Culture and Community Special Edition: The Unfolding of Ferguson

Crystal Blanton —  November 26, 2014 — 84 Comments

On Monday the grand jury announced that it would not indict officer Darren Wilson for the Aug. 8 shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. While protests were already in full swing prior to the announcement, there was an immediate and intense increase in activity on streets of Ferguson when the news broke. By Tuesday morning, 1500 National Guard joined the already 700 present to contain the explosive reactions to the decision.

Picture courtesy of Gae Sidhe

Picture courtesy of Gae Sidhe

Protests were not isolated to Ferguson. People rallied, held vigils and marched in major cities across the U.S. including, New York, Atlanta, Minneapolis, Oakland, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

The internet also exploded with response to the Grand Jury announcement. Issues, such as the militarization of police, racial profiling, and the disproportionate killing of unarmed Black and Brown men and women, have become the center of an intense dialog on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.

While these discussions show that America is still very divided, what is often missing is the underlining pain and grief felt by many communities, especially for People of Color. However, over the past few days, those feelings of hopelessness, overwhelming sadness and fear, concern and safety and grief and loss have been prominently displayed on the streets of America.

St Louis resident Jacki Richardson talked about the protests on the night of the announcement and the following day. In her reflection, she told me:

We were talking, fumbling clumsily through our stories to identify where the other is coming from and telling our own. Three of us, childless, talked of our choice to tell the truth or a lie to our parents about where we are spending our time, commiserating on their well-meaning (if disregarded) plea for our safety. A mother, whose son made it home safely in the early hours last night walked away with tears in her eyes. I realized too late that she was choking on the terror for her son’s safety. Yes, today he’s okay, but what about tonight? I felt my heart stop for a second. Goddess, hold the hearts of mothers gently this night.

River Higginbotham, another local St. Louis Pagan, shared his thoughts on the unfolding tragedy in Ferguson. He said:

River Higginbotham

River Higginbotham

The tragic events of August 9th in Ferguson, just five miles from my home, when Michael Brown was killed by Officer Wilson, spark great sadness, frustration and anger – from many sides of the story. Each side has dug into their view of the meanings and motives. For many hearing the other perspective is nearly impossible. With this comes violence or marginalization. Neither helps. Both tear the fabric of the Ferguson community. I was deeply saddened and shocked at the violence that followed that night.

This is complicated. I can see many layers here. I empathize with the loss the Brown family feels and the fear sewn in the community from the violence that raged in August and raged again this week after no indictment was made. I understand the confusion of those who just do not see the systemic injustices and the frustration of police and officials who struggle to know how to cope with chaotic and dangerous circumstances that have boiled into the streets.

While the scene in Ferguson might look different from the ground than what people are seeing on the television screen, it it still evokes emotions and reactions in people around the U.S. and even the world.

Diana Rajchel

Diana Rajchel

Ferguson is especially heartbreaking because we are repeating history that we have often celebrated being past (not that most people really believed we were.) Instead of moving forward with equality and civil rights, Ferguson is a sign we’ve sunk lower. As much of a setback as this is, there are seeds of hope on the horizon: movements for putting cameras on police, the raised awareness of white privilege – the angry resistance is really a sign of hitting home – and right now, our highest hope is that the Justice Department will live up to its name. In the meantime, the best we can do is read the documents that the Ferguson case jury did, and send personal letters of condemnation but NOT threats to those that have failed we, the people the most. – Diana Rajchel

LaSara Firefox Allen

LaSara Firefox Allen

I wish I could say I’m shocked. I’m not. But I AM appalled. As much by the decision, as by the unwillingness of most people to talk about what the real issues are … The truth is that white people are afraid to talk about racism. But it MUST be talked about. We need to say the words. Feel the feelings. Move into and through the discomfort. Again and again. As people who understand the necessity of creating and supporting spaces in which change may occur, we can and MUST use our resources in order to create those spaces. This is what we can move forward with. What we MUST move forward with. – LaSara Firefox Allen

Dava Greely

Dava Greely

I am usually pretty reserved when events like this pop off. “Same old, same old. I don’t know why people are surprised.” But this time is different. Something infernal stirred within me last night – not just for Mike Brown, or Ferguson, but for the insidious web that has been woven that allows things like this to keep happening. – Dava Greely

Ellie Skye Faulkner

Ellie Skye Faulkner

As a young mixed, Latina and white youth, it hurts, it makes me angry. It makes me scared for my black and brown peers. It sends a clear message to us that… They don’t care about us. And that we have to fight to survive. Education is our weapon, and love is our shield. – Ellie Skye Faulkner

Max Dashu

Max Dashu

The racial caste system is still in place, with a militarized police keeping down African-American communities, and too many white people feeling that they are not bound to respect the rights of Black people. I’m horrified to see this refusal to indict for a cold-blooded shooting, and I can tell you the world is scandalized too. We need to push back against this oppression, and by we, I mean white allies have got to act and educate and put pressure on against these continuing injustices. – Max Dashu

Carolina Amor

Carolina Amor

I see no colors, I see human beings. Shooting a person 6 times does not imply self defense, it implies a crime and the perpetrator is walking unharmed protected by a jury who is not able to see reality beyond the reasonable doubt. Justice has not been served in this trial. A life was lost and there are no consequences. Justice is supposed to be blind but in this case it was tainted. – Carolina A. Amor

Xochiquetzal Odinsdottir

Xochiquetzal Odinsdottir

They did not know that when they left him dead on the street that he was a seed that has scattered in the wind. I guess others can play from there….? It feels trite, but it’s true. We all bear the fruit of these actions, these continued atrocities committed against black bodies. As a non-black PoC, I have to be honest and direct about the ways I perpetuate the systemic issues, too. And as much as I break those, it’s a daily thing. To remember to be present in these times… – Xochiquetzal Duti Odinsdottir

Clio Ajana

Clio Ajana

This verdict leaves nothing but raw dust in the mouth, heartache, restlessness and division, and a lack of faith, regardless of one’s take on Ferguson. I see it as the beginning of an end with a cold energy that permeated the senses; no one escapes the residue, the energy depletion, the anger and the helplessness. I don’t know whether to cry, hide or fight. – Clio Ajana

Taylor Ellwood

Taylor Ellwood

The ruling in favor of Darren Wilson demonstrates the systemic racism that is central to the U. S. Justice System. If this country is to show that black lives matter we must expose the flaws in our justice system and make needed changes that bring real justice for all people instead of just White people.– Taylor Ellwood

Najah Lightfoot Bagley

Najah Lightfoot Bagley

 I was born in 1960. This reminds me of the Watts Riots. A lot of sorrow and a lot of pain. – Najah Lightfoot Bagley

Lou Florez

Lou Florez

Privilege colludes us with oppression by having us believe that the world does not look this way. Institutional and societal violence on black and brown bodies is reality and it exists in all our communities. Bearing witness to this tragedy is not enough. We have to be willing to see the dirt and filth and no longer swallow it as our own reflection. – Lou Florez

Blog posts have begun to surface, exploring many different aspects of the intersecting issues that rise up during times like these. Annika Mongan wrote a post titled “Staying Awake – Because of Ferguson,” which reflects on her personal processes while listening to the protests within her own California community.

