There was never a second where I felt St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Bob McCulloch was going to stand before the world and say a Missouri grand jury had decided to indict Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson for the killing of Mike Brown.
The reality is that few police officers are ever indicted by grand juries, whether it’s a fatal shooting or police brutality. Indeed, those committed to fighting for social justice are shocked when an officer is indicted.
While the pain of not seeing Wilson in handcuffs is devastating to Brown’s family and the thousands of folks who have taken to the streets for more than 100 consecutive days to protest his death, there is solace in knowing that a movement is afoot that will change the direction of this nation for years to come.
It has always pained me to see scores of people show up for massive rallies, only to disappear when the case fades away. (Jena 6 comes to mind.) Yet two years ago, when Trayvon Martin was gunned down by George Zimmerman, we saw a new fervor come to the fore, driven by the connective tissue known as social media.
Fast forward two years later. No longer are people content to air their grievances online with hashtags. A collective button seems to have been pushed, igniting a fire in the belly of many who have opened their eyes to the severe injustices we see in America.
Before Trayvon, who even know about Stand Your Ground laws? Before Trayvon, the American Legislative Exchange Council was a nondescript group funded by Fortune 500 companies that was supposed to be involved in tax policy. But its far more insidious role was revealed, whether it was gun policies or voter suppression.
In the more than 100 days since Mike Brown was shot to death by Darren Wilson, the shameful racial inequities of Ferguson and the surrounding towns around St. Louis have been exposed, revealing a culture that preys on the poor and destroys the spirits of generation after generation.
Brown’s death focused the spotlight on a nearly all-white police force in a largely black town, pushing others to examine their own police forces.
We now know that the city of Ferguson has turned ticket writing into a dramatic revenue source, and in turn, others are taking a closer look at their own court system and even police forfeiture rules.
Yes, Mike Brown is dead. Darren Wilson will walk free. But the meeting of these two on that fateful day in August has forced an increasing number of Americans to stop accepting the status quo from law enforcement and the criminal-justice system, and demand they be more accountable to the people.
The anger at Wilson not being indicted is real. And people are going to express it in a number of ways. But they should view this decision not to indict as a small battle in a much larger war. That war means changing the way police officers conduct themselves. It means pushing every police department to send their cops out with body and dashboard cameras. It means putting people in office who better reflect the will of the people and not just the chosen few.
The fight for a fair justice system has gone far beyond Ferguson. We see men and women of various backgrounds coming together to demand justice in New York (Eric Garner); Ohio (John Crawford); New Iberia, Louisiana (Victor White III); Jonesboro, Arkansas (Chavis Carter); Los Angeles (Ezell Ford); St. Louis (VonDerrit Myers); and so many other cities. They are marching, protesting, organizing, registering voters, running candidates for office, training up the next generation of civil-rights lawyers.
They are largely young people who have decided that, in the words of Black Freedom Movement leader Fannie Lou Hamer, they are “sick and tired of being sick and tired.”
America, Darren Wilson walking free won’t stop this movement. George Zimmerman walking free won’t dissuade these young crusaders from standing up for truth and righteousness.
I have full faith that just as in a couple of months we’ll celebrate the brave men and women who helped to break the back of Jim Crow 50 years ago in Selma, Alabama, we’ll one day look back on these days and say there was a generation of people who were unwilling to accept the status quo and used their time, talents, and energy to make America a more perfect union.