Trying to Untangle the Darren Wilson Decision at the Breakfast Table

Darren Wilson was an uninvited guest at my breakfast table a day or so ago  in our family’s version of the “national conversation about race” that practically ruined my pancakes. 


Each of us took a different “position”, arguing back and forth mixing available fact with lots of suppositions and guesses.  My own view – that the killing of 18-year old Michael Brown was nearly inevitable given the white cop’s personal anger issues and Michael’s black color in small town Missouri – was hotly disputed.  Cooler heads did not prevail.

Given prosecutor Bob McCulloch’s flagrantly pro-police presentation to the St. Louis county grand jury – I’ve read the redacted transcript and try to make sense of the autopsy report – reality gets blurred somewhere between Al Sharpton’s naked opportunism and the Brown family’s grief.  (Remember that  the father of prosecutor McCulloch, who refused to recuse himself, had been a Missouri cop shot and killed by a black man when McCulloch Jr. was 12.)

Untangling the cynical, document-dumping mess McCullouch made of his case isn’t easy.  But not impossible.

Fact #1.  Ferguson cop Darren Wilson’s Sig Sauer .40 caliber fired 12 shots from his 13-bullet clip at Michael Brown who either was running away or attacking Wilson like a “demon” or was too near death anyway to launch himself at the policeman who was killing him.   Wilson’s unchallenged grand jury testimony is that he feared for his safety because Brown was “reaching into his waistband”.  Ah, those lovely, handy waist bands where no gun is ever found!

Fact #2: Although Michael Brown’s marijuana was freely cited, the grand jury never heard that for six months previously Darren Wilson, then still married to his first wife, was involved in a violent confrontation with the husband of his policewoman lover (now wife) who was in a bitter custody fight with her husband who freaked on finding his rival with his Missus.  Blows were exchanged.  The Michael Brown grand jury was unaware of this fraught domestic background and the angry pressures building up in Wilson prior to the shooting.  

Fact #3.  Wilson currently is “inundated” with at least half a million dollars in donations from online GoFundMe supporters.  This is half of what the Brown family has got in donations to help pay legal fees.

Fact #4.  This is Missouri.  Until the 1940s then lily-white Ferguson was one of America’s many “sundown towns” ordering blacks out of town at night.  The first black man in Ferguson could not buy a home until 1968. 

Fact #5.  St. Louis is not New York city where within 24 hours of a white rookie cop shooting and killing unarmed black Akai Gurley in the dark stairwell of a housing project the mayor and police commissioner immediately pronounced the victim “totally innocent” and the shooting “an unfortunate accident.” 

Fact #6.  Missouri is a police state of mind.  In Cleveland, Ohio a week ago cops shot and killed 12 year old black Tamir Rice they saw playing with a toy gun in a children’s playground.  (It’s on video.)  Tamir was shot within two seconds of the cops arriving on the scene who then refused to give the boy first aid until an FBI agent and a local cop happened on the scene.   (Michael Brown’s corpse lay on the Ferguson street for four hours.)  The Cleveland cops’ defense is that Tamir was a “black male who appeared about 20.” 

Fact #7.  A six block stretch of West Florissant, Ferguson’s commercial district lined by small black-and-immigrant owned businesses like Burger Bar & More and Juanita’s Fashions, was torched when Darren Wilson walked free.   God knows how long it will take to rebuild.  No matter how hard neighborhood mediators worked night and day to keep it peaceful, thugs and hoods crying “No Justice No Peace!” destroyed West Florissant’s already struggling economic heart.

Stray Thought Based on Available Facts: “The Beloved Community” is a term popularized by Dr. Martin Luther King not as a lofty utopian goal but a critical mass of people committed to, and trained in, nonviolent social change.  I was once lucky enough to touch base with a corner of this beloved community by working alongside the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in and around Albany, Georgia.  Fearless black strategists like Diane Dash, Charles Sherrod, Bob Moses, John Lewis and Bernard Lafayette – and their gallant teenage disciples including grade school kids and white volunteers – had specific and achievable goals, such as registering to vote when even walking up the steps of City Hall was to invite a cracked skull or worse.  In that much celebrated but nearly forgotten time, these incredibly brave young people were sustained by a strong Christianity and carefully nursed community roots.

In the arguments around my breakfast table I can’t help wonder how Diane Nash, James Bevel, Charlie Sherrod and Bob Moses, their hands empty of a Molotov cocktail, would have dealt with our Darren Wilson problem.

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