The news that we’d been dreading for weeks finally came last night, and it was as devastating as I had expected. White Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson would not face criminal charges for his killing of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown.
For days the rumors had been swirling that the Ferguson Grand Jury would not issue an indictment of Wilson, but some small part of me remained hopeful. I was so wishing the script would be different this time around. But, no. Once again a black teenager is shot, and no one is held to account.
NCLR issued a statement last night that we had prepared earlier in the day, and which no one wanted to have to send. In part we wrote: “We vacillate between heartbreak and outrage at the decision from the grand jury. Injustice is too tame a word for what today’s decision represents. The fact that an unarmed black youth can be fatally shot by a police officer with no accountability or consequence is a chilling commentary on the worth afforded to young, black lives and the sorry state of racial justice in this country.”
The “sorry state of racial justice in the country” means that Michael Brown will not be the last black teen shot by a white police officer. If we want to end this madness, what must change is the sorry state of racial justice in this country. What must change is the overt and covert denial that we have a race problem in this country. What must change is our failure to confront the multiple ways we stigmatize black and brown people in this country. There is a science to racism, and the science makes clear that we all harbor “unconscious bias” against those who do not look like us. If we do not confront our own internalized racism, we cannot expect the systemic reforms our nation requires to stop the madness.
When I came home last night, the first thing I did was hug my 18-year-old son Julian and apologize to him that once again justice failed. You may remember that Julian and my colleague at the Equal Justice Society each wrote their reflections in the wake of Michael Brown’s killing. In that piece Julian wrote: “It is obvious that the justice system is not set up to protect people that look like Michael and me.”
With great regret, I am forced to admit that those words are still true.