What's black and white in Ferguson
IT'S BEEN more than a week now since an unarmed teenager named Michael Brown was gunned down in the streets of Ferguson, Mo., just outside St. Louis. Indeed, I was sitting at this computer at exactly this hour, seven days ago, writing about this case for the first time, and I - just like the people of Ferguson and anyone else following the developments - was asking for just one thing.
I thought we'd have them by now.
Mike Brown should be buried, and his family should be on the road to peace of mind, and some closure. Instead, it was announced yesterday that federal officials would perform a second autopsy on his body, because no one has any faith or trust in the people who conducted the first one.
For five consecutive nights last week, with Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson's 94 percent white force and cops from St. Louis County on patrol, demonstrators were met with police dogs (a la Bull Connor) and then armored vehicles with marksmen aiming toward peaceful protests, and with tear gas, rubber bullets, wooden pellets and LRADs, while journalists and local politicians were detained or jailed.
On the sixth night, Gov. Jay Nixon placed the state Highway Patrol and Capt. Ronald Johnson in charge of crowd control, relative calm returned to the streets, and the focus was back where it belonged: Who killed Mike Brown, and why?
It was too much for Jackson and the Ferguson police to bear.
The U.S. Justice Department had pleaded with Jackson not to release a video showing an alleged robbery that morning by Brown and his friend, arguing that it would do nothing except inflame the situation just as tensions were starting to ease. But other than five seconds that were spent on naming Officer Darren Wilson, Jackson's sole purpose Friday was to release voluminous information about the robbery, even as he released no new info on the shooting and waited hours to clarify that the alleged robbery was not why Brown was stopped.
So, what now?
Chaos and some looting returned to Ferguson on Friday night - again taking the focus off Officer Wilson's actions and providing new ammunition to those seeking not only to denigrate the local community but also to undermine Capt. Johnson and the Highway Patrol, whose presence and initial success irked local cops.
If Officer Wilson faces trial for killing Brown, most legal experts will tell you it's doubtful that the evidence of the convenience-store robbery could be introduced at the trial. But by making sure the entire nation saw those images on the news, the Ferguson police tainted any potential jury pool. Do you think that's what they were going for?
Chief Jackson's ploy and the ensuing chaos also nudged Gov. Nixon into siding with the cops and declaring a curfew - another way of forcing citizens into their homes without offering either basic information, or, so far, any justice for the killing of one of their own. As the U.S. chief of Amnesty International - a group once honored with a Nobel Peace Prize for its tireless advocacy of human rights around the globe - noted in a statement: "We criticize dictators for quelling dissent and silencing protesters with tactics like curfews, we'll certainly speak out when it's happening in our own backyard. The people of Ferguson have the right to protest peacefully the lack of accountability for Michael Brown's shooting."
Yesterday morning, Anthea Butler, a religious-studies professor at Penn, wrote on her Twitter feed: "Just remember, all of this police action in #Ferguson is not about keeping the peace, but maintaining a lie and protecting Darren Wilson." That's a strong statement, but the evidence seems to back it up.
So much is still murky on the eighth day. Only one thing in Ferguson seems truly black and white:
The police are executing a classic cover-up. And they've been getting away with it.
When you strip everything else away, that's what this story is about - and the reason why it resonates from coast to coast. There is so much going on with this - the political, policing and education disparities in a place like St. Louis County, the militarization of our cops, the erosion of civil rights and the spectacular failure to establish that "post-racial society." But the bigger questions echo from the deserts of Iraq and the corridors of Gitmo to the offices of the NSA, from the money-counting rooms on Wall Street to the Oval Office itself.
When are the American people ever going to get the truth?
And how can we tell folks who are consistently lied to to calm down and stay in their homes?
On Twitter: @Will_Bunch