The vital lessons we have learned from Ferguson

Published on The Guardian, by Farai Chideya, Nov 30, 2014.

Soon after the decision not to charge Officer Darren Wilson, the man who shot and killed Michael Brown in still-roiling Ferguson, Missouri, President Barack Obama acknowledged “disappointment”. But he added: “We are a nation built on the rule of law, so we need to accept that this decision was the grand jury’s to make.”

Let’s break that down a bit. America was built initially on a constitution in which black Americans were three-fifths of a human being; one in which only landowning white men could vote. So yes, we are built on law, but the law has always picked favourites.

And, considering that last Thursday was American Thanksgiving, it’s worth quoting TV satirist Jon Stewart for a retake on the pilgrim era: “I celebrated Thanksgiving in an old-fashioned way. I invited everyone in my neighbourhood to my house, we had an enormous feast, and then I killed them and took their land” … //

… Longtime criminal justice reporter Jennifer Gonnerman told me: “What happened in the Ferguson case is highly unusual. In a typical case, the prosecutor would just present the evidence to the grand jurors and they would vote whether or not to indict the defendant. It doesn’t take three months; in some cases, it can take five minutes.”

Gonnerman recently wrote a story for the New Yorker magazine about Kalief Browder, a teenager who was jailed on New York’s notorious Riker’s Island for three years without trial for a petty crime (stealing a backpack), one he didn’t even commit. Browder refused to take a plea deal, but then tried to kill himself when he was freed. He’d spent half of those three years in solitary confinement. And yes, he was black, with a family who cared for him but didn’t have the resources to hire a private lawyer.

I’m tired, for example, of my tax dollars going to pay off victims of New York police killings and other misconduct (like the false Central Park Jogger case imprisonments), when the officers themselves walk away with a full pensions and no jail time. I say this having been a field reporter for a quarter of a century and having followed caring officers who are part of the New York and Los Angeles Police Departments, two of the most heavily criticised, at times, in the country.

Six years ago in Los Angeles, I went out with the LAPD on Skid Row. Now gentrifying around the edges, then it was a morass of the mentally ill, addicts, sex workers, drug dealers and the just plain homeless poor. The officers I went out with, both day and night, acted more like social workers, for example securing housing for an elderly woman living in a tent who had dementia. I see the complexity of policing and, if anything, I believe officers should be paid more. But that does not in any way excuse the pattern in criminal justice of officers and prison guards being near-untouchable when they kill, maim, disable or falsely arrest people.

To return to the question of rule of law, we need better enforcement of old laws, as well as new ones that dictate federal oversight of rogue departments. This won’t come from platitudes reassuring Americans we are a nation of laws. It will come from realising, as the hashtags have it, that #BlackLivesMatter, as #AllLivesMatter, and our democracy will not thrive if we pretend otherwise.

(full text).

(Farai Chideya is the host of the podcast about global visionaries “One With Farai,” and a professor of journalism at New York University).

Related Links:

Other Links:

Inequality and Liberal Democracy, A Disturbing Association, on ZNet (first on TeleSUR english), by Walden Bello, Dec 1, 2014: How do we bring fundamental reforms about at a time when organized minorities and disorganized, quiescent majorities appear to be the norm in both the North and the South? …;

The acquittal of Hosni Mubarak, on, Dec 1, 2014;

Afghan regime hit by wave of Taliban attacks, on, by Patrick Martin, Dec 1, 2014;

Bedingungsloses Grundeinkommen, on Humanitatian Texts, Dec 1, 2014;

our’s blogs-statistics, on Gesundheit Santé Health (the only blog having a software able to show the chart), Nov 30, 2014;

Israel’s Jewish state bill – assessing the wider impact, on Middle East Eye MEE, by Jonathan Cook, Last update Nov 29, 2014;

Crisis of a community, on Kashmir and IDPs, by K.N. Pandita, Nov 27, 2014;

Bajboj wins, on Al-Ahram weekly online, by Karem Yehia, Nov 27, 2014: Veteran politician Beji Caid Essebsi won the first round of Tunisia’s presidential elections by a comfortable margin last weekend;

Manual medicine, on Al-Ahram weekly online, by Mai Samih, Nov 27, 2014: how ancient hands can replace a modern hospital;

Jihad on way to India, on Geopolitical Analysis, by K.N. Pandita, Nov 12, 2014;

… and this:

  • Vangelis (30 beautiful songs in compilation), 178.16 min, uploaded by Antonescu Andrei, Oct 31, 2012 … and many other compilations in autoplay = endless music).

Comments are closed.