The Ferguson grand jury operated in an unorthodox way in the Darren Wilson case: The prosecutor, Robert McCullough, presented all the evidence and then took a hands-off approach designed to shift responsibility for securing an indictment from himself – the government – to a group of citizens. That’s not a legal failure, that’s politics.
Police officers are so rarely held accountable for killing even unarmed black and brown people, that no one was really surprised at the outcome this time. People have lost faith in the system, which repeatedly tells them black lives don’t matter.
But even if the grand jury had indicted Darren Wilson for killing Mike Brown, even if the grand jury in Staten Island indicts Daniel Pantaleo for killing Eric Garner, it wouldn’t resolve the structural and institutional racism that underlies police violence against black people. Yes, more officers should be held accountable for killing unarmed young men, but it isn’t a few bad apples, it’s the way that police are trained to see communities of color as war zones and to behave like occupying forces. In his testimony, Wilson called the neighborhood a “hostile environment” and told the grand jury, “it is just not a very well-liked community.”
Black people are angry because of the way we're treated, the way the police, who are sworn to protect us and uphold the law, are so often above the law. What we are seeing in Ferguson is a pro-democracy protest like other pro-democracy protests we’ve cheered worldwide in recent years. The people are saying that justice ultimately cannot spring from the status quo, so it must be dismantled. As Martin Luther King said, "Riot is the language of the unheard."
Someone needs to take responsibility for the state of policing. Gov. Jay Nixon isn’t, McCullough isn’t, nor is the department of justice, at least as of yet. Government failure has yet again shifted responsibility to the citizenry. And this is what democracy looks like.