There is No Quick Fix for the Ferguson Fiasco

Following a grand jury decision Monday night, Ferguson is yet again wreathed in flames and roiling in discord. A grand jury decided not to indict Darren Wilson, so a mob of increasingly non-peaceful protestors decided to take it out on the city:

Monday night’s destruction appeared to be much worse than protests after August’s shootings, with more than a dozen businesses badly damaged or destroyed. Authorities reported hearing hundreds of gunshots, which for a time prevented fire crews from fighting the flames. . . . Jon Belmar, chief of the St. Louis County police, said that unless his agency could bring in 10,000 officers, “I don’t think we can prevent folks who really are intent on destroying a community.”

Everyone in the country thought this would happen if the grand jury didn’t move forward with an indictment. In fact, the grand jury itself couldn’t have been unaware of this probable fallout. Which I think is an important ripple in this whole conversation. The grand jury has been poring over evidence and eyewitness accounts for months. And all they had to decide was whether or not there would be a trial. They wouldn’t have delivered a sentence as such. This was an exploratory process to determine if a trial should take place. It was already heavily weighted toward indictment by the nature of the process, and the political pressure on the grand jury must have been immense. Nine of twelve jurors had to recommend pressing charges in order for a court trial to proceed. And all they needed to move forward was “probable cause”:

At the indictment stage, the standard is mere “probable cause”; at trial, the standard is much tougher for the state – “proof beyond a reasonable doubt.” It is perfectly proper to indict someone if you believe there is a good reason to suspect he committed the crime, even if you weren’t overwhelmed by the prosecutor’s presentation and wouldn’t be surprised if the state lost the case at trial. After all, the indictment doesn’t convict anyone; it simply means the case will be tried to a jury.

So the lack of an indictment is very significant. We haven’t seen everything the grand jury saw, and I would very much like to know whether they came to a unanimous decision (they probably didn’t), but if there was any reasonable doubt on this, you can be sure the jurors would have pressed for a trial. And they didn’t. And then, right on cue, all hell broke loose.

There are some really important points to be drawn from this whole dung parade.

  1. Activists have a terrible habit of choosing unhelpful icons for their cause. Whether it’s Matthew Shepard (apparently killed by a homosexual ex-lover who wanted his drug stash), Trayvon Martin (a petty criminal causing mischief in a multi-racial neighborhood), or Michael Brown (again, a maybe not so petty criminal who decided to get in a fight with a police officer), activists regularly choose to rally around incidents that can easily be swept aside with a few facts or people who are a great deal less than victims in their stories. But even if that is the case …
  2. Even if Darren Wilson was innocent, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t address the obviously problematic relationship between law enforcement and the black community. Just because activists tend to choose duds as representative cases, that doesn’t mean they don’t still have valid points. Many people are already acting like the grand jury decision means law enforcement officers are all off the hook. They’re not. The situation in Ferguson and around the country indicates that local police are becoming alarmingly militarized and irrefragably tyrannical. And on top of that, there is no question that police officers treat black people much differently than white people. But why do black people get treated differently?
  3. The unequal treatment of black people by law enforcement is largely based on an unequal proportion of criminality in the black community. The sad fact is that police officers are more likely to harass, arrest, and shoot black people simply because black people are more likely to be criminals. This is not a racist statement. It’s just a statistical fact. The homicide rate within the black community, for example, is eight times higher than it is in the white community. So police officers are on edge and antagonistic. And the black community responds in kind. And a vicious feedback loop ensues. All that to say …
  4. There is no quick fix for Ferguson. The bottom line is that there is no quick fix for this. Protesting, looting, and setting things on fire will not fix anything. It just makes things worse. There is only one fix for Ferguson, but it isn’t quick. What is it? Black communities need to heal themselves by: 1) re-investing in traditional family structures (i.e., black men need to be faithful husbands and fathers); 2) rejecting the civil government’s two-faced assistance in welfare, healthcare, and education; and 3) emphasizing individual responsibility over against victimization.

The problems in the black community are complex. There is no doubt that racism and prejudice continue to do damage to black people in this country. But the fix for the black community will not come from outside the black community, unfortunately. The black communities in Ferguson and the rest of this country can’t wait on the world to change, because it won’t if they don’t. We’re caught in a vicious cycle, and I beg the good people of the black community to be bigger than this. To paraphrase Muhatma Ghandi (who knew a thing or two about non-violent resistance), “Be the change you want to see in the world.”1

  1. His actual words were: “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. … We need not wait to see what others do.” That’s not quite as catchy, though. []