What came out of Ferguson last week regarding justice for the killing of unarmed African-American teen, Michael Brown, can only be described in two words: “kangaroo justice,” because it was far from being anything that truly represented fairness and equal justice before the law.
Instead, the grand jury process that exonerated White Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, who killed Brown with multiple shots, was a stark reminder of the old South justice that ensured that Black life meant nothing no matter who the offender or non-offender was.
The old South justice was in full display when the St. Louis Prosecutor Robert McCulloch appeared before the nation like a fully prepared defense lawyer, making the case why Wilson could not be indicted instead of lamenting why he did not receive an indictment as prosecutor in the killing of Brown.
I would recommend that McCulloch go back to law school and read the late African American legal scholar and former federal chief judge for the Third Circuit Court of Appeals A. Leon Higginbotham who talked about “the precept of Black inferiority,” and how it is “the hate that raged in the American soul through over 240 years of slavery and nearly ninety years of segregation.”
Higginbotham writes that “the ashes of that hate have, over the course of so many generations, accumulated at the bottom of our memory. There they lie uneasily, like a heavy secret which Whites can never quite confess, which Blacks can never quite forgive, and which, for both Blacks and Whites, forestalls until a distant day any hope of peace and redemption.”
Ferguson prosecutor McCulloch went to the grand jury not to indict but, to see that Wilson was cleared of all possible charges. In fact, he gave the grand jury the wrong statutes to read initially. He also made sure the grand jury got information on why a police officer can claim self-defense, a complete departure from a prosecutor who is seeking a conviction.
The grand jury transcript read like a stranger-than-fiction book because officer Wilson’s testimony was not credible. The fact that his testimony was not challenged speaks volumes about the extent to which the “prosecutor” wanted Wilson to walk away free.
In the absence of justice, as in Ferguson, and in light of how this case highlights the need for trust between law enforcement and communities of color, it is time we impanel a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to look into what really took place on Aug. 9, the day that Brown was killed, and how Ferguson has become a litmus test for how the nation moves forward when it comes to overbearing law enforcement. A commission charged with finding the truth instead of the half truths presented as evidence, to mislead both the public and the Brown family will answer some of the troubling questions facing the nation in the wake of Ferguson.
We need a commission modeled after South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, chaired by Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu. As South Africa’s former Minister of Justice Omar Dullah noted, “A commission is a necessary exercise to enable South Africans to come to terms with their past on a morally accepted basis and to advance the cause of reconciliation.”
A commission after Ferguson will enable this nation to come to terms with its sordid past as it relates to African Americans and other people of color. A Truth Commission will ensure that Black children, especially boys, do not continue to be the victims of some trigger-happy cops who find themselves justified in the massacre of Black boys who more often than not are denied their childhood and forced to be men in their encounter with law enforcement.
A Truth Commission will expose the fallacies of Ferguson Prosecutor McCulloch in his so-called probe of Brown’s death and also show how justice is mostly scaled in favor of agents of the state at the expense of taxpayers they are supposed to serve. This commission will also address an issue that led to Attorney General Eric Holder’s famous “nation of cowards” remarks, that we don’t talk about race enough.
Unless we can come to grips with the institutionalized racism that still continues to exist in many quarters and has debilitating and corrosive effects on the lives of Blacks, we will continue to see more of Fergusons taking place in many parts of the nation. The disgraceful racial makeup of the Ferguson Police Department which consist of only few Blacks in a majority Black city is an indictment of the kind of system that has long denied historically oppressed communities from making any kind of social advancement.
Call it an oligarchy or the kind of White minority rule South Africa was under the apartheid system, Ferguson, has become an example of the deep South’s segregationist history. Ferguson is majority Black — about 67 percent — yet only 5.6 percent of its police force is African American.
And authorities in Ferguson find no issue with the lack of racial diversity in the police force and the fact that Blacks are overwhelmingly on the receiving end of overbearing law enforcement including police stops in Missouri when compared to Whites.
McCulloch, who has become the face of all that is wrong with the criminal justice system in 2014, demonstrates no understanding of the contributing factors that have led to the deterioration of the relationship between police and communities of color. It is scary when a prosecutor can be so deafened to the cries of moral outrage and inherently biased attitudes within the criminal justice system that gave birth to the Ferguson crisis.
There is much work to do. President Obama met on Monday with cabinet members to review methods of policing in communities of color. But establishing a Truth and Reconciliation Commission after McCulloch’s grand jury will be the place to start. There is a lot of resentment and anger. My blood did not boil the night that McCulloch was dramatizing his pathetic role as a prosecutor. I was nodding my head because even a first-year law student could have quickly deciphered that it was a defense lawyer making the case for Wilson that night, not the prosecutor. It was a joke.
Tutu explained why South Africa’s commission worked in a speech he gave at the University of Toronto during which he noted that they had many options but were calculating on what was best for the victims of a cruel regime.
“Our country chose a middle way of individual amnesty for truth. Some would say, what about justice? And we say retributive justice is not the only kind of justice. There is also restorative justice, because we believe in Ubuntu — the essence of being human, that idea that we are all caught up in a delicate network of interdependence. We say, ‘A person is a person through other persons.’ I need you in order to be me and you need me in order to be you,” Tutu said.
Bishop Tutu added, “We have been appalled at the depths of depravity revealed by the testimonies before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Yes, we human beings have a remarkable capacity for evil — we have refined ways of being mean and nasty to one another. There have been genocides, holocausts, slavery, racism, wars, oppression and injustice. But that, mercifully, is not the whole story about us. We were exhilarated as we heard people who had suffered grievously, who by rights should have been baying for the blood of their tormentors, utter words of forgiveness, reveal an extraordinary willingness to work for reconciliation, demonstrating magnanimity and nobility of spirit.”
If South Africa, a Republic so young, can do it, what about the U.S., an over 200-year Republic?