Sometimes, on nights like these, I wish I could go back to the sleep, but I am just beginning to wake up. Waking up to a system of injustice, systemic racism, my own white privilege, and the realization of how I perpetuate racism has been painful. But it isn’t near as painful as waking up to find that the killer of my child goes free, that justice doesn’t apply to me, that my country declares my life to matter less, all because I am black. Those are experiences I am privileged not to have. So the very least I can do tonight is to learn, to listen, and yes, to stay awake.

Oakland, California protest. Picture courtesy of Gae Sidhe

Oakland, California protest. [Photo Courtesy: Gae Sidhe]

Author and activist T. Thorn Coyle published a post yesterday entitled, An Open Letter To White People. She starts by stating,

I am sending out a call for compassion. I am sending out a call for reason. I am sending out a call for an expansion of our presence with one another.

I am sending out the remembrance of the threads of our connection. We are not isolated beings on this planet. Collectively, in our gorgeous variance, we make up this living organism we call life.

I barely slept last night, the night of the Ferguson Grand Jury decision on Officer Wilson. After marching in the streets of Oakland, I came home, checked in with loved ones, ate something, and tuned in to what was happening in Ferguson. And what continued happening in Oakland until the small hours, and what was happening in 160 other cities.

It is an overwhelmingly amazing realization that so many people, in so many cities around the United States, are worried about the current state of justice enough to hit the streets in protest. People of all types are expressing a concern over the circumstances that led to the situation involving Michael Brown and other very similar cases. These issues are not a isolated to this one death; they speak to a pattern.

Regardless of one’s opinions on the issues, most people do agree that the death of any citizen is a tragedy; that past race relations have left a legacy that affects our modern communities; that justice is often served through a subjective process. Furthermore, the fear of a militarized police force is one shared by our collective population. However, the impact of these situations are a heavier weight for communities of color. The disproportionate number of incarcerations, police brutality and death of ethnic minorities, by the hands of law enforcement, increases the sense of dispair and urgency.

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Thorn Coyle marching with Brennos of the Coru Cathubodua, Oakland, Nov 24. [Photo Courtesy: Gae Sidhe]

As a Black woman in America, there is no way that I can write this article without thinking about the impact that this situation and these topics have in my own life. The fear that I carry as a mother of Black children is not different than the fear of mothers from any historically oppressed population. On Monday night, as my son walked out of the door, I stopped him to tell him not to wear his hoodie on his head and to put his dreads back in a ponytail. The fear that he may be mistaken for a thug because people will see him as a Black man first is a sad reality for many parents. And while we may disagree on the particulars of any one case, the history of institutionalized racism far exceeds this one situation.

While people can debate circumstances all day long, there are some bigger issues being revealed in the conversations had by many Pagans. How do we create and support a sense of safety for the marginalized in this country? How can we better support those who are afraid and who live without equity? How does modern Paganism look at the ways that communities intersect and our obligations to one another’s stories? Can we listen to the pain that is being expressed through grief and loss or are we more invested in the politics of right and wrong?

These are just a few of the many things for modern Pagan communities, as well as many groups around the U.S., to contemplate going forward.

River Higginbotham said something that resonated to me, and I will close the article with his words.

…In this time of rage and grief, I am heartened to witness people coming together, across lines of race, economics and religions to confront the anger and pain while seeking to understand the root causes and take steps towards building solutions. Interfaith and interracial prayer circles have sprung up. New community collectives have been founded to seek solutions. There are signs of hope even in these dark hours. Is it possible to listen deeply enough to heal some of the pain?

The resonance others across the region and nation feel with the issues of race, policing, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly have brought reactions that amazes me and ultimately offers me more hope. Today there were protests and demonstrations all across the nation.

I believe that the energy and focus sparked by that tragic death has begun a chain reaction that can really offer hope for real positive changes. Changes for good in Ferguson and across our culture. It is time to open our hearts, open our ears and join hands to support positive growth and transformation for individuals and for our diverse communities of all colors, beliefs and roles. Opportunity has knocked. Blessings on those who hear it and respond with love in action.

 

Crystal Blanton

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Crystal Blanton writes the monthly TWH column "Culture and Community." She is an activist, writer, priestess, mother, wife and social worker in the Bay Area. She has published two books "Bridging the Gap" and "Pain and Faith in a Wiccan World," and was the editor of the anthology "Shades of Faith; Minority Voices in Paganism." She is a writer for the magazine Sage Woman and Patheos' Daughters of Eve blog. She is passionate about the integration of community, spirituality, and healing from our ancestral past, and is an advocate for true diversity and multiculturalism within the Pagan community.
  • Cara Schulz

    For a very interesting take on this situation: http://greekreconmommy.blogspot.com/2014/11/the-ferguson-decision-in-light-of-horai.html

    Snip from the blog post:

    The Horai — Eunomia (Good Laws), Eirene (Peace) and Dike (Justice) are the daughters of Themis and Zeus. As the children of the King of the Gods and the Titan Goddess of divine law and natural order and the sisters of the Morai (Fates) they have the jobs of helping us maintain our social structures and dynamics.

    Although others will not necessarily agree with my feelings on the matter, all three of the sisters were absent in this situation. As is made obvious by the violence following the decision, Eirene was not there. The grand jury was asked to do the function of a trial jury by not only being shown the evidence that would potentially lead to a conviction but also the evidence that would potentially lead to an acquittal at trial. Because of this Eunomia was ignored, and therefore absent from the proceedings. And considering that the solitary function of a grand jury in the US justice system is to determine if there is sufficient evidence for a trial combined with the fact of there being 70 hours of testimony spanning 25 days — more testimony than is in the average criminal trial — and the grand jury did not indict, Dike was not there.

