A death in Missouri

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Michael Brown, Jr.
Michael Brown, Jr.

I doubt we’ll ever know the full story of how it happened that the Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson came to shoot and kill Michael Brown Jr. in broad daylight on a street in Ferguson, Mo.

The shooting August 9 set off a week of demonstrations. Some protestors threw bottles and broke store windows. Some looted. Others called for peace and brought food and water to the demonstrators. Many demanded the prosecutor indict Officer Wilson for murder. Meantime, Michael Brown’s funeral drew thousands to the church. That included the nationally known Rev. Al Sharpton. He gave the eulogy.

For the rest of the country, the shooting opened an old, festering wound about how white police treat black citizens. It’s not common for an officer to shoot and kill a citizen, especially one who, like Brown, is unarmed. Yet in so many communities across the country relations between police and black citizens remain sensitive if not downright hostile.

Black citizens don’t need sociologists who study this stuff to tell them that blacks are more likely to end up with longer prison terms than whites for virtually the same drug-related offenses. Across the board, blacks in most communities and cities are more often
charged with traffic and other misdemeanors. Black citizens understand that two standards in the justice system apply: One for whites and the other, more strict, for minorities.

Then there’s Ferguson, Mo., one of many seemingly thriving St. Louis suburbs. You’d think that in a town that’s two-thirds black, the powers that be would see to it that the police force has a similar make-up of blacks. But of the 53 officers on the force, only three are black. One of them has an administrative job with the department.

Likewise, Ferguson’s mayor is white; nearly all members of the city council are white.

As things stand now, a grand jury will not take up the shooting of Michael Brown until October. I imagine that by week’s end the protestors from outside Ferguson will have gone home. The preachers will find a new inspiration. The columnists and editorial writers will take up other causes. Like the Trayvon Martin shooting death by a neighborhood watchman in Florida, this tragedy probably will fade and the national focus will shift once more.

Nevertheless, I remain hopeful that the death of Michael Brown will not be forgotten. I want to believe that the calls for justice will echo throughout the land. Young Brown’s story did gain national attention. Just today, the September 1 issue of The New Yorker arrived in the mail. The cover portrays images of people raising their hands in a graphic reflection of Ferguson demonstrators who raised their hands with the message: “Don’t shoot.”

A beginning? We’ll see.

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