The announcement, when it finally came, was nearly thirty minutes late and delivered by St. Louis Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch in a tone more appropriate for an undertaker. Perhaps McCullough knew the impact of what he was about to say, and perhaps he also realized just how badly he and the rest of the authorities in Ferguson, Missouri, had mishandled this case since it first entered the American consciousness a little over three months ago. And now that we all know Officer Darren Wilson will not be charged with any crime in the death of an unarmed Michael Brown, what lessons can we learn from this incident?
First, and most sadly, we have been reminded that the lives of black men and women in this society are expendable. Based on the inaction of the grand jury, we can clearly conclude that a young black man’s life has less value than the reputation of a police officer. Does anyone really believe Officer Wilson would have been handed a free pass for this killing if Michael Brown’s skin had been white? Would the grand jury not have at least charged Wilson with involuntary manslaughter? So we see yet again that fear, not justice, is what controls the judicial process in the United States. Is that something we are proud of? Is it something we are willing to tolerate for even one more day?
Prosecutor McCulloch, in his statement to the media, blamed the rage surrounding the death of this young man on “the 24-hour news cycle” and “speculation on social media.” But his comments ring hollow. What person of authority has not passed the buck to the media when he or she neglects to carry out the true function of their job and make sure that justice is served? It is always someone else’s fault when you stand before the harsh light of truth and attempt to direct attention away from where blame truly lies. This is nothing but obfuscation, and McCulloch should never again be given the trust of the public he claims to serve.
Now we are left to attempt a process of picking up the pieces amidst the detritus this lack of justice has left flowing down the streets of every city in America. We can all hope and pray that the U.S. Department of Justice will pursue federal civil rights charges against Officer Wilson. There is a very good chance that the Brown family will also seek justice through a civil trial. But the unanswered question we began with will fester long after this incident has faded from our memories: Is every life in our nation valuable? Or just the ones we decide to prize the most?