Mike Littwin: Until the fire next time
November 26, 2014
The armored cars were rolling, the Walgreens was burning, the tear gas was flying, the glass everywhere was shattering.
And every bit of it — every good-on-TV moment of it — was entirely predictable.
Michael Brown — the unarmed black teen, as he’ll always be known — was killed by Darren Wilson — the white cop, as he’ll always be known. And the white cop was not indicted by the grand jury, even though grand juries nearly always indict — but with one obvious exception.
No one could have expected otherwise. Fivethirtyeight.com provided the numbers. In 2010, federal grand juries heard 162,000 cases — and all but 11 returned indictments. This was a state case, but you get the idea. And then there’s this: From 2008 to 2012, Dallas grand juries reviewed 81 police shootings — and returned only one indictment.
There were no surprises. A mother cried. A father asked for restraint. And yet the image of the night was the split screen on CNN, showing Barack Obama on one side asking protesters not to throw bottles at cops and, on the other, protesters in the streets throwing bottles at cops.
In this battle, the streets won.
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It made no sense that St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch had waited until 8:30 p.m. to make the announcement, a time when cities are more inclined to explode. The timing seemed like a provocation — although it almost certainly wasn’t. It was, I’d guess, just another in a long series of missteps, starting with McCulloch, a figure little trusted in the African-American community, refusing to recuse himself and name a special prosecutor.
This is a story we’ve seen before. Different names, different places, different circumstances, different DA, different jury. Same story.
What was different was that McCulloch released the grand jury testimony — grand jury testimony is usually kept secret — and we could read what Wilson had to say.
You could almost guess. If a cop fears for his life or fears for anyone’s life, he can legally use deadly force. And so we read on. Wilson said he had feared for his life when Brown had punched him twice while Wilson was still in the car. He said he “felt like a 5-year-old holding onto Hulk Hogan.” Brown was 6-foot-5, 285 pounds. But Wilson is 6-4, 210, and the only one of the two who was armed, the only one of the two trained for confrontations like this.
When they tussled, Wilson pulled out his gun, and Brown, he said, went for it. Twice, Wilson said, he tried to pull the trigger, but the gun wouldn’t fire. Finally, Wilson got off two shots, and Brown took off running. And even though Wilson said he was afraid of Brown — who, he said, looked like a “demon” — he raced after him because, yes, he said he thought Brown was a danger to anyone he might encounter.
And then when Brown turned around and, Wilson said, raced toward him, he shot his gun five times. He shouted, he said, for Brown to go to the ground, and when he didn’t, he shot and he shot and he shot.
And in the final charge — some witnesses said it was a charge; some said Brown was surrendering — Wilson said, “At this point it looked like he was almost bulking up to run through the shots, like it was making him mad that I’m shooting at him. And the face that he had was looking straight through me, like I wasn’t even there, I wasn’t even anything in his way."
He would run through the bullets, until he didn’t. Until he fell. And until he lay there for 4 1/2 hours before they took him away.
And before a majority-black community with its nearly all-white police force became another chapter in a long story.
Before the story became about the militarization of police. And before it became about rapidly shifting demographics (also known as white flight). And before it became about police forces failing to reflect their communities.
And before it became about state and local officials who seemed to have no notion how to calm the situation back in August, and who seemed to have no better idea how to calm the situation Monday night.
And before it became about the first black president speaking in his measured way from the White House on the night of the grand jury announcement, saying we have to accept the jury’s decision whether we agree with it or not, praising those cops who face danger every day, and finally getting to the obvious point that minorities have ample reason not to trust the police, that they have their own stories and that “communities of color aren’t just making these problems up.”
After Obama’s statement, a reporter asked the president whether he would go to Ferguson. Obama said he’d have to see how things went.
It’s pretty clear already how things were going. The armored cars were rolling, the Walgreens was burning, the tear gas was flying, the glass everywhere was shattering.
And calm would eventually prevail. Until the fire next time.