In a recent radio interview, Fayette County Commonwealth's Attorney Ray Larson summarily dismissed the valid political claims of protesters who want justice from a historically flawed system.
He stated that the protesters and a certain law professor exhibited "a fundamental ignorance of the grand jury system."
The great American novelist, essayist and playwright James Baldwin once noted, "It is certain, in any case, that ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have."
This certainty is not misplaced. The concerns, frustrations and distrust of the political community are well-founded when a public servant blurs the line between advocate and minister of justice. Ferguson, Mo., is a textbook example of structural inequality, a flawed system and a rationalizing rhetoric that makes the subjugation and oppression of communities of color a natural occurrence in our polity.
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It is almost as if some are saying "those people deserve it, all they have to do is follow the law." We should know our place, acquiesce and support a system stacked against us — the school-to-prison pipeline, to disproportionate sentences, to absolute immunity for police officers who act on stereotypical notions of race rather than clearly defined and constitutional policing procedures.
There are several factors that clearly illustrate the inherent flaws and conflicts in our criminal justice system when it comes to investigating the alleged use of deadly force by police officers.
First, the probable cause determination is a low evidentiary threshold: Is there a reasonable suspicion that a crime was committed?
Yet police officers are rarely indicted because of their close relationship as agents of prosecutors in criminal investigations and the broad discretion that officers have in employing lethal force based on their own subjective interpretations of events.
Second, video evidence was leaked that depicted Mchael Brown as a violent shoplifter, he was transformed from a teenager to a man, and it laid the groundwork for the justification for the use of deadly force by officer Darren Wilson. Wilson added to this distorted caricature by testifying that he felt like a 5-year-old who was fighting Hulk Hogan.
Propensity evidence is generally prohibited in trials because it could lead to a conviction, not on the evidence, but on a character inference that the accused is the type of person who would be engaged in criminal conduct. This category of evidence is all the more damaging in the context of a grand jury where such "proof" would militate against issuing an indictment against a police officer.
Third, the prosecutorial role was not clearly defined because the prosecutors presented an avalanche of documents and testimony without the requisite guidance that would lead to an indictment.
Rather, the state itself provided evidentiary support for the reasonableness of Wilson's actions. St. Louis County prosecutor Robert McCulloch's news conference after the nonindictment decision is a testament to this structural flaw in the system.
Finally, it has been reported that the grand jurors received erroneous instructions about how to evaluate evidence concerning the use of deadly force.
This error could have caused jurors to conclude that a police officer is fully justified in using deadly force to arrest an unarmed teenager.
It is the epitome of arrogance and privilege to ask African-American citizens who have been historically abused, disregarded and dehumanized in the system to simply accept it. It is this lack of empathy that makes the deep racial divide in this "post-racial" society even more intensely bitter.
There is a "fundamental ignorance" of the present-day effects of past discrimination. The brutal and tragic deaths of black youth and men in Sanford, Fla.; Ferguson; Staten Island, N.Y.; Cleveland, Ohio; and many other unpublicized places all bear witness to the structural inequality that licenses a militaristic assault on black life while simultaneously devaluing it.
There are many substantive structural reforms that should be considered: annual cultural competency training for police officers, re-evaluating and revising the rules of engagement when officers confront adolescents, and the appointment of an independent prosecutor in cases of police officers using deadly force.
We should begin the discussion about how to fundamentally restructure all facets of a flawed and conflicted system.