The news broke and no one was surprised

Liz Pelly

The news broke and no one was surprised.

“There is no question, of course, that Darren Wilson caused the death of Michael Brown,” said St. Louis County prosecuting attorney Robert McCulloch, last night at a courthouse in Clayton, Missouri. “But the inquiry doesn’t end there.”

“After their exhaustive review of the evidence, the grand jury deliberated over two days, making their final decision,” said McCulloch later, near the end of his strange and repulsive press conference, where he blamed the media and the Internet for the months of tension in Ferguson — but never Wilson. “They determined that no probable cause existed to file any charge against Officer Wilson.”

A white cop murdered an unarmed black boy in the United States in 2014, and got away with it, and no one was surprised. It’s tempting to want to blurt out, “the entire criminal justice system is broken.” But in reality, this decision shows the full extent of what this country’s flawed, criminal justice system is built to do. Last night the extent of its oppression could not be hidden.

Michael Brown’s family waited outside of the courthouse; photographs show his mother in tears once the announcement was made.

“We are profoundly disappointed that the killer of our child will not face the consequences of his actions,” the family said later in a statement. “While we understand that many others share our pain, we ask that you channel your frustration in ways that will make a positive change. We need to work together to fix the system that allowed this to happen … Join us in our campaigns to ensure that every police officer working the streets in this country wears a body camera.”

The country responded in protest. Some were peaceful, others were not, but all rage was valid. In Ferguson, the streets flooded, protestors closing part of Interstate 44, breaking into and burning at least a dozen building. The windshield of a police car was shattered. Stores were looted. (For context: the New Inquiry’s “In Defense of Looting“, the 1965 Situationist essay, “The Decline and Fall of the Spectacle-Commodity Economy“.)

Sporadic gunfire was reportedly heard in the streets throughout the night.Shots were fired in the sky; flights were rerouted to avoid the area.  Tear gas and rubber bullets were deployed. At least 61 people were arrested.

The words that Martin Luther King Jr. spoke in 1968 resonate: “I think America must see that riots do not develop out of thin air…. A riot is the language of the unheard.”

In New York, protestors flooded Time Square, shut down three bridges, and splattered fake blood on NYPD Commission Bill Bratton.

In Oakland, activists spent the night blocking traffic on Interstate 580. Moments after the announcement, a “die-in” took place, with protesters lying in the streets. At least one bank window was broken. Over 40 were arrested.

Hundreds marched solidarity in Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Chicago, Seattle.

Around the world, three words rang out: #BlackLivesMatter.

President Obama forfeited his chance to say anything meaningful at all, delivering a detached statement asking for protests to remain “calm”. Elsewhere, many others had more compelling things to say.

Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, wrote a must-read “thank you” on Facebook to the activists taking the streets:

“It is because of them — their courage, boldness, vision and stamina — that the world is paying attention to what is happening in a suburb called Ferguson. True justice will come only when our criminal injustice system is radically transformed: when we no longer have militarized police forces, wars on our communities, a school-to-prison pipeline, and police departments that shoot first and ask questions later. True justice will be rendered not when when a single ‘guilty’ verdict is rendered in one man’s case, but when the system as a whole has been found guilty and we, as a nation, have committed ourselves to repairing, as best we can, the immeasurable harm that has been done.”

“We must confront the profound disconnect and disrespect that many communities of color experience with their local law enforcement,” wrote the ACLU of Missouri, in a statement. “We must end the prevailing policing paradigm where police departments are more like occupying forces, imposing their will to control communities.”

“#Ferguson: The sad end of the Age of Obama,” wrote Dr. Cornel West on Facebook. “His empty neutrality, moral bankruptcy and political cowardice is now undeniable to even his most loyal cheerleaders and boot-lickers! Wall Street criminals, Drone Droppers, Torturers and Police who kill our precious children go free – and we weep and fight back!”

On Democracy Now this morning, Boston’s Rev. Osagyefo Sekou offered perspective while standing in front of the Clayton courthouse: “These young people have been betrayed by every level of government. As West Florissant burned last night, democracy was on fire, the constitution shredded. And young people have been backed into a corner, abused by the police system for many years.”

“The rage we have seen today, last night, is a reflection of the alienation and few options young people feel like they have to express their democratic rights at this moment,” he continued. “What we are seeing now is a primary example of the racial divide in Ferguson, in St. Louis, in the nation. This story has always been about Mike Brown and bigger than Mike Brown. Every other day in America some black or brown child is subject to the arbitrary violence of the state with little to no recourse. Every other day in America, a mother is writing a funeral program that will perhaps be the elegy of the democracy.”

And words that have been uttered for decades continue to speak truth:

“A system cannot fail those it was never meant to protect” -Malcolm X

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