Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Helicopters Over Brooklyn

Teenager Michael Brown (left) and his killer, officer Darren Wilson (right).
Last night I was on the phone talking to my sister in Park Slope, Brooklyn.

During our conversation my 12 year-old niece emerged from her room.

At that hour she should have been asleep, but she was troubled by the incessant sound of helicopters hovering over the Brooklyn Bridge just a few miles from their apartment on DeGraw Street and she wanted to know why they were there.

My sister had to explain to her daughter that the helicopters were hovering over one of the many nationwide protests that are now taking place all over the country in response to the failure of the prosecuting attorney Robert McCulloch to hold officer Darren Wilson accountable for taking the life of an unarmed teenager after shooting him six times with a gun.

My niece absorbed this troubling explanation and retreated back to her room to go back to sleep.

She was unaware that as early as 8:45pm last night, multiple groups of protesters in New York City began gathering in an attempt to shut down the Manhattan, Brooklyn and Tri-Borough Bridges as a result of Darren Wilson facing no charges for killing Michael Brown.

Now it's 5:50am as I write this and I'm not finding it so easy to sleep. Like my niece last night, I emerged from my room to find out what's going on.

Like many around the nation, I'm once again trying to process the reality that another court of law has made the decision that the life of a black male in this nation is worth less than that of a white person.

I don't blame the grand jury for their decision.

As numerous legal scholars and experts have made clear, by taking the highly unusual step of laying out all the evidence in exhausting detail to the nine white and three black members of this grand jury (that doesn't seem quite so grand in many people's eyes), Robert McCulloch essentially tried the case in secret, acted more like a defense lawyer for Darren Wilson and absolved himself of the responsibility of seeking justice for the death of an unarmed 18 year-old boy.

Perhaps Congressman John Lewis is right that this case will take on a larger historical context.

But right now the message it sends is that police officers are not only allowed to treat people with dark skin differently, they can feel confident that if they gun them down and kill them there will be no legal repercussions. Even if the victim was innocent and unarmed.

The message this case sends is clear. If you have white skin in this country and are holding a loaded weapon, just being afraid of a black male is grounds to use deadly force against someone.

As the George Zimmerman / Trayvon Martin case showed us, you don't even have to actually BE a police officer to shoot and kill an innocent unarmed black male.

You simply have to use the excuse that, "he made me afraid" and the legal protections which all Americans are guaranteed by the Constitution (right to fair trial, right to a trial by a jury of peers, innocent until proven guilty in a court of law) simply dissolve into the air and magically vanish.

But the results of this travesty of justice and perversion of human rights are not yet written.

 The scope and frequency of the protest movement taking shape in cities and towns all over the country make it quite clear that the grand jury decision in Ferguson was not the will of the people.

For now, please take a moment to link over the website and add your voice to their online petition urging the President and the Attorney General to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson on federal criminal charges as a step to begin addressing the systematic bias in policing in this nation.

This is a human rights issue and a justice issue and stems from a very simple fact that some, including the prosecutor Robert McCulloch doesn't seem to understand.

If you shoot an innocent person in this country who is unarmed, there must be at least some legal repercussions.

If there are not, then we as a nation have much bigger problems than unchecked police brutality; we have a populace who does not believe that the rule of law protects them.

And that represents a dangerous marker of the decline of civilization.

People all over this country of all backgrounds, religions and races are troubled and are asking the question of whether or not this is a civilized nation bound by laws.

The decision in Ferguson on Monday night would suggest that we are not.

For if the law cannot protect the least of us, it doesn't protect any of us.

That's why there were helicopters hovering over Brooklyn last night.

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