cannot allow. For obvious reasons, I wanted to wait until the grand jury made their decision before I officially made my decision to resign. It was my hope to continue in police work, but the safety of other police officers and the community are of paramount importance to me. It is my hope that my resignation will allow the community to heal. I would like to thank all of my supporters and fellow officers throughout this process."
11/27/2014 12:55 PM EST
Murals In Ferguson
The group that's out painting right now also did this mural. It's a block or so from the Ferguson PD pic.twitter.com/tqgIUhR8C0— Jim Dalrymple II (@JimDalrympleII) November 27, 2014
11/27/2014 11:28 AM EST
Ferguson Protests Hit Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade
Unrest following the Ferguson grand jury's decision to not indict police officer Darren Wilson has hit the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.
Using #StopTheParade as a rallying cry, protesters attempted to disrupt the annual parade in New York City. According to Mashable, police arrested some of the demonstrators just as the parade kicked off.
11/27/2014 11:19 AM EST
Ferguson Library Stays Open Throughout The Protests
MSNBC's Steve Kornacki reports on Ferguson's public library, which has remained open throughout the protests.
Over 50 volunteers helped staff the library, which provided free lunches to children as schools remained closed. The library also offered help to businesses who suffered damage during the protests following the grand jury's decision.
"We have a dramatic setting right now but it is not different than what libraries do every day," library director Scott Bonner said.