Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Darren Wilson May Be Not Guilty, but the System Isn't.

McCulloch speaks, and Ferguson riots. Who could have predicted?

Almost the nicest thing that could be said about Robert McCulloch's announcement and press conference last night that revealed there would be no indictment of officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown was that it was "tone-deaf." I saw it beyond tone-deaf, and as it unfolded, I was overcome by the stupidity and senselessness of choosing to release the grand jury decision at 8 o'clock at night, when it would be that much harder to control the outcome, which was as devastating as it was preventable. Releasing it at seven in the morning without McColloch's rambling, self-serving monologue and giving the local population, mostly trapped at work all day, a chance to process it before cocktail hour might have been more sensible. Ya think!??

Although I can't always rely on Andrew Sullivan's politics, I often check in on his blog during events like this. And he put together a thoughtful piece, even if its title, "Finding the System Guilty," doesn't amount to a breakthrough insight. Read it; it's short and mostly quoting others.

Yes, it's all about the systems, the multiple sets of systems that we've built out of our tortured history of race, race relations, and law enforcement in the wake of hundreds of years of slavery, Jim Crow laws, and attempts to cure them with civil rights legislation.

I say this from my safe perch of white privilege in a small Northern California wine town far from the battle lines drawn all across our country. Matters of race are barely a blip here compared to Detroit, Memphis, Cleveland, St. Louis and any other place where white cops and people of color collide, though we have our own occasional local tragedies that fade after a few protests and curbside memorials.

My sense of this is that a set of systems that has white cops patrolling streets in towns with large black populations creates an unending stream of petty stops for petty crimes leading to petty fines and short incarcerations -- all which are partly aimed at raising funds to pay for the next rounds of petty stops -- until, ad nauseum, we've run our black population repeatedly through the law-enforcement ringer leaving them stressed and brimming with rage and resentment.

It was this that officer Wilson saw in Michael Brown's eyes when he said, "The only way I can describe it, it looks like a demon, that's how angry he looked."

In the end, Darren Wilson looks like a typical cop who chose lethal force against an unarmed, young black man who was obviously engaged in a set of worst practices for anyone who doesn't want to get shot. But beyond that quick take, the reality is that we've built this world, and tragedies like this one are baked into the cake. I don't know what we can do to take this world apart and put it back together in such a way that we can make this outcome as rare as it is commonplace in today's America.

Wait, maybe I do know what it would take: more will than we've got. Wish I was wrong.

Getting rid of these would be a start. Not gonna happen...

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