AUG 20, 2014, 11:50 AM
Put the police on trial, not the corpses of their victims
BY DAWUD WALID
The ongoing events in Ferguson, Missouri in response to the homicide of Michael Brown by a police officer are a national shame, getting attention on the world stage. Peaceful protesters have had their 1st Amendment rights trampled in a heavy-handed manner in the name of “keeping the peace.”
Anarchists who live in other states have converged on the area to incite plundering of small neighborhood businesses. Journalists have had tear gas shot directly at them and even had firearms brandished by law enforcement. Now, the National Guard has been deployed into the neighborhood, invoking imagery of government crackdowns in places like Egypt.
As the Brown family and religious leaders continue to call for peaceful protests, and the vast majority of Ferguson residents have been peaceful, the scenes of clashes between the police and protesters are sideshow discussions.
The main issue at hand is whether Officer Darren Wilson, who shot the unarmed Brown multiple times, is going to be charged with a criminal offense and what immediate steps are going to be taken by the federal government to hold police officers more accountable for their behavior?
There’s a terrible habit among police departments and media of putting black corpses on trial before charging their killers who are police officers, security guards and George Zimmerman wannabe-vigilante types. In the case of Brown, the police made public a video purporting to show Brown stealing some cheap cigars prior to his homicide. This video was followed by an admission that Officer Wilson had no knowledge of the alleged theft when he stopped Brown. The conversation then shifted to whether or not Brown had a criminal record, which he did not, and other inconsequential matters, such as the presence of marijuana in Brown’s body. The real issue became derailed, which is that eye witnesses saw Officer Wilson unloading bullets into an unarmed teenager, and an autopsy report which showed that Brown was shot in the top of his skull, reflecting that his head was lowered when he was fatally shot.
Placing Brown on trial in the court of public opinion while Officer Wilson sits home is exactly what happened with the killings of other unarmed young black people such as Trayvon Martin, Renisha McBride and Mackenzie Cochran, who was killed by a security guard in Northland Mall in Southfield in late January. The Oakland County Prosecutor, by the way, has not issued any charges against the security guard that killed Cochran.
There should be federal legislation mandating that all law enforcement officers not only have dashcams on their vehicles but also have body cameras and microphones on their persons. As armed officers of the law are paid by tax dollars, they have a greater obligation to be transparent about their conduct. Body cameras could also serve the dual purpose of exonerating officers from false claims and shedding more light on controversial shooting incidents.
In the interim, we will continue to watch the disturbing events in Ferguson and follow the postings of citizen journalists through smartphone video. One thing is for sure: business as usual cannot continue regarding how law enforcement and prosecutor offices operate, especially in urban areas.