    • Franklin_Evans

      I cannot accept the assertion of those “absences”. It implies an absolutely confident knowledge of the truth behind the testimonies that proves the falsity of the findings of the grand jury.

      Show me that proof. Show me that it isn’t primarily a response to the grief and anger of the people of Ferguson. Show me that it is all in fact the very same as past examples of a corrupted local justice system.

      I know that my demands are not likely to be met, or can be taken as a blanket dismissal. But calls for indictment and findings of guilt are not enough.

      • Grand juries are not supposed to determine guilt or innocence. They are supposed to determine if there’s enough evidence to go forward with a trial. The fact that an unarmed person was shot multiple times ALONE should have been probable cause.

        Darren Wilson’s testimony about his own motives was also unusual for a grand jury hearing. He might have been exonerated anyway. But for all that to be presented to a grand jury was…unusual.

        The shape of the situation and the way it was handled points to a prosecutor who really, really, really didn’t want an indictment. Which means he wasn’t doing his job, as his obligation is to make the case for the state to the best of his ability and according to normal process.

        • Franklin_Evans

          I respect your attempt to speculate, and I really don’t mean to present a glib or dismissive tone, but I’d be very interested in how your opinion about one fact in the case carries any legal weight… or maybe I’m misunderstanding your use of the term “probable cause”. That the grand jury was even convened proves that probable cause was decided.

          I agree, it was a very unusual progression of events. I could even agree with you about the possible motives of the prosecutor, but it remains speculation.

          • You have it backwards. If a judge thought there was enough reason to charge someone with a crime already, a grand jury would not have been assembled. The grand jury decides whether someone is indicted for a crime; then a trial decides guilt or innocence.

            The fact that everyone is confused about this I think says more about how badly the grand jury hearing was screwed up than anything.

          • Franklin_Evans

            I understand the term “probable cause” as a legal concept applied to a police officer making a decision to arrest or enter a space or property without a warrant. The grand jury, as I understand it, occupies the second phase of a criminal investigation to determine if the collected evidence and testimony justifies an indictment. An arrest is not an indictment. I invite you to expand on your point along those lines. I do wish to understand you here.

          • Probable cause is the phrase used in the official announcement, ie “no probable cause exists to file charges.” And it was used in the prosecutor’s explanations to the grand jury. It seems like you haven’t been reading much about this.

          • dantes

            I had no idea about this “Grand Jury” thing…I thought it was similar to the Jury that determines if someone is guilty or innocent… Thanks for the clarification.

            But wait a minute, does that mean that he’ll basically not even be judged? No matter people are getting angry in the streets then.

          • Exactly. No charges, no trial.

          • dantes

            So who’s the person that gets to decide if a trial should happen? A federal judge ?

          • It depends on the potential charges. State laws and federal laws are different; something can be a federal crime but not a state crime, and vice versa. Some things are both.

            No state charges are going to be filed at this point. The Attorney General says the federal government is conducting their own investigation. The family could also pursue damages for wrongful death in civil court. Both of those are fraught with complications.

          • Wolfsbane

            From what I’ve read on this case. It’s extremely doubtful that there will be any Federal charges levied in this case.

          • Rhoanna

            In this case, the prosecutor could have brought charges directly (which would have resulted in a trial, unless the judge dismissed the charges or a plea bargain happened). Instead, the prosecutor decided to present the case to a grand jury, which then had the responsibility of decided whether the case should go to trial. They decided it shouldn’t, hence the current events.

            This all pertain to state charges, not a federal case (which is what would go before a federal judge). The federal Department of Justice is still investigating, and could bring (slightly different) charges, although people seem to think that’s unlikely.

          • dantes

            Okay so the prosecutor is a different guy than the judge…And Federal and State prosecution are not the same thing…This is really getting complicated…One last question though: Can a single individual charge another one? I.E. could some family member of Mike Brown start some kind of process? Or at least challenge the prosecutor(s) decisions?

          • Deborah Bender

            In US law, I’m pretty sure private individuals cannot bring criminal charges against anybody. They can sue other individuals, companies and some government agencies in civil court; if they win, they can get monetary damages and/or a ruling that the company or agency has to change its behavior in some way. In this instance the family member would be suing for a wrongful death.

            However, the family will probably wait and see whether the federal Department of Justice is going to bring either criminal charges against the policemen (unlikely because the burden of proof would be difficult to meet under federal law) or a civil case against the entire police department (more likely, because the DOJ has the resources to determine whether there is a pattern of policies or management that violates federal civil rights law, and could enforce a reorganization of the department, which would potentially affect more of the town’s population).

            The prosecutor is definitely a different guy from the judge, because American law (except maybe in Louisiana) is derived from English common law, not Napoleonic law. It’s an adversarial system and the judge is the referee.

            I don’t blame you for being confused about the nested relationship of municipal, county, state and federal laws, and about our grand juries. It’s way complicated. Most Americans know something about ordinary jury trials, especially criminal trials, because TV shows featuring lawyers and trials are very popular. Also jury duty is one of the few duties of citizenship that is mandatory for most adults here, so lots of people have experienced it.

            There are two kinds of grand juries, ones that decide whether to bring criminal charges against people (and are usually a rubber stamp for the District Attorney) and ones which are assigned by a county government to investigate some issue, or the operations of some government department, and make recommendations for government action. Service on a grand jury is voluntary and grand juries tend to be made up of older and wealthier people, because they serve for months and the average person can’t afford to be off work that long. Grand jury deliberations are secret; only the results are public. Most people have never been on a grand jury and don’t know much about it.

          • dantes

            I see so even if no prosecutor brings any charge, the family would still be able to sue Wilson, but not for murder am I right’

            In any cases, thanks for your very complete explanations.

          • Franklin_Evans

            There is one legal concept that come’s close to “bringing criminal charges”, and that’s citizen’s arrest: In the United States a private person may arrest another without a warrant for a crime occurring in his or her presence.

            It is exceedingly rare. I recall — vaguely, I’m afraid — a discussion that mentioned its decline since the Miranda case and the subsequent requirement of explaining of rights when arrested.

