It Doesn't Matter Whether Ferguson's Officer Wilson Was Racist

Now that there is a sense of normalcy in Ferguson, Missouri, maybe we are all in a better position to look at the root of what led to one of the worst incidents of racial and police violence this country has seen in a long time. It also makes sense to do so before the trial of Officer Wilson, especially since it is very rare in this country for police officers to be convicted for shooting civilians. The benefit of doubt always tilts in their favor.

The concern of many is what will happen if Officer Wilson is not convicted of murder, after all, he hasn't even been arrested for it yet. Will the largely black community march in protest, and will we get a repeat of those shocking images of military and police armored personnel carriers and vehicles rolling through clouds of tear gas as residents and supporters of Michael Brown vent their anger again?

I don't think we will see that kind of scene again in Ferguson. I think as more time passes between the shooting, the riots and the trial, there will be more opportunities for people on both sides of the issue to fall back into the typical way of thinking and doing things. And sadly, that means that for the people upset about the shooting of this unarmed young man, it means falling back into an acceptance that this is the reality of life in America. Normalcy means the police are given wide latitude on how they go about their business, especially in black neighborhoods and cities and the life of a poor black teen is simply not valued the same way as the life of anyone else whose economic situation and skin color is different.

And that is what most people don't understand about the anger they saw from the residents of Ferguson when they took to the streets, most of them quite peacefully exercising their rights. On too many Fox News shows, like Bill O'Reilly's and Sean Hannity's for example, the focus was on what they perceived to be too quick of a move to label Officer Wilson a racist and assume that the six or more shots Wilson fired into the unarmed Brown were due to racism. They don't understand that the anger, the protests and the continued calls for justice for Michael Brown do not hinge on whether Officer Wilson was a racist.

What matters is the fact that a young man is now dead, a man nobody disputes was unarmed, nobody disputes was not stopped because he was a suspect in a robbery. And nobody disputes his dead body lay in the middle of the street for hours in the hot sun, as if that was not adding insult to a very serious situation already. What matters more than whether Officer Brown was a racist is that as a police officer he is authorized by the city and state, and in essence, the federal government, to police the streets, and yes, to use lethal force when he decides it is necessary. So he can shoot a young man and the officer is of course presumed innocent while the black kid is presumed to be a thug and therefore deserving.

What matters more than whether Officer Brown is a racist is that this country has seen too many cases where unarmed black people, including Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner in New York, Kimani Gray in New York, Amadou Diallo in New York, Ezell Ford in Los Angeles, and many other cases, happen way more than they should and the people involved, whether cops or citizen patrol officers as in the Martin case, get off. It has come to almost be expected.

There are certainly far more cases where nothing has happened to the shooters than the other way around, leading to a general sense that unarmed or not, black men, young or older, simply are supposed to accept that their lives are not valued by their government and that when it comes down to it, innocent or not, armed or not, walking the streets and dealing with cops is always a risky situation. Indeed, a life and death one.

So the calls for justice in Ferguson, and the anger seen, are not about Officer Wilson's racism, and whether that factored into his decision to shoot Brown. The anger and calls for justice, and the anger that comes from being treated like criminals by a ridiculously militarized police response, came from a wish to see that an unarmed black kids' life might be treated with dignity and that the wheels of justice just might turn in favor of a citizen, a community that knew historically they were not likely to receive the fair treatment and justice they wanted and deserved.

Officer Wilson certainly deserves a fair trial. Sadly, Michael Brown, will never get one, as he deserved one too. That is also a source of anger. People want to defend Wilson but few outside of Ferguson and those that support the community seem to want to stand up for Brown the same way. Officer Wilson's trial is not about racism, at least not in the technical sense. It is about holding a person authorized to use lethal force accountable for his actions. He will not go on trial for racism. He will be judged about his decision to kill an unarmed man and whether he made the right choice.

Unfortunately what we all know is that in this country it is hard to separate race from his decision, because such incidents happen more often than they should. But it should not be shocking or hard to understand why people, in Ferguson and elsewhere, were and are angry about the shooting. It is never about race to some people, and yet unarmed black men, from New York to Los Angeles, and to cities in between, die at the hands of police and no one seems to be held accountable. The racism of an individual officer is not as important as a system that allows them to do what they do and nobody seems to care.


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