Several hundred people gathered in Union Square last night waiting to hear whether Darren Wilson would be indicted for shooting Michael Brown. Most already suspected what the results would be. They were right. They were also angry.
Protesters marched through holiday kiosks, shouting, "NYPD! KKK! How Many Kids Did You Kill Today?" Young people threw their hands up in solidarity with those who had been murdered by the police. One man held a sign reading, "The law is meant to be my servant and not my master, still less my torturer and my murderer." A James Baldwin quote never seemed more appropriate, even if it also seemed like a distant wish at that moment.
You already know, of course, that Darren Wilson got off. We always knew he would.
In America, the justice system is anything but just. Courts are conduits for the caging of (mostly black or brown) humans. The police feed people into the courts, and if they sometimes kill those they are arresting it's regarded as a cost barely worth mentioning. And though they kill a lot of people—in Utah, police shootings are the second most common type of homicide—they are rarely punished. From the fellow officers who write reports and testify on the behalf of killers to the prosecutors who seem determined to let murderers get away, the very system that claims to monitor the police protects them. Police kill. They get away with it. They kill again. Eventually, you realize that this process is not a bug in the system but a feature.
When the Ferguson grand jury declined to indict Darren Wilson, they were not saying Wilson was not guilty. It was something worse: The death of a black young man was so trivial that it was not even worth taking to trial.
In his grand jury testimony, Wilson revealed himself to be a histrionic racist, quivering in fear of black skin. His words painted a Birth of a Nation caricature of Brown as an animal with the face of a "demon" who can charge through bullets. Though Wilson is 6'4" and weighs 210 pounds, he said, "When I grabbed [Brown], the only way I can describe it is I felt like a five-year-old holding on to Hulk Hogan." The cop also claimed Brown punched him so hard that another punch might have been "fatal," though photos of Wilson taken at the hospital show little more than a reddened right cheek.
"When [the bullet] went into him, the demeanor on his face went blank, the aggression was gone... the threat was stopped," testified Wilson, describing the death of another human being.
Wilson hasn't exactly been suffering since he pulled the trigger. He's been on paid vacation since August 9; the Shield of Hope, the charitable arm of the Fraternal Brotherhood of Police, raised $197,000 for his legal defense, not that he needed one. He got married. Celebrity journalists like Anderson Cooper wooed him with secret meetings. In the coming weeks, the hosts of the right-wing talk-show circuit will no doubt pant for him as they did for George Zimmerman. Glamorously lit, Wilson will sit on their couches and talk about how brave he was on the day he shot a black teenager. The hosts will present him as a good white man, upholding white order. The racists in the audience will applaud.
For many people, Ferguson is just another thing that happened on TV. But the closer you get, the more real, and the more awful, the shooting and the aftermath become.
When she heard the grand jury's decision, Mike Brown's mother, Leslie McSpadden, screamed. "Everybody wants me to be calm. Do they know how those bullets hit my son?" she shouted at a rally, choking back tears. "What they did to his body as they entered his body?"
On November 22, CNN's Michael Smerconish interviewed Ferguson livestreamer Bassem Masri. Smerconish droned on, smug in his network-granted authority, while Masri grew angry. "There's blood on the streets and you're worried about words!" Masri cried finally.
"Why doesn't everyone catch their breaths and allow this thing to run its course?" Smerconish condescended. "When all the evidence is evaluated by the grand jurors is put online... then we catch our breath, evaluate the evidence, and plan our next steps." To Smerconish, white and wealthy, this sort of thing was pure theory.
"You can't tell our community how we're gonna react," Masri responded.
After the prosecutor announced the verdict, Ferguson's streets grew cloudy with tear gas. Protesters burned police cars. Local businesses were ransacked despite some protesters' attempts to protect them. In New York, protesters shut down three bridges and someone squirt-gunned fake blood onto NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton. In Chicago, young activists staged a sit-in at City Hall. There are more actions planned for tonight around the country. If protesters so much as throw a bottle, there will be the usual tut-tutting and calls for "patience" from people who will never have to worry about being killed by an agent of the state.
Meanwhile, the police continue to kill. In Cleveland, the cops shot 12-year-old Tamir Rice because he had a toy gun at a playground. In New York, officer Peter Liang shot Akai Gurley while Gurley and his girlfriend were walking down the stairwell of her apartment building. Any gun owner knows you only point at what you mean to kill, but Liang claimed it was an accident—that he was merely wandering through dimly lit stairwells, weapon drawn, finger on the trigger, safety off.
Maybe all this will change someday. Maybe the young people of color marching in the streets of New York, Ferguson, and Oakland will force it to change, dismantle the system from without. If anyone can do it, they can. They are too clear-eyed to accept courts rigged in favor of murderers. They do not believe that victims must only respond with passive grace.
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