If you want a lesson on the inequities of American justice continue to pay attention to Ferguson, Missouri.
Local authorities in the now infamous St. Louis suburb are on the lookout for two men that are suspected of shooting and wounding a police officer on Saturday night. St Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar says that the shooting was not related to that day’s protests concerning the killing of Michael Brown by Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson, but in the aftermath of Brown’s death on August 9th everything concerning the city’s law enforcement officials and the citizens that they are suppose to serve is intertwined.
America does not tolerate violence against police officers, particularly if one is tragically murdered in the line of duty. The latest example of this is the current manhunt for Eric Frein in Pennsylvania’s northeastern woods. Frein is accused of shooting and killing state trooper Bryon Dickerson and seriously wounding his partner. The people in charge of finding Frein will display extra intensity in doing so and should he be apprehended alive the criminal justice system will not go light. Those are the ramifications for bringing harm to people who do a thankless job for little money while putting themselves in dangerous situations.
With that being said it would be nice if that same criminal justice system worked in the same way when the roles are reversed. In this week where the search is on for Frein and the Ferguson gunmen, A grand jury refused to indict Beavercreek, Ohio police officers in the shooting death of John Crawford. Crawford was a twenty two year old black man who was shopping in an area Wal-Mart while carrying a toy rifle in a open carry state and that still wasn’t enough to keep him from joining a list of victims that is way too long, a list of victims that lost their lives at the hands of overzealous law enforcement who are too quick to view black and brown people in particular as anything but human.
“The grand jury listened to all of the evidence, voted on it and decided that the police officers were justified in their use of force that day” said prosecutor Mark Piepmeier. This despite the fact that surveillance video from inside the store showed that Crawford, who was on his cell phone the entire time clearly was not a threat, customers continued to shop next to him without fear in large part because he did not appear to be waving the gun at them as the store employee who made the 911 call to law enforcement suggested. Imagine the inverse. Imagine if John Crawford had a real assault rifle in his possession that day. Imagine if he opened fire on a crowd of police officers and lived to tell the tale. Would a grand jury that would probably be made up of some of those same Beavercreek citizens come back with a statement like “we listened to all of the evidence, voted on it and decided Crawford was in fear of his life and was merely defending himself,” I sincerely doubt it.
The protection from responsibility that our society gives those who carry badges is not only shortsighted, it is a matter of life and death, especially for those of us whose pigmentation happens to be on the darker side. It is that same shield that provided Johannes Mehserle, a former bay area transit cop whose white, freedom from a second degree murder charge for shooting African-American Oscar Grant to death on a subway platform in Oakland while he was handcuffed and lying face down. It’s a barrier that protected Mehserle from the lengthy prison sentence that he deserved, one that made sure he did less than 10 months for taking the life of an unarmed and defenseless human being. It’s not a stretch to believe that Mehserle would have never seen the inside of a courtroom had certain members of the jury pool that decided his fate had their way.
While police officials turn the greater St. Louis area upside down to find the assailants that shot one of their own this past weekend, Darren Wilson continues to lie on a couch in an undisclosed location, feet up drink in hand. Wilson knows the luxury of having a Police Chief that is willing to move heaven and earth to protect him while at the same time issuing completely disingenuine apologies to a community that is devastated and a family that will never be the same. Wilson can bask in the glow of having colleagues that support him by wearing “I am Darren Wilson” wristbands while simultaneously carrying an open disdain for a group of taxpayers that they essentially work for. Wilson knows that the likelihood of him ever suffering any real consequences for shooting Mike Brown to death are slim because the chances of a Ferguson grand jury coming to the same conclusion that the one in Beavercreek did are great.
There is no question that police work is difficult. The possibility of a cop not walking into his front door on any given night is real. However a person of color not surviving an encounter with police officers is also real. The problem is accountability in the legal system isn’t fairly distributed and too many people and their loved ones know that all too well.