It appears the fatal shooting in Ferguson, Missouri, of African-American teenager Michael Brown by white police officer Darren Wilson, followed by a grand jury’s failure to indict Mr. Wilson, has spawned a nationwide movement spurred on by the likes of the Rev. Al Sharpton and his cohorts.
Rev. Sharpton has called for “justice,” which he equates with criminal prosecution of the officer. In fact, Sharpton’s National Action Network has released a list of national protest sites across the United States.
Even the president of the United States weighed in, maintaining that the shooting of Mr. Brown and its aftermath reflected deep racial divisions that simply have to be addressed: “In too many communities around the country, a gulf of mistrust exists between local residents and law enforcement. In too many communities, too many young men of color are left behind and seen only as objects of fear….”
While on the surface those words seem unobjectionable, the president’s decision to infuse the fatal encounter between Michael Brown and Darren Wilson with higher social meaning not only draws attention away from the tragic loss of a young life, it also undermines the very foundation of our criminal justice system.
The grand jury in this case spent an unusual amount of time going over the evidence before deciding not to indict Officer Wilson on the basis of his reasonable apprehension that his life was endangered by the actions of Mr. Brown. Are Rev. Sharpton and President Obama saying that no non-biased person could have come to the same conclusion as the grand jury? Are they saying it would be irrational to conclude that race played no role?
We can all cite history, but can history tell us exactly what happened in this particular instance? Are we not left with surmise and speculation as to the dynamic that was in play? And why is that surmise and speculation more valid than the deliberations of grand jury members who had evidence and eyewitness testimony before them?
If the president sees the need for exploration of what he sees as a racial divide, more power to him. But to posit that the death of Michael Brown demonstrates the need for such an exploration is to lump into one race-related category any violent confrontation between a law-enforcement official and a citizen of a different color. It also deals a body blow to the role of the criminal justice system in establishing the truth to the extent it can be determined.