Print and social media banter around the killing of unarmed Michael Brown by Ferguson, Mo. police officer Darren Wilson continues and there are protests every day in Ferguson. (As this is written, the grand jury has not indicted Wilson.)
The manner in which Michael Brown was killed is suspect; many are convinced he was murdered. The killing and the city of Ferguson starkly symbolize racism’s tentacles that confront Black Americans every single day. They include militarization of police, voter suppression, failing schools, high unemployment and incarceration rates, and the need to de-fang the myth that America is a post-racial society.
The voice of rank-and-file cops is missing in the debate surrounding Michael’s killing but I think it fair to assume they would be very defensive. A welcomed exception to police officers’ silence is Cheryl Dorsey. She articulates a decidedly different perspective from what we would expect from the average cop. Her article, “Problems in Ferguson Go Beyond Possible Failure to Indict Officers,” (LA Progressive 11/7/14) follows:
“The continued problems in Ferguson, Mo. have little to do with the lack of a Darren Wilson indictment. The ongoing tensions won’t be as a result of the U.S. Justice Department’s possible inability to prove civil rights violations. Rather, the real problem in Ferguson is residents are stuck with a police department that seemingly lacks diversity and appears to be racially insensitive.
As a retired 20-year veteran police sergeant, I reject the notion that a professional, trained, gun-toting police officer would create a circumstance, as in the encounter Darren Wilson initiated with Michael Brown, and then suddenly ‘fear’ for his life. Unarmed Mike Brown, 18-year-old Mike Brown—running and trying to get away Mike Brown, wounded and bleeding Mike Brown—so frightened Officer Darren Wilson that Wilson shot and killed him.
While we hold our collective breath awaiting a possible grand jury indictment, it occurred to me the residents of Ferguson are faced with more far-reaching problems; a police department unwilling or unable to admit there is a problem within that organization. Clearly, the problems within the Ferguson Police Department are cultural, systemic. As a Black woman first and a retired Los Angeles Police Department sergeant second, I believe unless and until there are real changes in that department in personnel, training and oversight, there could be a repeat of the senseless murder of Michael Brown.
As a mother first, and a Black woman second, I am bothered by the disparaging comments made by Project 21’s Joe Hicks referencing Mike Brown as “a small-time, local thug.” I am bothered that anyone who does not side with the police department’s version of events is labeled a “race hustler” who is “undeserving” of justice. These statements were just a few attributed to Project 21, described as a Black leadership network that inferred a “small-time local thug” somehow deserved to be gunned down in the middle of the street. I am disappointed by an unrepentant and unapologetic police department that will never admit wrongdoing. I am saddened that a Black life does not seem to matter.
So now, it would seem that all trained, professional police officers need to report that they “feared” for their safety and everything else that follows that fear is justified. Well, I say if your are “scared” when dealing with the Black community that you swore to protect and serve, maybe you should holster your gun, remain in your car and call the police. I just don’t see police officers expressing that same kind of “fear” when dealing with the white community.
“If understanding that federal civil rights prosecution is an all-or-nothing case, it is time to change the law. Currently, we must realize race was a motivator; that a defendant (Wilson) deprived the victim of a constitutional right; that he acted willfully; that he acted under the color of law and the victim died. The indictment would charge that the defendant deprived the victim of the right to be free from unlawful, deadly force by law enforcement. The problem seems to be the “defendant’s state of mind.” Officer Wilson stated that he “feared for his safety.”
“Maybe it’s time to change the “prosecution’s proof requirement.” Maybe we should require officers to prove “fear.” Maybe prosecutors should require police officers who murder pedestrians in the roadway to prove the urgency of initiating the encounter in the first place. Maybe prosecutors should require a police officer to prove how an unarmed teenager, having been shot twice, continued to “frighten” him.
Please, officer, prove the need to create and then escalate a minor traffic infraction (allegedly walking) to a deadly force situation. Please, prove why you fear jaywalkers. And then, officer, explain why after you escalated the situation, you would “drive up” on the “scary” Mike Brown. If you were scared, please explain why you did not call for back-up, or wait for back-up to arrive and tell back-up that you were afraid of this 18-year-old jaywalker and request back-up to get you out of that scary situation?
Officer, why did you murder Mike Brown?, if it wasn’t because of his race, then what? And finally, sir, would you please return to the police station, turn in your badge and gun and seek employment somewhere else, because, officer, you’re scaring me.