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April 26, 2017

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The Ferguson Fix

POSTED: October 24, 2014, 11:00 am

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It is clear to me that the family of slain Ferguson Missouri teenager Michael Brown is on the cusp of being further victimized by the criminal justice system. Recent leaks of supposed autopsy findings that paint Brown as the aggressor in his confrontation with Officer Darren Wilson are meant to criminalize the victim and provide cover for police wrongdoing. It’s that simple. Grand jurors are meant to be finders of fact and not the processors of contrived or pre-ordained findings. What is occurring in Ferguson is precisely the type of injustice that causes Blacks to be rightly distrustful of local law enforcement and doubtful that justice can be realized through a tainted judicial system.

Already media outlets have jumped on the supposed findings of the autopsy and signaled to the world that the results will likely mean that Officer Darren Wilson will not be indicted and likely exonerated. The behavior of the news media has been appalling in this regard and they have contributed greatly to the ever-present bias against Black male victims of police violence. Journalists need to revisit the landmark Kerner Commission report which spelled out the many legitimate reasons why Blacks do not trust the media and the police. When headlines report findings that may or may not be true and that even if true can be countered, the news media has simply become agents of injustice. The one truth we do know is that Michael Brown, unarmed, was shot and killed by Officer Darren Wilson; and there are eyewitnesses that can attest to that fact.

There have also been some Black voices that have started to waver in the pursuit of justice, intimating that perhaps the teenage Brown might be alive today if he had not confronted the officer as the autopsy supposedly alleges. Just the other day I heard a popular Black comic on a syndicated radio program suggest just that. It is the height of irresponsibility to vindicate this officer without the benefit of a full and impartial airing of all of the facts. Yet, we now have a rush to judgment because officials in Ferguson have done their best to rig the grand jury process.

In a month in which white teenagers and college students rioted during a pumpkin festival in New Hampshire and wealthy white youth were in a drunken stupor at an annual equestrian steeplechase event in New Jersey, a dead Black youth who was unarmed when killed by a police officer is being viciously maligned. At the event in Far Hills New Jersey there were over 100 state police according to news accounts. Somehow, white youth engaged in bad behavior, including property destruction, manage to walk away alive or face arrest without the threat of physical abuse. Death by law enforcement is a penalty specifically reserved for Black youth and mostly levied against Black males.

“Death by law enforcement is a penalty specifically reserved for Black youth and mostly levied against Black males.”

What I do know about grand juries is that if the “facts” are tainted going in, the result is going to be tainted coming out. That was the case in 1990 in Teaneck New Jersey when a grand jury impaneled to determine if charges should be brought against a white police officer, Gary Spath, for the killing of a Black teenager, Phillip Pannell, came back with no indictment. State investigators learned during that process that the Bergen County coroner had erred when conducting the autopsy by not putting the jacket Phillip was wearing on his body. When a second autopsy was done with the jacket on Phillip, the bullet holes in the garment aligned with the wounds in his back to reveal he had his arms up in surrender with his back to the officers when cornered by Spath and his partner. The state Attorney General ordered an unprecedented second grand jury examining the clean autopsy and it indicted the officer. Still, an all-white jury acquitted Spath.

The environment in Ferguson is even more corrosive. In the Pannell case we had a white prosecutor who was committed to justice and took a lot of heat from law enforcement. In Ferguson that is not the case. If there ever was a case that should have had a special prosecutor, it is this one. You can smell the injustice in the air and the smugness of law enforcement. Their only concern is preserving the status quo, absolving this officer of any responsibility in the killing of a civilian, and suppressing any violence that might result from legitimate rage. And let me be clear, the rage in the Black community in Ferguson is real and can’t be pacified by appeals for ‘calm’ or for cooler heads to prevail. Black people have been remarkably calm in the face of perpetual abuse and oppression. If peace is truly the goal, then justice is the prerequisite.


Walter Fields is Executive Editor of NorthStarNews.com.

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