What’s Next for America Post-Ferguson?

Scott Olson/Getty Images

Scott Olson/Getty Images

If you ask people whether or not they were surprised when police officer Darren Wilson failed to be indicted in Ferguson, Missouri, for the shooting of unarmed teen Michael Brown, you’ll likely get a mix of shock and shrugs. Police shootings are often ruled in favor of the officer. As FiveThirtyEight points out, grand juries are far more likely to indict on average, the burden of proof being considerably more modest with a grand jury — except in the case of police officers. According to an investigation from the Houston Chronicle into police shootings, police are difficult to charge. The Chronicle stated that “police have been nearly immune from criminal charges in shootings” in many big cities, including Houston, Texas.

That, in combination with certain indicators such as the governor’s decision to call in the Missouri National Guard and the delayed timing of the announcement might have prepared some for the ruling. Others were clearly shocked, but either way, emotions across the country are quite visible and on high intensity today.

Reactions to the decision

Protests in Chicago, Seattle, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, New York, and other cities occurred last night as well as in Ferguson where peaceful protests were contrasted with violent upheaval: shots and fires started at local businesses and in police cars, with authorities responding using tear gas and sand bags.

Vigils have also been held around the country. In the weeks, months, and years to come, there will be a great deal of discussion regarding the grand jury’s decision, whether it was wrong, right, racially motivated, protecting all officers who put their lives on the line, protecting an officer who killed a young man in his first shooting, or protecting a white officer who shot an unarmed black man six times with some barely visible bruises to show for the altercation.

The evidence ranges from autopsy reports, to photos of Officer Wilson’s bruises, to a few evidential failures — medical investigator photos were not taken, nor were measurements. There will be academic examinations of mob behavior, community structure, further consideration of racial demographics within the region, and so on. Ultimately, though, what’s left after all the legal questions, the evidence, the back and forth over Wilson’s guilt, or Brown’s actions is a series of symbols.

Scott Olson/Getty Images

Scott Olson/Getty Images

Symbols from Ferguson and their purpose

Michael Brown has become a symbol for police abuse, for racial distrust of police forces, and for prejudice and injustice — wrong or right, this is a fact. Ferguson has become a symbol for militarization of police, for racial tensions, and community rifts with enforcement, with those meant to keep society safe. Societal reforms and social movements often need a symbol or a spark; it’s why martyrs are such dangerous and useful individuals historically. At this point, Michael Brown’s death, events in Ferguson, and the jury’s decision are best put to use for the sake of reform and reconsideration of conditions in the U.S.

We need to reconsider police training, hiring, de-escalation measures, and how police are armed compared to other nations. We need to consider alternatives to gun use and different ways for law enforcement to interact with our communities.

Our prejudices across racial, ethnic, and religious divides need re-evaluating — because as we’re all aware America isn’t colorblind, nor is it perfectly just. Beyond Wilson’s court case and Brown’s tragic death, events in Ferguson have drawn attention to statistics showing strong racial divide concerning how police are viewed and trusted, and how people are treated by police in turn.

Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Scott Olson/Getty Images

Racial division on meaning of Ferguson and future conversations

Pew Research has found that black Americans are two times as likely as white Americans to say that the death of Michael Brown “raises important issues about race that need to be discussed.” This is true of reactions to how police responded to his death and level of trust in investigations as well. However, the real concerning fact remains that there isn’t universal acknowledgement that events in Ferguson have brought up some important topics that very clearly need to be considered nation-wide.

Turning on the news, listening to the president, talking to people in your community, or glancing at a newspaper from any major city around the U.S. should make that clear, regardless of your stance on the case. Michael Brown is hardly the only unarmed black teenager to be shot by a white police officer, as we are reminded of with the case of Akai Gurley and Tamir Rice, as addressed in an open letter from Ferguson protestors.

Follow Anthea Mitchell on Twitter @AntheaWSCS

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