The shooting death of Michael Brown by a Ferguson, Missouri police officer has set off another moment of racial injustice in America for African Americans. By the involved yet still unknown police officer’s account, Michael Brown was shot 35 feet away from the police officer’s car where he is alleged to have reached for the officer’s gun after some type of altercation at the officer’s vehicle. Being shot 35 feet away from the vehicle, while unarmed and running from the officer, hardly suggests that the officer was in fear of his life. In fact, it suggests that the shooting was unjustified. It hardly suggests a reason for the officer’s name to be kept secret. But this is what occurs when you are black in America. Ferguson, Missouri is like any other city or town in America where African Americans reside.
Every African American has those pivotal moments when they realize justice for African Americans often differs from what justice looks like for white Americans. There are Michael Browns, Oscar Grants, Trayvon Martins, Jonathan Ferrells and Eric Garners in every state of the U.S. They are college students, high school students, college graduates, workers, fathers and sons. And they represent African Americans who are denied justice in America.
In America, Michael Vick served 21 months for running an illegal dog fighting ring which injured and caused the death of dogs. But the white police officer who shot and killed unarmed Oscar Grant served less time. Former Bart police officer, Johannes Mehserle, ultimately served only one year in jail for Oscar Grant’s death. In America, George Zimmerman gets to “stand his ground” and is acquitted for the death of Trayvon Martin. Meanwhile, Marissa Alexander who fired a warning shot, standing her ground at her abusive husband, is denied the use of the same defense and faces a maximum of 60 years in jail. She originally received a 20 year sentence before her first trial was successfully appealed. In America, Michael Dunn’s trial ended with a hung jury for killing 16 year old Jordan Davis while he was playing his music too loud for Dunn. And in America, many African Americans hold their breath on a retrial for Dunn in September. And today in America, the police officer who shot and killed 18 year old Michael Brown remains unnamed for his protection, according to the Ferguson police. And now according to ABC News, the Ferguson police department states that it will not release the name of the involved officer without a court order. There was no such protection for Michael Brown.
While Ferguson is being highlighted this month and Sanford, Florida was highlighted last year in the Trayvon Martin killing, they are one and the same. And every African American who is concerned about the situation in Ferguson is fearful that Ferguson will meet the same result as in Sanford, Florida. That’s assuming, the police officer is even charged. And that’s the biggest fear among many of those in African American communities. That the police officer will not be charged or will later be found not guilty in a trial, if charged.
The American Civil Liberties Union (“ACLU”), the National Bar Association, the oldest organization of African American lawyers and numerous media outlets have requested the complete and unredacted copy of the police incident report. The Ferguson Police Department’s failure to release the name of the officer or the incident report to those requesting it sends another signal to many African Americans. It sends the police’s message of the shroud of secrecy to protect their own. It also sends the message of cover up. The police’s duty is “to protect and serve”. But where was the protection for Michael Brown? And where is the justice for Michael Brown? That’s the question in the minds of many people.
President Obama gave his statement on Wednesday, August 14. “We are a part of one American family” says President Obama. But African Americans are not treated like they are in the same American family when faced with justice for African Americans. In America, every African American is Michael Brown. And every town and city in America is Ferguson, Missouri.
Debbie Hines is a trial lawyer, legal analyst and former prosecutor. She is frequently seen in the media addressing legal issues on race and gender.
Update: 8/15/14 The police department has now named the police officer involved in the shooting death of Michael Brown. But Ferguson Police department now asserts that Michael Brown was a part of a prior robbery of a convenience store of a box of cigars. Even if the allegations prove true, it remains that an officer who shot an unarmed man with his hands up who was not a threat should be charged with 1st degree murder.