A Missouri grand jury has declined to indict Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson several months ago. This is peculiar, to say the least, as everyone admits he did it, whatever exactly “it” is legally. The general tenor of the evidence suggests – from what I have read so far: the grand jury transcripts were released and can be found here – a charge of some kind should have been brought: voluntary or involuntary manslaughter would have seemed the most probable. About the only positive conclusion that can be made on a first glance is that a jury of American citizens is not particularly likely to be swayed by media opinion – which has largely lynched Wilson in print from day one – and even that “positive” note falls a little flat, given the circumstances.
This is my private – and tentative – opinion. I have not read through all the evidence. I doubt many other people have either: there are hundreds of pages of testimony: to read through it all, even without taking notes or studying it, would take me at least a week. It was the grand jury’s job to hear the evidence presented and come to a conclusion, and – despite some unusual circumstances, in my view likely prompted by the immediate media firestorm and circus – they did so and there do not appear to be any outright corrupt or illegal procedures involved. From what I think I know, the grand jury decision seems questionable, but it has made a decision. So this is my first problem with many people’s reaction: their absolute certainty that they are correct, regardless of the evidence that they have evidently not had time to read and process, one way or another – but it is especially odd that those disagreeing with the grand jury seem most certain they are right.
My second concern is the way the situation is being framed by many, especially those who object. If Darren Wilson is in fact guilty and went beyond self-defense, and has not been charged, then an American citizen – and an unarmed American citizen barely old enough to vote, at that – was shot dead without good cause by an officer of American – specifically Missouri – law. No further cause of outrage is needed. No specifics need to be stated, no further tensions examined, no greater corruption alleged: a man in power got away with murder. Of course the motivation can be questioned. Wilson’s action – assuming him guilty for the sake only of the argument – may have been provoked by prejudice; it may be an example of continuing racial suspicion and tension. But we cannot, in identifying the problem, be outraged specifically at the murder (if that is what is was) of a “black man” – would it have been okay if Michael Brown were white? We must, if finding Wilson guilty in our court of public opinion, object to the killing of a man. A human. This widespread habit of framing every problem in terms of race, and then protesting perceived “racial issues” entirely in racial terms, and still expecting to make progress towards ending racial biases and race-based thought – this is a fool’s errand.