            The part in which I’m most interested is a federal investigation of evidence of systematic racial discrimination in that police department. I reject automatic assertions of it, but I know it exists and it must be dealt with. It happened here in Philadelphia and tore the veil away from its hiding places. We still see examples of individual officers violating their duty, but no longer entire departments for very long. They take such accusations seriously here, and for very good cause.

          • Wolfsbane

            There’s not a person who decides. It’s the job of the multiple people on the grand jury that decides. So a single prosecutor with an axe to grind doesn’t get to decide to try you because he doesn’t happen to like your religion because you’re not a Christian and therefore you’re obviously guilty regardless of the fact you didn’t actually commit them crime,

          • Wolfsbane

            Too bad that people on the street are mad.
            We’re a nation of laws and not of mob rule.
            Be glad the were are so you have the right to be a Pagan in a society that demands that all citizens should be a Christian under threat of the whims of the mob..

        • Wolfsbane

          The purpose of the grand jury system is to provide a mechanism to prevent people from being persecuted by the fiat of individual prosecutors by taking the decision to decide as to if there is enough evidence to justify a trial out of the hands of the government and putting it into the hands of multiple ordinary citizens.
          It’s an excellent system that works well for hundreds of years.

        • Franklin_Evans

          I finally realized what I wasn’t reading, and that was your changing of the subject as a non-response to my initial post in this tangent.

          I repeat my challenge: show me your credentials, show me you’ve examined the evidence and testimony and in your independent expertise can prove that the grand jury was wrong.

          I have read your posts. You make unsubstantiated assumptions and leap to conclusions, and end every post with a thinly-veiled ad hominem. Come up with a rational argument, and I’ll respond to it.

  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    Today’s daily paper has a columnist claiming that, in circumstances like these, Americans line up with their color-coded tribes and limit themselves to that perspective in reaction to events. The diversity of voices in Crystal Blanton’s post gives the lie to this notion. Thank you.

  • Franklin_Evans

    Crystal, I wish to add my voice to your excellent writing. I post the following as my personal point of view, and not as a response to any particulars of the article, which I will do in separate post(s).
    Americans are so gullible that their outrage becomes a marketing target. Our news media are taking advantage of it, not creating it.

    The loss of a loved one to violence, regardless of the source, cannot be exaggerated. It strikes at the fundamental existence of us. This fact must be kept in mind when one considers another fact:

    The American justice system gives neither validity nor credence to the feelings of those who’ve lost a loved one to violence.

    Our justice system has flaws. It has failures. It is still the best possible system because it continues to attempt to find the truth. If we set aside the examples of corruption, or just ordinary misfeasance, what’s left is the conflict between our feelings and the justice system’s attempt to find the truth.

    We must also acknowledge that the race issue has explicit precedents that fuels the anger of the people of Ferguson. We can — as I’m doing here — cite the system and it’s responsibility to find the truth, but those precedents loom over everything. They can be summarized easily:

    The white majority has a long history of protecting its own guilty at the expense of the findings of the truth, starting with suppressing the truth as much as was needed. At the same time, the treatment of minority defendants was the opposite, a consistent drive to convict despite compelling evidence of innocence.

    There are plenty of examples of jurisdictions that have broken away from that precedent, that demonstrate the objectivity and impartiality we expect from Justice, but they can’t wipe away those precedents.

    We can beg the people of Ferguson to accept the findings of the grand jury. We can point out the rational basis for that acceptance. Their grief and anger remain, and if I had a solution to it I’d be giving it to all who will listen.

    I don’t have one. I can only say: I share your grief, I understand your anger, but in the end they cannot be the sole basis for the police officer’s guilt. Findings of fact will not give you solace. They can only give you the truth.

  • Franklin_Evans

    I want to argue with the notion that the Ferguson incident and the findings of the grand jury must be examples of racism. I know it looks like past examples. How, in the absence of being in the room with the grand jury, is it possible to leap to that conclusion?

    It could be. I can’t deny that. I could also not be that, but a finding of truth in an objective setting according to the procedures and requirements of our criminal justice system. It could be somewhere in between, as my own personal experience on a jury suggest.

    The charges were rape and incest. There was a five-year gap in time between the incident and the trial. I and my fellow jurors agonized over the evidence and testimony for hours, and could not bring a verdict of guilty despite our personal belief that the defendant was guilty. We commented angrily on the apparent incompetence of the prosecutors. The defense rested without calling any witnesses to testify. We grieved for the victim, we cried. In the end, we could not convict beyond a reasonable doubt.

    As we exited the courtroom, the lead prosecutor asked for a moment of our time. I don’t know about my fellow jurors, but I was ready to rip into him right up to the moment when I really looked at his face. He was grieving right along with us. His only words were of apology and sorrow. I don’t know for sure, but to this day I believe his strongest feeling was shame.

    Every case is different. I’m just asking… no, begging everyone to give the members of the grand jury the same human consideration I was so ready to withhold from that prosecutor.

    • Baruch Dreamstalker

      The difference between a trial jury and a grand jury is that a trial jury gets all the evidence and chooses between innocence and guilt, while a grand jury is supposed to get evidence that a crime has been committee and is good enough to indict the defendant to stand trial to determine innocence or guilt. The Ferguson grand jury was given all the evidence and turned improperly into a trial of guilt.I might suspect the Ferguson prosecutor was another soulful incompetent like the one in your case, except I’ve seen several articles on line about how rare it is for prosecutors to successfully indict police in this sort of circumstance, with a strong implication that they deliberately do not try very hard.As a white ally of persons of color, I learned long ago not to jump into saying, “This isn’t about race,” when a person of color tells me it is. I have the privilege of ignoring race as a subject for days at a time; persons of color do not. They are the experts on racism; I am a principled amateur.

      • “I am a principled amateur.” I like that.

        There’s one thing related to racism that I allow I might know more about, and that’s how white people talk among themselves when they think nobody is listening. Everything else…not so much.

        • Charles Cosimano

          The ones I know are talking about how much ammuntion they have for their assault rifles. This is not a pleasant scenario.

      • Franklin_Evans

        I do understand the differences between the types of juries. Indeed, a public defender of my acquaintance once complained in my hearing that convening a grand jury often means that the district attorney office has political reasons for not being the ones to bring the actual charges.

