After much anxiety, anticipation, and anger, a St. Louis grand jury decided not to indict Officer Darren Wilson on any charges related to the August 9th death of Michael Brown. Federal investigators are continuing a parallel investigation, but sources say the outcome will be very much the same. In a case that gripped a nation, Mike Brown, the 18-year-old college bound Black teenager, was unarmed when Officer Wilson (who is white) shot him six times. Gunned down in broad day light, Brown’s body laid in the street for over four and a half hours, with many equating the crass display to that of a lynching.
The gruesome nature of Brown’s death fueled media attention on the alarming frequency at which law enforcement kill unarmed people of color. From the asthmatic Eric Garner, who died in Staten Island, N.Y. after being placed in an illegal chokehold by Officer Daniel Pantaleo; to John Crawford, who was gunned down by police in an Ohio Walmart after holding a toy gun; to now Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old child in Cleveland, who died this Sunday after police shot him for brandishing a toy gun.
Lest we forget the unarmed Akai Gurley, who was killed by a rookie cop in Brooklyn last Thursday, or Tanesha Anderson, a mentally ill woman who died after Cleveland cops slammed her head against the pavement just two weeks ago. These murders have not garnered nearly as much attention as Mike Brown, but they are emblematic of the heightened awareness that the police brutality pandemic is receiving.
There are more consequences—negative, positive or otherwise—that are sure to stem from the grand jury decision.
1. More scrutiny of law enforcement agencies and the criminal justice system.
Following in the vein of increased media scrutiny in situations involving police brutality, there will be more attention on how law enforcement agencies respond and react when one of their own kill unarmed civilians of color. Heated attention will certainly focus on the criminal justice arm of police brutality. Already, media outlets (mostly on the independent blogosphere) are gearing up coverage on Officer Pantaleo, whose grand jury decision is expected to be announced in mid-December.
2. Continued Black shaming.
Black shaming is a disturbing art form in which Black bodies are mongrelized for the enjoyment, entertainment, and validation of white supremacy. We saw how quickly news outlets and law enforcement were keen on describing Mike Brown as a superhuman thugged-out criminal, pulling his school record and other character traits unrelated to his dead, unarmed body. We saw how the journalistic narrative was not focused on the rapid militarization of local police, but on peaceful protestors whose anger is justified. And most recently, evidence from Wilson’s grand jury testimony explicitly state that he referred to Brown as a Hulk-like demon.
Expect this sinister trope to continue.
3. Darren Wilson is now a martyr for the conservative, racist right.
He got away with murder. Wilson is a standing affirmation of white supremacy, and the conservative racists will celebrate him. Remember those online campaigns that raised close to $500,000 on Wilson’s behalf? With the money came the racism, with many racists applauding Wilson as a hero. Recently, hacktivist group Anonymous unveiled some Klansman had attended rallies supporting Darren Wilson.
From NRA hacks, to conservative pundits, and whatever racist in between, Darren Wilson is now a prominent fixture within the racist camp. Publicly, their language will linger on racist tint, and not overt insensitivity, but the message is still the same: Darren Wilson performed a public service in ending a mongrel Black life.
4. The call for colorblindness.
At last nights’ demonstration in NYC, a well-intentioned, but woefully ignorant young man declared on a megaphone that Mike Brown’s death was not about race or color, but about humans. He turned to the crowd for an amen, to which he was met with a resounding “NO!” This is a situation I’ve witnessed time and time again; of well-to-do folks usurping the glaring racial narrative to one that is colorblind. We saw this happen with the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag, which was promptly hijacked by others looking to capitalize on the momentum.
On a basic level, colorblindness sounds appealing. It’s an urban legend of future yearning; that one day, we’ll inhabit a society built on equality, despite racial difference. But colorblindness is merely a method of escaping the obvious truth that race permeates throughout society, and actively propels or impedes upwards social mobility. Colorblindness is simply a guise by which people—mostly white people—mask their discomfort. Colorblindness is a handy tool in denying that centuries of tarnished race relations transcend into today’s social makeup. And with this heated decision on the forefront of revolutionary action planning, expect colorblindness to creep its head on mainstream platforms as a means to quell justified anger.
5. Wider schisms along generational lines.
Building on the previous note, the ways in which anger is acted upon is a stark indicator of growing generational divides. Also intersecting along racial lines, the youth and the elders are at a point where we must decide what unified racial justice looks like. It appears that elders are in line with reform, while youth want revolution. There is room to meld this disconnect, but it will take much time, energy, consideration, and selflessness. Of all the consequences from the Mike Brown tragedy, the generational schism between racial justice activists is the most pressing, as it can singlehandedly strengthen or weaken our ability to build capacity, institute political change, and organize nationally.
6. Cohesive national organizing efforts.
The next wave of the Civil Rights Movement is here. Never in recent memory has mobilization efforts been so well coordinated, shared, and demonstrated. From Ferguson, to Seattle, Chicago, Atlanta, and NYC, protestors are not only channeling their frustrations in the streets, but in office rooms as well. People are organizing again; building coalitions, activating networks, and sharing resources most effectively. The racial justice narrative is extremely comprehensive; it builds on how institutional racism is at fault, and police brutality is but one extension of how laws and policies work to marginalize people of color.
With structural racism as the bedrock of current direct actions, national organizing efforts are immensely intertwined with feminism, education, housing, and environmental justice, among many others. The expansive nature of structural racism invites extensive collaborations with social justice activists who recognize that race is the underlying force of it all.
The money will come pouring in soon. Where that money will be directed and who will get the first bite of it is debatable, but the money will be there. Whether through corporate giving, government subsidies, foundations, or individual donors, money will soon pour in to various organizations, small business owners, and others. The loose network of donations will cause confusion and distrust, but, if monitored and used correctly, could bring forth productivity within the racial justice struggle.
There are more consequences to come from this recent travesty in justice. The few outlined above give the broadest sense of how societal temperatures will change in light of Darren Wilson’s non-indictment. As the fallout continues, and more information comes to light, there will be more consequences, both intended and otherwise, that will indisputably define what racial justice signifies in current terms.