This past Monday evening, November 24, like millions of other Americans, I was disappointed when St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch read the decision made by the Ferguson Grand Jury not to indict Darren Wilson for the killing of young Michael Brown. I believe I express the sentiment of many, who feel justice was not and will never be given to that young man whose life was taken away from him at the age of 18. I was disappointed but not surprised. We were provided with sufficient foreshadowing by the governor to know what they would do. Coupled with the fact that the National Guard was put on alert, is the fact that Black Americans have never received fair and equal treatment. Dr. W. E. B. Du Bois admonished us to recognize that we lived under rules not designed to benefit Black people when he wrote: “A system cannot fail those it was never meant to protect.” History supports Dr. Du Bois and his observation. From its inception in 1787 America was conceived as a land of opportunity for those coming aboard the ships and not those stuffed below in holes like animals. Laws written to protect the institution of slavery were not meant to be just, but to benefit one class and one race. And apartheid was not legalized in the South to be just, but to subjugate a race of people to be subservient to that same other class and race.
One of the functions of the police throughout the South, and in many instances the entire country, was not to enforce laws based on equal consideration of all people, but to ensure that the unjust laws were obeyed by those they harmed the most. This was especially applicable to the manner that police treated young Black men. In his historical analysis of the segregated South during the Jim Crow era, historian Leon Litwack observed that: “The use of excessive force by the police underscored the determination to remind Blacks at every opportunity of their vulnerability and helplessness. If the police sometimes singled out young Blacks for punishment, it was a way to check their tendency toward “impudence,” to restrain their restlessness, and keep them in their place.” (Leon Litwack, Trouble in Mind; Vintage Books, New York, 1998, pg. 264)
When McCulloch justified the findings of the grand jury, it was no different than when a jury back in 1955 returned a “not guilty” verdict in the case of the two men charged with the murder of Emmitt Till. McCulloch was also expressing the sentiments of an Augusta, Georgia newspaper editor in 1890 when he wrote: “If a (negro) kills a white man, he is pretty sure either to be lynched or hung. But if a white man slays a (negro), he is in no danger of being lynched, and as to his being hung for the crime there is not much probability.” (Ibid, pg. 253) The violence may not be as blatant today as it was back in 1890 but the result is the same.
In his conciliatory comments after the “no indictment,” President Barack Obama reminded us that the country has made great strides in race relations. However, listening to McCulloch’s reasoning for the grand jury’s findings and acknowledging that another young Black man had been innocently murdered by a white policeman, makes a thinking person question just how far this country has come and declare that it still has a very long ways to go.