Brown, Garner, and the Fallout from Failed Grand Juries

Let’s be clear: this isn’t about what happened to Michael Brown on August 9th, Eric Gardner on July 17th, or what can happen to young men of color in the country nearly any day without pause or remark. This is about justice. This grand juries have evoked an opinion from almost every pundit, every talking head, and everyone in this nation. Regardless of what everyone thinks, ultimately our opinion doesn’t matter because the questions constantly posed are questions for a jury to decide. Which is exactly why the grand juries executed a grotesque miscarriage of justice by failing to issue an indictment in either case.

There’s enough evidence to argue the prosecutor didn’t want an indictment in the Brown case. There’s video evidence to prove that the prosecutor didn’t want an indictment in the Gardner case. As many legal observers have noted, most moderately proficient prosecutors could get a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich. Its bares mention as well that it is damn near unheard of to let the defendant testify to the grand jury. Let’s be clear: the purpose of this trial was not to decide guilt, simply if there was the possibility of criminal misconduct and therefore cause for charges and a trial. In essence there is only one way to objectively look at this result: justice has not been served because the question has not even been posed, ‘was this murder?’, and therefore can never be answered.

And for anyone who is paying attention, it seem clear that for the black community justice hardly ever is served. There are plenty of examples: look at John Crawford, Sean Bell, Trayvon Martin, or even just two weeks ago here in New York unarmed Akai Gurley, killed in his hallway by a rookie cop on vertical patrol. Those of us outside of the black community have to think of how traumatic this is for these families and the effect it has on their interpretation of how our society values their lives. Before we reach for criticism or judgment, we must first stop and put a human face on this. Racism is something that is hard to understand, but we all understand fear, right? We must force ourselves to imagine living in fear of possibly being murdered every time we interact with the police. Then we must imagine further; you may extend that fear to our families, and the community around you.

It is troubling to see so many media pundits, politicians, and law enforcement officials justifying the death of two unarmed men. The lack of humanity in comments such as “The fact is, if you can’t breathe, you can’t talk” by Representative Peter King and “White police officers won’t be there if you weren’t killing each other 70 percent of the time,” by former NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani show exactly why change is needed now.

This entire country and our entire system is predicted on the notion that justice prevails. We should praise the President and Attorney General for seeking justice through federal means. Body cameras are a welcomed technological innovation that should help to encourage law enforcement officers to operate by the protocols of their departments. But even with video evidence, the justice system has repeatedly failed the black community. So what other recourse does the community and its allies in the social justice movement have besides massive disruption and civil disobedience? We must stop victim blaming and realize we must uphold law or have no expectation of peace.