Let me say upfront, I was unpleasantly not surprised by the grand jury verdict. The history of racial inequality in America led me to expect a miscarriage of justice, yielding no indictment for white police officer Darren Wilson, who shot and killed unarmed black teenager Michael Brown, who, according to at least a half dozen witnesses, had his hands in the air.
Whether Wilson was ultimately found guilty or not guilty, I had hoped for the dignity of a trial. But with a grand jury of nine whites and three blacks, with only nine votes needed for a decision, I believe the proceedings were deliberately stacked in Wilson’s favor. For that matter, if the jury had been made up of nine blacks and three whites it would not have been fair, either. Why weren’t there six white and six black jurors? If the racially balanced grand jury had decided not to charge Wilson with a crime, at least Brown supporters would have found solace in the good-faith gesture of neutrality.
I learned in a graduate level journalism-law course that “a grand jury would indict a ham sandwich” because the bar for such a verdict is low, just ‘probable cause.’ In essence, the mostly white grand jury told the rest of the world that Michael Brown deserved to die, and that the African-American witnesses who saw Brown pleading for his life are as voiceless as two meatless slices of bread. They believed Wilson’s story that Brown, in essence, had a sucide wish because he continued to charge toward Wilson despite already being shot in the hand and being faced with a barrage of bullets.
We don’t live in a post-racial society. We’ve passed anti-discrimination laws, yes, but some white people need a heart transplant to remove the residue of lies that once convinced their ancestors that their black slaves weren’t even human. And without intense therapy, how can this nation of black folks be expected to recover from generations of the constant, relentless abuse and messages of inferiority? We weren’t just told that we were ugly, unloveable, and intellectually deficient, but we were lynched, raped, denied a quality education and voting rights—all under the constructs of the law!
If this situation were just about Michael Brown, Ferguson would not have been on fire last night. It’s about countless known and unknown injustices that black people have suffered at the hands of white people who got away with it. It’s about the chronic pain of racism that no longer responds to anesthetic. Violence and looting is certainly not the answer, but what is?
We are a damaged race—the human race. Both blacks and whites, we are all infected with a false identity that we’ve inherited from a racist social structure that we’d like to think is far in our past. The grand jury make-up and verdict is just a modern example of how much in the past we are still actually still living, only the names have changed.
As educators, we have to curb our own opinions and emotions to help students to process what happened in the most sensitive way. Here are a few blog posts that can help teachers try to facilitate student discussion about Ferguson as objectively as possible. I’ve also added the final link to allow students and teachers to judge the validity of Wilson’s account through his own grand jury testimony.
The opinions expressed in Charting My Own Course are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.