I feel like there’s more to the uproar around Michael Brown’s shooting in Ferguson than just the shooting itself. First off, there’s the problem with institutional racism that’s been widely raised: even if Darren Wilson was completely within legal bounds in killing Michael, there’s certainly a lot of suggestive evidence that laws are being selectively enforced against blacks, effectively making them subject to a stricter law than the rest of the population (take stop-and-frisk in New York, for example).
But further, I feel like there’s a widespread, increasing experience among the entire population of being mistreated by the police. I have a friend in a small town who was pulled over five times in three months for minor things (like crossing the double-yellow line as she got into a turn line, or not stopping satisfactorily long at a stop sign), which then caused her insurance rates to rise since she became classified as a “high-risk driver”. Adding to that the explicit, increased militarization of the police (like an armored car used to serve warrants for debt collection), and you start to get a general unease about the proportionality of the power bring used to “keep the peace.”
I think that Michael’s killing served as a focal point for the population who’s becoming increasingly concerned about all of these things, which is why it has exploded into a national issue.
On the other hand, conservatives, who seem to be dying to have a police state where everyone will be forced to live a conservative lifestyle at the barrel of a policeman’s pistol, appear to think that the failure of the grand jury to find any fault in Darren worth prosecuting should diffuse all the uproar, since that issue is what sparked the uproar. But even if everyone felt that the justice system had worked fairly in exonerating Darren (which is far from the case), I still don’t think the uproar would quickly fade, because all the other problems with the police still remain.
Failing to understand the complexities of the issue makes it hard for us to talk to each other. One side feels that there’s continuing injustice that’s not going addressed, and so wants to continue to protest. The other side thinks they’re just being boneheaded by refusing to accept the “objective” grand jury decision. I don’t think the focus on this single issue will ever get anywhere. We need to talk about the bigger issues of what we want our police to look like. Given that police are people with biases who makes mistakes and even abuse their power, how much power should they have, and what kind of checks and balances should there be on their power?