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The Wind Increases

Around sunset on Monday, the wind increased. As I took the dog for a walk through the howling, tumbling streets, branches snapped off of the trees above us and fell skittering to the sidewalk. A neighbour, bent to the elements and hurrying along, looked at me, “I’m scared!” he said without pausing. It seemed that the sky itself was breaking, all that was earthbound now in flight.

All day the radio had been warning of this windstorm and the perils it was bringing to civilization, so amidst the sirens in the distance and falling hydro wires, it was easy enough to think that a new and apocalyptic age was being ushered in. Encouraging these feelings of dread was the fact that the grand jury announcement on the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson, Missouri, was to be announced in just a few hours.

Paul-McCullough

(Paul McCulloch, father of Robert)

In a defensive, almost combative tone, St. Louis County prosecuting attorney Robert McCulloch (His father was a police officer who was alleged to have been killed by a black suspect when McCulloch was 12-years-old) spoke for nearly 45 minutes, casting aspersions on social media, journalists and Ferguson residents in announcing that officer Darren Wilson would not be charged in the death of Michael Brown.

Nobody was surprised.

This hotly anticipated announcement took place at 9 pm, as if engineered to encourage riots and rebellious protests throughout the night, rather than minimize them. The state was well prepared, of course, and the predictable happened.

Ferguson

It seems that the laws are set-up very specifically to protect police officers from being charged with a crime while in the process of discharging their constabulary duties. This doesn’t feel right. If anything, those wielding power must be held accountable to a higher standard, not freed from one. It is obvious that it’s easier for somebody in power, especially institutional power, to lie and protect that lie, than it is for somebody without power to do so, and if a police officer, with the entire might and authority of his department behind him, kills a teen who does not have a gun,  firing 12 shots that hit him 7 times, then an indictment is essential, if only for the general good of a grieving and shocked community.

It’s widely believed that in America individual rights trump all, that Darren Wilson’s right to protect himself was more important than a community’s right to have the way in which he protected himself tried.

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But it often feels like individual rights, the right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” are merely symbolic, if not smoke and mirrors. It’s the mask America wears, and not the heart beating in the chest.  America seems more interested in protecting private property and capital than it does in the individual rights of people, and nobody lives this reality more painfully and vividly than the African-American community. White fear, a terror that things will be taken from them, has made blacks– who were once property on this soil–an implicit threat, a deadly, almost mystical weapon in and of themselves, that must be dehumanized and controlled, but never truly accepted.

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4 Comments Post a comment
  1. Your words are incandescent, casting a harsh but needed light upon a very dark and painful indictment against American society. The Grand Jury that freed Darren Wilson will forever be remembered and reviled as were those that were convened in the 1960’s and failed to indict those who resorted to bombing churches and murdering those who promoted Civil Rights.
    It is a dark and horrible time, Michael Murray.
    I fear for the democracy we have taken for granted and feel that the days of freedom are gone.
    I have never before believed that, one day, Americans would be refugees.
    Today? I believe that soon, we will be.

    November 26, 2014
  2. Dear Michael I admire you and your work, but in this case I must with respect disagree … I have worked as a cop and subsequently have spent many years working with an observing police all over America and Canada … the larger issues surrounding race and gun ownership in America I leave to one side … In the Brown confrontation, Officer Wilson had a sworn duty to protect the citizens of his town. Brown had already attempted to take Wilson’s weapon. He had struck Wilson twice. The power differential between Wilson and Brown in terms of sheer physical strength was enormous. After assaulting Wilson, Brown walked away, and it was part of Wilson’s duty as an officer not to let that happen BECAUSE of the assault and the attempt to take the weapon. Wilson had to arrest him. Brown turned and charged the officer. Wilson knew that he was not able to overcome Brown with physical force. He was in fear for his life, and he was responsible for keeping his weapon away from a violent felon. Police officers are not required to fight fair. They ar required to uphold the law and arrest felons. Brown gave Wilson no choice at all. Your argument about a “higher standard” would result in the deaths of many more police officers. That’s just not how things work on The Street. It’s not pretty, but it is The Law.

    November 26, 2014
  3. Michael Murray #

    Jon:

    I don’t know what it’s like to live in the US, but I’ve just been seeing far too many videos of young, really young, black men/boys getting shot by police officers, and shot really, really quickly. I don’t think that there’s really any doubt that racism, be it unconscious or otherwise, and conditioning, is playing a huge role in these shootings.

    Master Stroud:

    Niceville rocks.

    When it’s made into a movie/TV show/action figure, I would like a small role. It doesn’t even have to be heroic.

    I certainly respect your experience and point of view, and I won’t argue the particulars of the verdict regarding Darren Brown, we’ve all been in that echo chamber long enough. It seems to me that policing is an extremely difficult and dangerous ( for a number of reasons, internally and externally) job, and that officers probably have to rely on instinct and conditioning more than observation and mediation. The officer who killed the 12-year-old in Cleveland fired his gun less than 2 seconds out the vehicle, and I think a uniquely American point of view where black men are seen as weapons unto themselves, inherently dangerous or demonic, underpins such instinctual and terrified actions.

    November 26, 2014
  4. Ed Hotchkiss #

    @Carsten Stroud

    I think you have done, in one long paragraph, what it took prosecuting attorney McCulloch 45 minutes to explain & several days to accomplish before his grand jury; you have tried Darren Wilson & found him not guilty. Unfortunately that is not the job of a grand jury. It is the grand jury’s job to determine whether probable cause exists to indite Darren Wilson; that is all. Eye-witness evidence was very contradictory & much emphasis was placed on physical evidence but, it is possible, that this was chosen selectively & with bias. Surely, the basic facts, that an unarmed youth was killed by a police officer, should be sufficient probable cause for a trial. In this case the State of Missouri was denied its right to cross examine witnesses in open court. Justice may have been done, but it certainly was not seen to be done.

    November 29, 2014

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