What’s next for Ferguson after a grand jury ruling

Read few comments.

Kenneth Warren, Professor of Political Science and Public Policy, St. Louis University

Last Friday I had lunch with two city administrators in the St. Louis area. I told them that, without question, Officer Wilson would get off, and violence would occur. Naturally, when the Grand Jury concluded that “there was no probable cause to bring charges against Officer Wilson, ” the news would not be received very well, especially in the black community. This does not justify the violence, but the violence was inevitable and there was nothing the police could do to stop the violence that was happening on many fronts all at one time. The last thing that the police could do is shoot another unarmed black person. Consequently, I think that the police were instructed to lay low.

Also, given rumored intelligence reports, there were evidently threats against the police and plans were in the works by some violent protesters to shoot police, so I believe that police were acting in a very cautious way to protect themselves. The fact that the announcement of the Grand Jury’s decision not to indict came at night was not good for police. Police are very vulnerable to defend themselves in the dark of night. It would have been better if the decision was made this morning, not last night. Frankly, I think the strategy to release the non-indictment decision last night backfired on the decision-makers.

In any society there are enough violent people to cause the problems that happened last night. It does not take many to start fires in multiple places. The most educated people were the least likely to resort to violence.Educated people realize that violence will accomplish nothing positive, but in fact bring destruction to the very community that can least afford to have their businesses burned down. This will have a very negative impact on Ferguson in the short and long run.

As I think I noted in a previous email, our system is broken when it comes to holding police accountable for their unnecessary violence against people. Every educated person knew that Wilson would get off because all he had to do is say that he was in fear of bodily harm or being killed by Brown. His discretion to use deadly force is then justified under our legal system. The law is stacked heavily in favor of the police using deadly force. There is practically nothing in our legal system designed to protect citizens against the use of deadly force by police officers. About 98% of police get off after killing a person. This is wrong and this is what the protesters are demonstrating against. The killing of blacks is especially out of control in our system. The reason such cases almost never go to court is because the standard for using deadly force is so low. Their use of discretion to “defend” themselves is very difficult to overcome in a court of law, so it is a waste of time and money to try to convict a cop for using deadly force.

Most educated people in the field of criminal justice and law agree that the system is broken and thus support the protesters, but do not support the use of such violence. Looting, in particular, is such a selfish act because the looters are using the decision not to indict as an excuse to loot. Of course, this makes no sense because looting in no way is an act consistent with the objectives of a protest.

The police were well armed last night, but refused to confront even violent protesters in the dark. At least for one night they were likely instructed to do practically nothing. I do not think they could have done much under the circumstances to prevent the fires. They happened too fast and were almost impossible to see happening. Fire and police units were afraid to even go to put out the fires because they feared getting shot. They would be sitting ducks in the dark of night. As noted, the police probably felt that nothing good could happen in confronting violent protesters in the dark. There would be too many chances for deadly error and this would only make matters worse.

Andra Gillespie, Associate Professor of Political Science, Emory University

The riot was unfortunately not surprising given the ruling. There are a number of factors which contributed to the unrest. Clearly, the unfavorable ruling triggered an unsettling response. The initial violence may subside (I certainly hope that this happens quickly). Once the violence ends, though, there will need to be serious discussions about the structural and perceptual issues which contributed to the protest. The relationship between the police and black residents in Ferguson is clearly toxic, and steps will need to be taken to improve that relationship. I have heard criticism of the tone of DA McCullogh’s announcement, and there will need to be some reflection there. Blacks will also need to begin to fully participate in formal politics in Ferguson. Because of low black voter turnout, blacks have had little say in who represents them in local government, and this puts further strain on the relationship between local government and city residents.

Robert Smith, Professor of Political Science, San Francisco State University

The killing of black men by white police officers and the invariable lack of accountability of the officers is a routine occurrence, part of the fabric of American life. Little can be done because this is merely a dramatic symptom or symbol of the larger problem of an oppressed, alienated, impoverished people who are ignored and stigmatized by the larger society. There will be lots of hand-wringing for a week or so and then back to business as usual until the next incident and the next and the next…


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