        I should clarify about the experience I described: the prosecutor was not, by that one example, incompetent. He was disadvantaged by the span of time and the rules of admissible evidence. I later decided that their indicting the defendant at all was an act of courage knowing the weakness of their case.

        I, too, like your term “principled amateur.” I’m a bit jealous. 😀

  • Kyle Morton

    There is a lot of discussion happening the nation over as to whether justice was served in this case. Anger and sorrow have tainted the viewpoint so that the facts of the case as the public knows them have become obscure and arbitrary. What do we actually know about what happened? The facts stand thus; That Michael Brown was shot and killed by Officer Darren Wilson. Everything else I seem to read falls into the arena of individual interpretation. All of the evidence that was gathered and presented to the grand jury was not available to the public, most of it will not be readily available to all of us for months or even years to come. The members of the grand jury, which includes black Americans as is widely known, decided based on the whole of the evidence that it is not sufficient to lay charges on that officer.

    It has been said that their decision implies that justice was not served by that decision. How do we define justice then? Merriam-Webster indicates as follows,

    “the process or result of using laws to judge and punish crimes and criminals.”

    In our legal system, that is exactly what has occurred with regard to Officer Wilson. The media and many well meaning citizens throughout the country have the impression that “justice” it this matter is defined as the prosecution and imprisonment of that officer. At this point in time no one but the prosecution and the grand jury have any full understanding of the sequence of events that transpired which ultimately ended with Michael Brown’s death. It is an absolute fact that racism continues to exist in this nation and therefore permeates into our legal system. It is also a fact that no one except for those who have received the information in this case in its entirety are in any position to fairly assert that it has been a factor on the grand jury decision.

    Racism is a multifaceted entity and does not fit quite so categorically into our daily life as we would like. This case should be driving home the point that racism is a two way road. Is it not racist to think that because a black man is dead at the hands of a white man that prejudice must have played a factor? Is it not racist to assume that because the white officer was not indicted that the system throughout the country is tainted by that same prejudice? Why is it so difficult to think that the grand jury did not indict the officer because they found that he acted within the laws and procedures that governed his actions?

    Law enforcement agencies are legally required to have a “use of force document” which outlines the specific circumstances that need to exist for an individual officer to use ANY force to subdue a suspect or detainee. A great deal of these documents specifically address deadly force. Deadly force as a legal term does not indicate that a firearm is necessarily used and these rules are complex in their construction and verbiage but can be reasonably condensed to four conditions that must be satisfied before an officer can escalate a contact to the point of deadly force.

    1. The officer must have a reasonable suspicion that a crime has been committed or is intended to be committed by the person he or she is contacting, which can be established prior to or during that contact.

    2. The party must present with a noncompliance to lawful orders by the officer in question. These include any instructions related to the party’s detention or orders given to protect the investigative process except where protected by Miranda rights, first amendment rights, etc.

    3. The party must present that noncompliance in a manner which would indicate to the average person that they intend to do harm to the officer up to and including the officers demise.

    4. An average person in the same situation would agree that a disparity of force exists to a degree where an officer fears for his life IF deadly force is not initiated in their part.

    A significant height and weight advantage has been cited in favor of Michael Brown over Officer Wilson and has not been disputed. The eyewitness accounts of the events that were revealed to the media indicated that Brown charged at Officer Wilson. This in itself satisfies the first criteria as outlined, Any reasonable person would agree that no person would act in that manner towards another who was unknown to them except to do harm. It was also reported to the media prior to the grand jury that Officer Wilson ordered brown to cease this action several times, and Brown continued to charge Officer Wilson, satisfying the second and third criteria. The aforementioned reference diaspora of size of the two men, coupled with Browns unknown intentions were he to have reached Officer Wilson satisfies the fourth criteria. Without regard to any other factor in the case those items in themselves indicate that Officer Wilson was entirely justified in his deployment of deadly force. Additionally accounts were that Wilson did not stop shooting until Brown was on the ground, which accounts for 6 rounds that penetrated Brown’s body. Hollywood fiction has given the American public the impression that all that is required is one bullet to instantly kill another person. This concept could not be more false, the efficacy of a bullet is affected by many factors such as size of the round, type and amount of powder used to propel the round, clothing layers, adiposal tissue layers of the affected person, etc. To continue to fire until a threat is no longer a factor, is expected and correct.

    Given all of that information so far a breach of the law or actions being racially motivated has not been satisfactorily proven. The article uses quotes from community members that cite racism as a motivating factor in Officer Wilson’s decision to employ deadly force. One quote implies that a “militarized police force” is an arm of a government with the specific goal of hampering the progress and class status of black Americans. Another goes on to relay that there is a “systemic racism central to the USA justice system.” What these accusations fail to bring to light is proof. It is easy and dismissive to cite racism in the action of Officer Wilson, the prosecutor, and the grand jury in the outcome of these events, it is far more difficult to cite proof of that racism. This is because that proof does not exist given what we know to be fact at this time.

    Fact is the basis for legal proceedings in our country. It is on that basis that the grand jury rendered a decision that did not include an indictment for Officer Wilson. Historically it is true that whites in power used that power to the denigration of blacks and other groups throughout this country and the world. It is through that looking glass that many have decided that it is a factor on this case however it is a highly subjective argument because it is assumed present but not proven and until it can be it would be wrong to act on the basis that it exists. Others have stated that justice was not blind as would be expected based on the outcome. Unfortunately the laws which govern us indicate that it was blind, but because the outcome of the judicial proceedings were not popular they continue to be viewed as flawed.

    As Pagans we almost universally use the term “harm none,” as our paramount guiding principle. The debate as to how we apply this to situations of self defense is a question for another day. It is apparent from the tone of this article which is reinforced by quotes from community members that many pagans were willing to damn Wilson as a criminal before, and after, the grand jury decision. This is a violation of that most sacred principle. It is permissible to disagree with the decisions that were made. To bear in mind a judgement based on interpretive opinion is dangerous. Even after a fact bearing jury returned a decision that no wrong was done, some pagans continue to feel that the Officer is a criminal. There has been a universal failure of consideration for the Officer in this situation. Take into mind what has happened to him as a result. He must now live in fear and secrecy secondary to people resorting to violence in response to the grand jury decision. It is entirely possible that he will never feel able to return to a career in law enforcement because of that justified fear. Any other career prospects he may have will be tainted by opinion of him whether he was right or wrong in killing Brown. This will affect his livelihood and the living standard of his perfectly innocent family. He will also have to carry in with the knowledge that he has killed someone for the rest of his life. As a United States Marine and veteran of the most recent wars in the middle east, on several occasions the situation arose that I could be kill or be killed. It is up to the individual as to what factors are present which establish that situation but when it comes there is no grey area, no consideration for politics, no account for anyone’s skin color or past, simply survival. When the dust settles sooner or later the realization comes that you have taken a life. Those who have never lived through those moments cannot truly appreciate the profound nature of the feelings which follow you forever from that encounter. All of us who have, need to find a way to cope with that, many times in vain.

