The Department of Justice released its report on the Ferguson Police department today. One result is that Darren Wilson, the officer who fatally shot 18-year-old Michael Brown, will not face federal charges. The other result is the release of a slew of emails which prove the following: 1. Some Ferguson officials are verifiably, unequivocally, without a doubt, racist. 2. The Ferguson police department prioritized making money off of its citizens rather than protecting them.
Before the report was released, before there was evidence too damning to ignore, the majority of Americans either did not have an opinion on the subject of Ferguson, or they believe that Darren Wilson acted within his duty when he killed Michael Brown. While the Darren Wilson question may now be permanently closed, the main question I am left with is this: in light of findings like these where do we find legitimacy? Is there a place for legitimacy when the people meant to protect us are sometimes quite literally our enemy? Where do we find comfort? Where do we find peace?
I don’t think most people honestly expected Darren Wilson to be indicted. After all, we have become used to seeing people let off for killing black boys, even when the decision to do so proves harmful to the public. I imagine most Americans did not expect to see such a blatant illustration of the state of race in America, especially since this is not a bunch of KKK hicks deep in the south, but rather a “legitimate” police department and city government. So how far does the insidious nature of this brand of American racism go? Does it infiltrate courtrooms? Schools? Workplaces? The answer is yes. What we have to understand about these findings is that it does not just tell us something about Ferguson, it tells us something about this country. From Texas to New York to Los Angeles to Ferguson… America, we have a problem.
How can a government or police force protect citizens they equate with chimpanzees? Why should citizens obey a force that is in physical and psychological combat with them on a daily basis? Furthermore, how should people across the country understand this? The usual pattern is for people to isolate the incident — to Missouri, to Ferguson. This is in spite of the fact that black people across the country have been saying much of what the report tells us for decades. It took the rare appearance of specific evidence obtained by a federal probe to convince the majority (if they’re even convinced at all) that there may be a real problem in Ferguson. That is not a sustainable method for gathering information for the rest of the country, but the trouble is that the rest of the country still has this problem with race.
So what do we do? I’d say the goal is for more people to listen first, and get defensive later. Racism in America is a white problem, so white people do not get to be offended when black people say there are racist police. White people do not get to be offended when brown people do not see the current American system of justice as legitimate. And white people certainly should not be offended when the people who face continued abuse decide to stand up against the powers that be to upend the peace. And in case it is still unclear, racists are not legitimate leaders in 21st century America. Period.