Hey, do you remember that time when there was that Grand Jury convened to decide whether or not to indict police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and the GJ decided not to and in response the people of Ferguson rioted and burned their own city to the ground and then I wrote a little scathing rant about how I thought the riots were doing the right thing? I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t remember it because it was a WHOLE SIX WEEKS AGO! It was one of the most popular things I’ve ever written online. According to my logs it ended up being shared on Facebook like 600 times or something. Sure, those aren’t Grumpy Cat numbers, but it mostly accomplished what I wanted it to do when I wrote it.
When I wrote it, most people who talked to me directly seemed to more or less agree with me or at least get my point. I dropped in and looked at a lot of the repostings and some people thought I was off base. It was the criticism I expected. “There’s a right way and a wrong way.” “Violence is never the answer.” etc. The stuff that I discussed directly in that post. There was also quite a lot of people giving the “you don’t know the evidence that was presented before the grand jury.” answer and then a WHOLE lot of people not really understanding how grand juries worked and trying to use stuff they know (or at least assume) about the regular legal system to explain how I was wrong. In a lot of cases, this knowledge was clearly gained by watching television court room dramas and even then not really understanding it quite right. But my point was never about whether or not Wilson was guilty or how the court system should work. My point was then and is now, “sometimes when there’s an injustice you have to do something really big in order to get people to take notice.” Burn your city for 48 hours and people talk about that! Trust in the system… not so much.
Yesterday one of the grand jurors from the Wilson case filed a law suit against Bob McCulloch, the prosecutor for Ferguson, MO. I read the entire 58-point filing last night. If you want to read it for yourself, here’s a link. If you don’t want to read through the 11 page argument and 20+ pages of evidence, The basic synopsis is, the juror personally felt that:
- Wilson should have been indicted.
- Other members of the Grand Jury felt so as well.
- McCulloch represented the decision as though the Grand Jury unanimously felt Wilson should be acquitted when in reality, the GJ simply can’t return an indictment unless 75% of them (9 out of 12) feel as though they should.
- McCulloch didn’t really try to convince them and in fact, seemed that he was more interested in presenting a case against Brown than Wilson. The juror felt that it was clear that no matter what McCulloch never had any intention of bringing Wilson to trial.
- The grand jury was told that if they failed to return an indictment ALL evidence that was presented to them would be released to the public, which the juror feels hasn’t happened.
- The juror wants the opportunity to speak publicly about what happened during the hearing, something s/he is currently gagged from doing.
You might not have noticed this story because NO ONE IS TALKING ABOUT IT. When Ferguson happened it was all over Twitter. It was all over my Facebook stream. It was the top story on CNN, MSNBC and FoxNews. For this, I had to dig for five minutes to even find a link to attach to it. Why? Because somehow the headline “juror on perhaps the biggest legal case of the year sues prosecutor for misconduct” is substantially less interesting in the cultural mindscape than “lazy niggers and thugs burn down their city.”
And that’s why violence matters for cultural change. In the grand scheme of civil rights movements, most individual actions don’t count for much on their own. A juror saying that the prosecutor both behaved inappropriately during the grand jury proceedings and misrepresented the findings after the fact is a very important incident. It is something I hope goes somewhere. It is something I hope results in some change. But it also makes for really bad television. There just isn’t enough spectacle to it. And spectacle is what people respond to.
Of course, this isn’t proof that Wilson is guilty of anything. It’s not even proof that McCulloch is guilty of anything. What it is proof of is that even amongst the grand jury, there were doubts. There was a question as to whether or not he was guilty. There was a question about whether or not McCulloch was doing his job. Proof? No. Questions yes. You know, the kinds of things that, I don’t know… maybe you want to have a trial for?
A couple weeks ago, McCulloch admitted that he knew that some of the “witnesses” he put before the grand jury weren’t credible and some were probably blanketly lying. Basically, it’s starting to sound like, at best McCulloch was presenting evidence for both sides of the case. At worst he was trying to create reasonable doubt so that Wilson could walk. Either way, it’s not really his job to do that.
Believe it or not, I actually don’t think McCulloch is evil. I don’t think he is a card carrying Klan member. I don’t think he ever, for one minute, got out of bed and said “how am I going to stick it to the darkies today?” But he is a DA. The DA works with the police. They’re on the same side. In trying to do what he probably thinks is right, that is, in trying to protect the arm of the system that has the horribly dangerous job of being on the streets and dealing with crime so that he can prosecute it, it looks like he showed incredibly poor judgement. In fact, I don’t think Wilson was trying to be racist either. I think he’s probably being honest when he was saying that he was afraid he was in danger from the big scary unarmed black man. I don’t think for a second he ever got in his squad car and said to his partner “I’m going to go out and shoot be a ‘coon today.” (I do think this is the sort of thing that has gone through George Zimmerman’s head for instance). But that is where institutionalized racism comes in. You know, that big nebulous word that people who argue with me like to say doesn’t exist because they aren’t trying to be prejudice. No they’re not. But when you perpetuate a system that allows this to happen, even in the name of a theoretical greater good, that is what institutionalized racism is.
I think it’s pretty clear at this point that eventually the federal hammer is going to fall on Ferguson, MO. At this point, it’s starting to look like it’s not even up to Eric Holder’s discretion. Sooner or later, something is just going to have to happen, because too much is going on for this NOT to be investigated. If I were Bob McCulloch, I’d indict Wilson today. A lot of people probably don’t realize that McCulloch still has that power. Grand Jury decisions aren’t binding. He can indict Wilson anytime he wants to. If I were McCulloch, I would issue a press statement that basically says something like “look, I’m not convinced he did anything, but since the people want it so bad, we clearly need a trial to get past this, so we are filing formal charges today.” Why? Because at this point McCulloch’s ass is way more on the line than Wilson’s ever really was. Doing your best to preserve the status quo for institutionalized racism is all well and good, but at a point you kinda have to decide “a white man is going to jail for this, and I’ll be damned if it’s going to be me.”
But really, it doesn’t matter. Because no one will notice, and if they do, it’ll make a news byte for like two seconds sandwiched between Taylor Swift giving away Easter baskets to her overreactive fans and someone hacking Kim Jong-Un’s phone for nudes.
Do you know who Richard Combs is? Richard Combs is a white cop who killed Bernard Bailey, an unarmed 54-year old black man, over a traffic ticket in 2011 in South Carolina. About a month ago, he was indicted. I bet you didn’t notice that, huh? I certainly didn’t. You know why? I knew there had to be some cop somewhere that was indicted for killing an unarmed black man in the last year. I had to dig through the internet for like 20 minutes to find one. If I were the kind of person who was arguing that we were in a post-racial society, Richard Combs and Bernard Bailey would totally be my poster children. “Look, the system works!” I would say. Richard Combs would totally be the one guy that I cut loose just to show that I wasn’t being racist. But that’s not what’s happening. Instead, Combs’ supporters are claiming that he is a victim of the of the reverse racial system because he isn’t getting away with it. The poor man is being railroaded by system that unfairly places blacks above poor white police officers that are just trying to do their job. You know, because it is so much better to be a black person than a white person… IN FUCKING SOUTH CAROLINA!!!!
And that, you see… is why people get so frustrated that they burn down their own neighborhoods.