    Whether you feel he was right or wrong with the information available is irrelevant. Our justice system in good faith has found that Darren Wilson operated within the guidelines and laws set down in our republic. I will never advocate for the blind obedience to government by saying that that should be good enough to absolve Wilson of wrongdoing in itself. I will say that his actions are not being fairly judged by the public, and a jury made up of that public had access to information the remainder don’t and set down their decision accordingly. Patience and communication will unlock the truth of this matter in the passage of time. When ALL of the evidence has been released is the time to cast judgement on the system, and Officer Wilson. Assume for a moment in the months to come when the summation of the evidence doubtlessly proves that Brown was in the Wrong and Wilson was not. Will the media and the public apologize for the treatment of Officer Wilson? Regardless will he ever be able to recover his life to the point it was prior to shooting Brown? No.

    As pagans I would expect better than a pronouncement of wrongdoing which will forever affect Officer Wilson’s life before all of the facts are known. This is a violation of our most sacred principle from which Wilson will be forever affected. It is true that a fearless inventory must be made of the values which make up our justice system. It is true that we all must work harder to educate the younger generation and ourselves about the consequences of prejudice, violence, and premature judgement. Whatever your opinion of the events, they will continue to shape our lives for a long time. What is important to remember is that at the heart of the issue two lives were ruined by these events, two families have to learn to live life completely differently, and that responding with hatred and violence will never solve the real problem.

    • You are missing a couple of very important points.

      1) Actually, the evidence and transcripts of testimony have been posted online already.

      2) A grand jury’s purpose is not to determine guilt or innocence. They are supposed to determine probable cause for charging someone with a crime, and the bar for that is very low. The actual trial determines guilt or innocence.

      According to not a few legal experts, the indisputable facts in this case should have led to an indictment. Officer Wilson might well have been exonerated. But he should at least have been tried, because he shot an unarmed person six times. Anything less gives countenance to summary execution by police, with no oversight.

      • Lēoht “Sceadusawol” Steren

        Out of curiosity, how often do officers stand trial for shooting civilians, in the US?

        • Franklin_Evans

          It depends on how you want to phrase your question. Nearly every police department has an Internal Affairs section that investigates every time an officer fires his or her weapon, regardless of the results. If you want simple statistics, you might have luck with a Google search.

        • Almost never. The goal of Internal Affairs departments is generally protective, not prosecutory. This is why I think that any time a policeman shoots someone, it should be investigated by an outside agency as a matter of course.

          • Lēoht “Sceadusawol” Steren

            That costs a lot of money, though.

        • Rhoanna

          Rarely. http://fivethirtyeight.com/datalab/allegations-of-police-misconduct-rarely-result-in-charges/ has some statistics. It looks like for line of duty shooting deaths, about 4 or 5 murder/manslaughter charges per year, with about 400-1000 deaths per year.

          • dantes

            I would like to know how it is compared to other countries…But in any cases it looks quite little a number.

          • Lēoht “Sceadusawol” Steren

            So why is this one any different to the 401-999 or so other deaths per year?

          • Rhoanna

            In some sense, it isn’t. Wilson will join the other hundreds of cops who don’t face charges for their actions. Those actions range from completely justified, to completely unjustifiable, even by law enforcement.

            The attention Brown’s death has gotten, outside activists and the local community, has been unusual. I don’t think there’s any particular reason for it; there’s many other shootings, even this year, that happen in similar or worse circumstances. To some degree, Brown’s death is a channel or catalyst for long-standing anger about ongoing violence against black people, by law enforcement.

          • Lēoht “Sceadusawol” Steren

            So, to be brutally honest and not a little lacking in tact, his death is being used as a cheap excuse for other people’s agendas.

            That’s not a great legacy.

          • No. That’s not it.

          • Lēoht “Sceadusawol” Steren

            From an outsider’s perspective, that is exactly how it appears.

          • Franklin_Evans

            This. The reactions of the people of Ferguson suggest a deeper problem.

          • The effed up history in Ferguson, where the black citizens get harassed by the police regularly. And probably the fact that they left him lying in the street for hours.

          • Lēoht “Sceadusawol” Steren

            That is not limited to Ferguson, from what I can gather.

            It seems as though there is a long simmering distrust of the police that has just been waiting for something to ignite the situation.

            And, of course, the genuine protesters do not get heard because the riots and looting are more fun for people to watch on the news…

          • dantes

            This is what happens when a segment of the population starts resenting State (or Federal) institutions. Despite the fact that in some cases such suspicion may very well be legitimate, it can only progress towards more distrust and more violence to the point of sedition. We have that in Europe to, unfortunately…

      • Kyle Morton

        I can see you’re one of those people that doesn’t listen you just wait for your turn to talk . First of all if you truly believe that any member of that grand jury went into it without trying to determine guilt or innocence then you are a fool. We’re talking about a group of people who don’t have the aptitude to get out of jury duty let alone understand that guilt or innocence is not the goal of their endeavor. Secondly cite your source that said all of the evidence presented has been made public. Thirdly how and why he would have been shot multiple times was well addressed, reference paragraph 5/6. Lastly the entire point of this was to bring to light that in situations like these you can’t blindly argue opinion unsupported by fact. Everyone can have their opinion but if you want to broadcast it as fact it better have some backing to it. your vaguely mentioned “legal experts” state it should have led to an indictment, well it didn’t. The phrase in law goes innocent until proven guilty, not innocent until proven white! Folks like yourself are always the first to criticize police action right up till the point you need it, when you’ve done the job and been in that situation you come very quickly to the realization that there is never complete innocence an anybody’s part in these endeavors. If you really think all of this was wrong, show me the proof…

  • dantes

    Thank you for the article Crystal! It was both very well written and really informative.

