The decision not to indict the white policeman who killed a young, unarmed African-American in Ferguson, Missouri, reopened the painful wound of injustice within that community.
Distrust towards the judicial system is not unfounded, as isn’t the dread of many African-American parents of seeing their teenage son lying dead in the street because someone – police or civilian – said that they felt threatened by him.
The grand jury in the Ferguson case accepted the explanation given by Officer Darren Wilson in which he said that he had feared for his life during his encounter with Michael Brown and that this is why he fired his gun. A 1989 Supreme Court decision established that the use of force in those cases must be evaluated from the “point of view of a reasonable officer in the scene” instead of analyzing what could or could not have been done in hindsight.
This is basically the reason why it is very hard to find guilty a police officer who is being tried for shooting down a civilian.
The fact that a person is killed in a stand-off with police is not common, but it is not impossible either. Interestingly enough, in a country so fond of statistics, there are no official figures reflecting incidents of this type, although there are numbers for police officers killed in service. It is vital to know all these figures in order to understand the whole picture.
Old bad habits attached to racism are still present in the judicial system. African-Americans are disproportionately represented in the country’s prisons. Until recently, the penalty for crack possession was much harsher than that for cocaine possession, and jail time for a black person is generally longer if they kill a white person than if the victim is another black individual.
A lack of educational and job opportunities also takes a toll on the community, causing a sense of impotence among black youths.
None of this does justifies the vandalism we have seen in Ferguson. That is not the right path to ease this pain. A deep wound in the African-American community has been reopened in Ferguson, and it will persist until justice is perceived as equal for all.