The story behind #Ferguson

On 9 August 2014, 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot and killed by police officer Darren Wilson in the US city of Ferguson, Missouri. #Ferguson has become the catch all term to refer to the greater story around police shootings in the US.

Ferguson, a city of just over 21 000 that is part of the St Louis Metropolitan area in the state of Missouri. Picture: Google maps

The most recent development is that a court tasked with deciding whether or not to charge the police officer has found that he should not be charged.

The Grand Jury, constituted to determine if criminal charges should be brought against Wilson, produced testimony that ran to 24 volumes of over 100 pages each with multiple forensic reports and witness interviews. They decided that there was not sufficient evidence to bring criminal proceedings against the police officer for the death of Michael Brown.

The issue is not only that many believed that the police officer should be charged for the death, but that the victim in this case and others are young black men killed by white police officers. The sense is that many such cases result in a decision not to prosecute.

Ferguson is a city of 21 203 residents, yet this death has placed a focus on the community, and others like it, who feel that the police are able to kill residents with impunity and that the people that are often the target are black.

There are other high profile deaths of young black men, like Trayvon Martin, that have resulted in the person responsible for the death not facing prosecution or being found not guilty which adds to the sense of injustice.

While each case needs to be judged on their own merits, the public opinion and the amount of available information would lead most to believe that justice had not been done.

It then understandably leads to protests. An additional complicating factor in what is already a volatile situation, is that the police response to some of the protests has seen the situation badly handled or allowed to escalate into clashes with police and rioting.

In part, the means for engaging with protestors is also an issue as a result of the militarisation of US police departments that are able to acquire military equipment and uniforms, which, given its intended use, can and has lead to excessive violence by police when dealing with protests.

A good overview of the issues around police community relations and the impact of introducing military equipment into police departments comes from comedian John Oliver from an insert on his show following the shooting.

Story picture credit BBC


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