    Concerning the issue itself, I have to say that I’m confused. Here in Europe (at least in the tiny corner where I live), the story hasn’t made the headlines since August so I really am uncertain about the development of the story. I am happy now to see that traditional medias are covering this issue again.

    The crux of my confusion would lie in the simple question: How did the shooting happen? As far as I can see, there are numerous contradicting testimonies and the only point where they all agree is the fact that Darren Wilson shot Mike Brown. Today I watched the testimony of Darren Wilson on the BBC and I have to say that his version of the events, as he tell it to the camera, is rather believable. There’s just one thing that I find hard to believe: It’s how Reckless Mike Brown is described. Even if he was a big guy and the officer was certainly under-trained, I find it hard to believe that someone would come to repeatedly harass and attack an armed policeman. I mean, I guess it might happen, but as far as I’ve heard this Mike Brown wasn’t exactly a criminal type am I right?

    I also feel that when he says that there’s nothing he could have done to make it go differently he’s obviously lying. Probably as much to himself as to the viewers. Even according to his own account, one should have been pretty dumb staying in the car when entering in contact with a suspect, or even go after him alone when you’re obviously not in control and terrorized.

    The rest of what he said seems like something that could potentially happen. Again, I’m not an expert in American crime so I won’t pass any judgment. I simply believe that he should at least have been charged with something like “reckless endangerment” or something like that. Because it’s quite clear that he indeed could have acted differently.

    Otherwise regarding the military-style police in Ferguson I have to say that I did not hear a word of it in the media until about a week ago. On one hand I do understand the need to control potentially violent crowds, because there’s always violent rioters in the wake of almost all protests. On the other hand this governor seems to be doing a pretty poor job at it. Why bringing in Desert Storm-style military if not for killing people? it’s probably the reason why protests have been going on since then. It’s like a very stupid provocation. A question too, has anyone been killed in the clashes between protesters/rioters and the police? If yes, that’s one more thing that I haven’t heard about.

    • Part of the background of this situation is that the Department of Homeland Security is giving grants to local police departments to buy military-grade gear. Not being excessively paranoid, I think this has a lot more to do with keeping military contractors happy than plans to establish a US police state. HOWEVER, that being said, it has the direct result of making the police a lot more SWAT-happy and generally belligerent.

      There was a case local to me where a teenager had a gun and was threatening suicide. His parents called a hotline, who told them to call the police. Police showed up in riot gear and hustled the parents away. Evidently the kid asked to speak to his father, but the police refused. Instead, they shot him.

      Afterwards, his mother said, “If I had it to do over again, I would never call the police.” That is the result of this; people decide that it’s better to handle any situation on their own, rather than the crap shoot of calling police. And for a lot of people, poor or PoC, that has been the state of affairs for a long time.

      • dantes

        I had forgotten about arm dealers…They always are a pleasant bunch…

        Anyway thanks for the information. It reminds me of an article of TIME Magazine (By Joe Klein if I remember correctly) that mentions the poor training of the Police. It really is a terrible idea to give regular Police assault riffle while they haven’t been trained properly.

      • I have been writing letters and signing petitions against “militarising” the police this way.

        Mentally ill and those who do not speak English (incl. recent immigrants from Asia) do not get the treatment they need or deserve by the police. Police are seldom trained–but that may be changing–on how to recognize someone with a mental illness, developmental delay, and when to back off and call an interpreter. In some of these situations, female officers get better results without force.

    • Wolfsbane

      You are wrong. Brown had prior felony convictions.

      I read the Police officer’s testimony to the grand jury.

      http://i.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2014/images/11/24/darren-wilson-testimony-snippet.pdf

      PO received a radio call about a robbery of a tobacco store.

      PO came across two individuals walking down the middle of the street which matched the description of the perpetrators, including the items stolen from the store in plain view in Brown’s hand.

      PO backs up his vehicle to stop them and attempts to exit it. Brown Slams the door closed twice.

      Brown then reach into vehicle and starts punching the PO.

      PO draws sidearm and Brown grabs the gun and tries to force in down into a position where it will fire into the lap of sitting PO and tries to get his finger into the trigger guard. (What prevented this from happening is Brown grasping the pistol pushed the slide out of battery which prevents it from firing.)

      PO manages to fire the sidearm once through the door panel. Brown punches him again and PO tries to fire again several times without effect. (Likely out of battery again)

      PO racks slide. (which would eject a unfired round) Manages to get it to fire again through door a second time.

      Brown runs away.

      PO radios for back-up. Unbeknownst to PO the radio frequency knob was knocked to a direct channel so despatcher never got call. (probably a result of the fight)

      PO leaves car and pursues Brown. They pass two parked cars (about 40 feet)

      Brown stops, turns around and balls left hand in a fist, right hand reaching under his shirt. Brown then charges pursuing PO

      PO orders Brown to lay down on the ground. Brown doesn’t PO fires several times. Hits Brown with at least one shot, misses with several. (normal in stress situation)

      PO’s SIG S229 sidearm holds 13 rounds. Two fired through door without hitting Brown. One round ejected unfired clearing sidearm. Leaving 10 rounds. One round has hot Brown out of probably a series of three rounds fired. That would leave seven in sidearm

      PO backpedals. Brown keeps coming. PO fires another series of shots. Hot Brown at least once. Again probably three. Leaving four in sidearm.

      PO tells Brown to get on the ground. Brown continues charging. Brown leans forward like he intend to tackle PO. Brown is 8-10 away from PO.

      PO fires another series of shots. one hit Brown in his face. Brown stops and falls forward.

      PO returns to car and radios for assistance and his supervisor.

      PO later safes his sidearm. places it and his one remaining round in an evidence bag. (This is consistent with my supposition that he fired series of three rounds which left him with one round after the engagement.)
      There’s nothing in his testimony to suggest that this PO did anything wrong or criminal in his engagement with Brown.
      ==================================================
      Let’s get real here. If you punch a police officer multiple times, grab his sidearm and attempt to gain control of it to injure or kill him, things are going to end very badly for you. There’s no way it’s not going to happen.
      We Pagans frequently talk about the threefold law. What you do comes back to you threefold. This looks like a excellent demonstration of it in practice.

