This column is part of a four-column series written by Yale students regarding the Mike Brown case in Ferguson, Missouri. Click here to return to the series’ Up for Discussion landing page.
The post here reflects the version of this column that ran in print on Dec. 1.
I wish I could say that upon reading the evidence reviewed by the grand jury in the Ferguson case, I felt satisfied that there wasn’t probable cause to indict Darren Wilson. I wish I could say that I had no reason to suspect that Wilson and the grand jury were affected by racial prejudice.
But I can’t. The fact is our nation’s history is marred by racism; examples of anti-blackness are everywhere. I say this with full knowledge that as a relatively light-skinned Latino, I am in the same racial category as George Zimmerman, the Peruvian-American man who was acquitted of all charges by arguing self-defense for his 2012 killing of the black teen Trayvon Martin. After Zimmerman’s acquittal in 2013, a powerful statement circulated on Twitter: “A system cannot fail those it was never built to protect.” Those words have never resonated more truly for me than when I learned of the grand jury’s decision on Monday.
I’m not an expert, and I can’t pretend to know the intricacies of how the grand jury came to this unfortunate conclusion. I can, however, consult the expertise of legal analysts like Lisa Bloom LAW ’86, who told MSNBC: “We wouldn’t be the land of mass incarceration if every case was treated the way this case was treated … there’s no question Darren Wilson received special treatment … this prosecutor bent over backwards to ensure that there would not be charges filed.”
The news media painted Michael Brown as a criminal who allegedly stole cigarillos from a nearby convenience store. Many took these allegations as sufficient justification for Darren Wilson to shoot Brown multiple times, including in the head. James Holmes, the white suspect in the shooting death of 12 people in Aurora, Colorado, was taken into custody alive. And he had been armed with several guns.
Darren Wilson should have been indicted. Michael Brown should not have been killed. The simple fact is that these men’s respective racial identities determined the course of events, and to think otherwise is to be blind to America’s race problem.
I wish I could say I was surprised last Monday evening when Darren Wilson walked free. But I wasn’t.
Javier Cienfuegos is a senior in Branford College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.