If you happened to be twirling your radio dial here in Charlotte Monday night trying to find out what the grand jury in Ferguson, Missouri, had decided in the case against Darren Wilson — the police officer who killed 18-year-old Michael Brown in August — you may have stumbled on me in the middle of a high-volume, four-hour-long “discussion” of that situation on News-Talk station 1110-AM WBT. The passionate responses I heard regarding the decision to not indict Wilson were as hot as anywhere else in the country. The only difference between what was going on here as compared to cities ranging from New York to Los Angeles was that, thankfully, ours didn’t escalate to the physically violent category.
Instead, what you would have heard fell into one of two general categories. The majority of the station’s predominantly conservative, white listeners lambasted me as a despicable "race-baiting liberal" who was just trying to stir up trouble like Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton. But according to many others who were persistent and patient enough to get through the jammed phone lines, I deserved to be congratulated for having the courage to demand that we deal with the problem of institutional racism rearing its head in this country again, which appears to be allowing cops get away with killing African-American men with impunity.
It was as exhausting for me as I imagine it was frustrating for many of the listeners. As such, by the time I was leaving the station to drive home, I felt as though I had as good an idea as anyone in the country as to how divisive this case has become. It's dragged up every shred of the ugliest episodes of our past. It's shed light on how much we seem to have fallen backwards since the “heady” days just a few years ago, when we wanted to pat ourselves on the back for having elected the first black president of the United States. We’re back to Square One — or worse.
To be honest, when I got the call from WBT’s management around 5 p.m. Monday to host a special broadcast following the announcement of the grand jury’s decision, I didn’t expect I’d get quite so riled up myself. Yes, I’m pretty passionate about what I believe, but I’m usually able to stay relatively “in bounds” when I’m on the air. But then came the prosecutor, Bob McCullough, with his prepared statement. The more he spoke, the higher my blood pressure went up.
McCullough had been a controversial figure from the beginning of the case. You might recall that the area’s residents had asked him to recuse himself, and with good reason. He had a conflict of interest, in that, as a boy, his father, a police officer, was killed while pursuing a suspect. But McCullough refused to step aside. And as I listened to him, lambasting “the media” for supposedly making the whole story more of a problem than it should have been, among other remarks that seemed to me to be completely out of line, it was obvious to me that he never had any intention of truly prosecuting Wilson.
By the time he got finished with his announcement, I was furious. It seemed to me — and I said on the air — that it was now open season on African-American males in this country. There are simply too many cases of this around the country lately to come to any other conclusion. It’s quite likely that with additional information, my opinion could change, but Monday night, only one “fact” mattered to me: You don’t shoot at someone 12 times who’s clearly unarmed. And if you do, that in itself is more than ample grounds for the case to meet the absolute minimum “probable cause” standard for charges to be filed and sent on to a full trial.
Somehow, McCullough seemed to believe that his long statement, and an accompanying massive data dump this morning of virtually every shred, he says, of information and evidence that was presented to the grand jury, would effectively end the debate as to whether or not “justice” was being done. If so, he’s even more in La-La-Land than I thought. No one’s happy that the streets of Ferguson erupted in a spasm of burning cars and buildings last night, and everyone wants that to stop. But if anything, his handling of this case has only made things worse.
And it’s now spread far beyond Ferguson. By this morning, social media movements had gotten started via hashtags #BoycottBlackFriday and #BlackoutBlackFriday, which are described as attempts to encourage people to lodge their disapproval by refusing to spend money on what is usually the busiest shopping days of the year, in hopes that those people with the ability to make a difference might take things more seriously when their wallets are affected. We’ll see.
One more item we should let you know about: A handful of local rallies are taking place this evening, including a 6 p.m. gathering at Marshall Park titled “Charlotte Stands with Ferguson.”