  • ChristopherBlackwell

    Lightfoot Bagley,

    I a a bit older than you but I agree that the situation in Ferguson does remind me of the two Watts riots. In both Watts riots the police pulled back completely for four hours from the neighborhood in order to let the riot get started and serious. It was only a black area, so there was no need to protect it. It was not important enough to bother with.

    Now look at the riot scene of Ferguson, not only the latest ones but the earlier cases of riot and looting and note what you do not see. Remember there are over two thousand police and National Guard on duty. Yet in the looting scene you will not see a single police man nor national guard. This despite the fact this was the same area attacked last time. Remember the looters ad the rioters are not ares and the police are ares with military equipped including their own tank.

    Despite the fact this is the same area attacked last tie there is no police presses it has been abandoned by the police and left completely to the criminals. These are the same police that so “bravely” waded into peaceful demonstration and beat and arrested them. But when facing real crime and real criminals, no police at all. Why because this will only hurt the black neighborhood. This is in punishment of the black neighborhood for daring to disagree and stand up to the police. I have seen this, over ad over again, when a riot breaks out in a minority neighborhood.

    • dantes

      Tanks? You must be kidding?

      • I’m afraid not.

        Also enough “protesters” are outsiders intent on causing a riot. Why one does damage to one’s own community is beyond my understanding. One Oakland resident said this, anf followed with, Forget rioting. Get registered and vote. Vote in better people.

        Yeah, brother!

        • dantes

          I agree that there are definitely outside people (actual criminals or political extremists) who would love to see this develop into a much larger conflict…Let’s hope it doesn’t!

        • Wolfsbane

          A. Marina Fournier doesn’t know what she’s talking about.
          The police do not have tanks. They do have armored vehicle. which are not tanks. Tanks have large caliber guns used to engage and destroy other armored vehicles, armored vehicles do not. Armored vehicles are used in situation where you need to approach locations while under small arms fire, either to retrieve wounded people or to engage the individuals firing at them.

          • Wolfsbane

            And Christopher Blackwell doesn’t know either (sorry gabbed only one name thought I’d grabbed both)

          • If I’m unarmed and in the street, an armored vehicle or a tank amounts to the same thing with regard to my ability to withstand its force.

          • Baruch Dreamstalker

            I quite agree with you. Pity the first reporters didn’t know a tank from a APV and got this talking point started.

      • Deborah Bender

        Wheeled vehicles similar to an armored personnel carrier, with a machine gun or submachine gun mounted on the roof. They don’t run on tracks but apart from that they are very tanklike in appearance and function.

        • dantes

          Kinda scary…Is this Baghdad or what?

          • ChristopherBlackwell

            That is the point are the police there to protect us or attack us. There was a recent court ruling that I thought was dangerous. It stated that it was not the job of the police to protect anyone and that they could not legally be forced to do so. The court said the only duty of the police was to enforce the law. So much for the slogan on the police cars that says “To protect and to serve”. The police have been reduced to just being enforcers. That is quite a different attitude from what we have been used to in the past. Our neighborhoods are only battle fields for the enforcers. There is only the police and the people they must enforce the law on. This is a direct result of militarizing our police forces they are now only a city soldiers representing the authority.

          • Wolfsbane

            Recent ruling? No. There was a supreme court ruling decades if not a century ago that the police have no obligation to protect anyone and they cannot be sued if they fail to prevent a crime.
            The official job of the police it to investigate crimes and enforce the law period.

  • Baruch, your statement, I am a principled amateur, is at the right time and so deft. I’ll credit you when I use it, ok?

    Crystal, I promise you and every other person of color reading this that I will do my best to root out sub-conscious racism, to help others see it in themselves, and never to make unwarranted assumptions about the PoC near me, unless there’s probable cause to conclude something is wrong.

    I do my best to meet people with a real smile. Sometimes it defuses or it diffuses something negative building inside the other person. We may never know the lasting effect, but that shouldn’t keep us from showing someone we think they’re a person of worth, not a stereotype.

  • Raksha38

    This whole thing just makes me feel so helpless. Even with the protests and controversy still ongoing, people are still being killed by cops for being the “wrong” race and their killers are getting away with it. Nothing is changing. I just don’t know what to do.

    • Baruch Dreamstalker

      Raksha, I felt the same way about nothing having changed. But a Washington Post article gave me some hope. It described how Ferguson police and a coalition of 50 community groups were negotiating rules of engagement prior to the release of the grand jury finding. This is new. Back in the days that made Montgomery, Selma and Birmingham historic, there probably weren’t 50 community groups to coalesce, and the cops would certainly not sit down with them to discuss police procedure. We’ve a long way to go, but we’re not where we were.

  • Wolfsbane

    Let’s get real here. The rioting and protests about Ferguson are because people are angry because they didn’t get the revenge they thought they were entitled to because they got justice instead.
    Let’s change one thing here. Let’s suppose for a minute Darren Wilson was not a police officer. Let’s suppose he was a Wiccan who was attacked the same way Wilson was attacked because Brown happened to dislike the Pagan bumper stickers he had on his car and started punching him through his window. Wilson defended himself with his pistol and killed Brown. Let’s suppose the grand jury declined to indict him.
    I guarantee the same leaders who are outraged and giving speeches and demanding action because he was not indicted would be doing and saying the same things they doing now,

    • Wolfsbane

      There’s absolutely nothing similar about these two incidents.
      In charlotte an accident victim was killed with absolutely no provocation. A person who was a danger to nobody.
      In Ferguson, a violent criminal who attacked a clerk in the commission of a robbery and then repeated attacked a police and tried to kill him, who gave the officer few options and was a danger to everyone in his community.
      Apples and oranges.

      • You are defaming the dead based on Internet rumor mongering. Brown had no criminal record and was unarmed. You are propping up a racist narrative that justifies police violence from a department with a history of harassing and shaking down black citizens. Since you haven’t the grace to exercise common decency, I am going to ignore you henceforth.

  • Harry Underwood

    Good article. There are so many things which we can do to make this a thing of the past, but our culture isn’t ready for those changes. We’d rather stay where we are and become culturally shocked when the reactions against police brutality and inequality slap us in the face.

    • Well…what things? My SO is a city council member where I live, and they are working on a policy for body cameras for the police here. That’s one thing, which was also mentioned by Brown’s family. What else?