I’m not sure what people expected would happen with the Ferguson Grand Jury. While most grand juries deliver indictments when prosecutors desire them, the record in the case of police officers appears to be the opposite. There may be many reasons for that. Jury bias or public pressure on prosecutors to seek indictments when the evidence is weak. In this case, race was almost certainly a factor if only because race is always a factor in American justice issues.
Most Canadians don’t even know what a grand jury is or what it does. We don’t have them in Canada; in fact, they are a unique feature of the American system. In other democratic countries the role of the grand jury is played by the ‘preliminary trial.’ This process involves a judge or sometimes a panel of judges. The prosecutor has to demonstrate that there is sufficient evidence to go to trial.
In some cases, the prosecutors don’t even go that far. They determined in the case of a police officer in Quebec who killed a five year old in a fatal collision that there was insufficient evidence even for a preliminary hearing. A public protest – and apparently new evidence — has prompted them to reconsider.
There is a fundamental problem for progressives and more importantly for the oppressed in understanding the role of the police in a democratic society. People on the right have a hard time understanding it too but their bias leans in a different direction. The former are wary of the police, concerned that they get away with too much, that they are nothing but agents of the privileged classes using force to maintain the status quo. The latter view them — each and every one of them — as heroes saving us all from the forces of criminality and anarchy.
They are both right. And they are both wrong. The police have a sometimes dangerous job acting on our behalf; the alternative is vigilantes and lynch mobs. The police have demonstrated a willingness to turn a blind eye to criminality in their ranks. These conflicting world views combined with the proliferation of guns, the racial divide and the ready willingness to resort to violence in America made Ferguson inevitable.
People are outraged that no indictment was reached, that no trial will be held where the evidence could be made public. The prosecutor says he’ll reveal the evidence anyway but that will hardly be sufficient. In any case everyone has already made up their mind. The police officer either is a racially motivated murderer or he is a hero.
Both views can’t be true. The real tragedy of Ferguson is that there is no longer a real way to resolve those differences. No way to be sure that the people we entrust to hold up the law and ensure order have not betrayed us.
Dialogue is dead in America. All that leaves is riots and broken windows; tear gas and arrests. If we’re lucky it will stop at that. Until the next time.
But that’s ten minutes.