Advertisement
VICE News

'This Is Similar to the Way Jesus Was Treated': Letters to Missouri Governor Shed Light on Racial Tensions in Ferguson Aftermath

Missouri Governor Jay Nixon's office was flooded with thousands of highly charged emails and letters from people around the world following Michael Brown's shooting.

by Jason Leopold
Nov 21 2014, 4:50pm

Photo by Alice Speri

In the weeks following the August 9 shooting death of African American teenager Michael Brown by white police officer Darren Wilson, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon's office was flooded with thousands of highly charged emails and letters from people around the world.

The correspondence, obtained by VICE News in response to an open records request, provides deep insight into public opinion about the shooting in the city of Ferguson and the racial tensions between whites and blacks in the state and around the country that have been laid bare since the 18-year-old Brown died.

VICE News also sought all correspondence Nixon and members of his staff had with local government and police officials in Ferguson and surrounding counties about the protests over Brown's death and the militarized police response. But Lesley LePage, the governor's executive assistant, said no responsive records were located. 

The communications addressed to Nixon were largely prompted by his public comments in mid-August when he said Brown's family deserves "justice" and a "vigorous prosecution must be pursued." An overwhelming number of the letters sent to his office condemned his remarks.

A volunteer with the Ferguson Police Department accused Nixon, who formerly served as Missouri's attorney general, of playing "judge, jury, and executioner."

"Your whole speech was incendiary, but when I heard the words 'vigorous prosecution' come out of your mouth, I was horrified!" wrote Beverly Walker, a resident of Ferguson, on August 20. "Lives of our police officers on the front lines in Ferguson, trying to keep peace and calm while dealing with a mob of irrational and apparently uneducated citizens calling for 'justice'? Their idea of 'justice' is to arrest and indict a police officer for 'murder, excessive force' and everything in between, even before all the evidence has been collected, the investigation has been completed or the grand jury has been convened. I call it what it really is ... revenge."

One letter compared Wilson's treatment by Nixon and the media with Jesus Christ's crucifixion.

"What has happened to our justice system where a person is considered innocent until proven guilty? Officer Wilson's side hasn't even been heard," wrote Jane Wade of Houston, Missouri, on August 24. "According to scenes on TV, Michael Brown was a big bully inside the store which makes us wonder just what happened between Officer Wilson and him. This whole thing is similar to the way Jesus was treated when He was crucified."

Numerous other letters and emails, some from attorneys, called for Nixon to resign over his comments that were deemed to be "anti-cop" and unsupportive of Wilson's right to a fair trial.

Tensions build and protesters arrested in Ferguson ahead of grand jury decision. Read more here.

"Your press release was a big mistake and ill-advised. You should (1) retract and modify the statement and otherwise (2) butt out," wrote Springfield, Missouri lawyer Dee Wampler on his firm's letterhead along with a handwritten notation that said, "my opinion."

Ferguson, a majority African American suburb, has 53 police officers — three of whom are black. Residents in the city told the Washington Post that Brown's death was the "breaking point" that "finally pushed years of tension to the fore."

"People here are angry, frustrated," Corey Crawford, 36, told the newspaper.

The anger and frustration was on display when protesters took to the streets demanding accountability. The demonstrations, which turned violent, lead retired Army sergeant Jerry Hendershot to fire off a provocative letter to Nixon who declared a state of emergency on August 16 and imposed a curfew "due to civil unrest."

"These blacks want a war and you are scared to shut them down," Hendershot wrote August 20 in a letter to the governor submitted through First Lady Georganne Wheeler Nixon's website.

Larry Carter, a Hendersonville, North Carolina resident, who identified himself as a retired military policeman and Vietnam veteran, said his own experience "and a past history of the black community" has taught him "that you can not talk sense to a large majority of them."

"If Michael Brown hadn't stole a box of cigars he'd be alive today. He was a bully and thief and obviously a big trouble maker," Carter wrote.

Edward C. Osborne of Florence, Alabama, said in a letter he mailed to Nixon on August 18 that the governor is a "spineless white man easily intimidated by the black criminals" in Ferguson.

"The only thing you are interested in is keeping the thugs of the black community happy so they will vote for you in the next election," wrote Osborne, who also characterized Brown as a "thug."

Ferguson's state of emergency proves America's social contract has been broken. Read more here.

Yet the cache of documents turned over to VICE News also contained hundreds of letters, emails, and petitions demanding that Wilson be charged with murder. Protesters also wrote to Nixon detailing their alleged mistreatment by law enforcement.

According to several published reports, the grand jury hearing evidence in the Wilson case is nearing a decision on whether to indict the 28-year-old police officer. In preparation of the verdict, Nixon declared another state of emergency and asked the National Guard to assist local police in the event of unrest.

One of the documents Nixon's office released to VICE News was an email that showed taxpayers in the state are on the hook for nearly $300,000 — the estimated cost to pay for the National Guard deployed to the city from August 18-27. More than $60,000 was earmarked for food, according to an itemized breakdown of costs.

If the grand jury doesn't return an indictment against Wilson, East St. Louis resident Kathy Coudie is convinced it will lead to unrest in the community and neighboring towns.

"Let the record show this is not a threat when I say that there most likely will be more trouble if the white police officer who murdered Michael Brown in Ferguson is not held accountable," Coudie wrote in a letter to Nixon on August 19.

Follow Jason Leopold on Twitter: @JasonLeopold