More than three months after Darren Wilson executed Michael Brown in broad daylight in Ferguson, Missouri, the grand jury’s decision is in. No state prosecution, no justice from the state’s court system, for his crime. Wilson will never be tried, let alone convicted. But in the real justice system, this is not the end for Wilson — it’s only the beginning.
We already know the state’s “justice” system is stacked in favor of cops, who enjoy immunity from ordinary standards of right and wrong. Juries are selected for credulous acceptance of police and prosecutorial claims. If police in pursuit of a non-violent offender kill innocent bystanders, the suspect is held criminally liable. If a cop gets bloody knuckles from beating an unconscious victim, “assault and battery” are added to the long list of charges flung at the accused to blackmail her into a plea deal. A cop who says “I felt my life was in danger” receives the benefit of doubt — whether for shooting a family’s chihuahua in front of the children, or an unarmed teenager in the back. If someone is beaten to death for “resisting arrest” while in a diabetic coma or an epileptic seizure, or “committing suicide” with hands cuffed behind his back, cops still get that benefit of doubt.
So we already knew an indictment was unlikely. Any change to lawless, killer police culture will come from outside, not within, the system.
The criminal justice system has always protected cops from justice. Until recently, there was no publicly available counter-narrative outside radical underground newspapers and Indymedia. Things began to change with the video footage of Rodney King, curled into a fetal position, kicked and bludgeoned by half a dozen cops. But given the expensive and cumbersome nature of camcorders and the broadcast media’s gatekeeping role, real change awaited cheap, ubiquitous, easily concealed video recording capability and independent means of reaching the public.
With near-universal smart phone ownership and the easy streaming of video to the Web, that day has come. Challenges to the official police framing of events with compelling counter-narratives came into their own with the Occupy movement. Thanks to YouTube and streaming video links of police violence in Zuccotti Park, Oakland, Tulsa and elsewhere, it was easy to prove that police accounts were flat-out lies.
The consequences for cops who draw public attention due to their extreme levels of brutality, in this new age of citizen journalism, is instructive. The people are more than happy to administer justice when the state’s courts refuse to. Despite his release from prison, Johannes Mehserle — the murderer of Oscar Grant in Oakland — is regularly recognized and ostracized, sometimes leaving public establishments in shame when noticed by the decent people around him. Lt. John Pike, infamous for pepper spraying peaceful UC Davis students s they sat quietly on the ground, wound up retiring on disability with a nervous breakdown from the public hostility he experienced daily.
As I wrote of Pike in 2011, Wilson will probably spend the rest of his life afraid to leave his house. He’s hardly begun to grasp the hell the rest of his life is going to be. His phone number, email address and street address soon will be (if they aren’t already) widely publicized. Even if he isn’t discharged from the Ferguson police force, whenever he encounters a citizen in the course of his duties he’ll wonder if that’s a sneer of contempt or just his imagination. Every time he deals with a server or cashier, or meets anyone new, he’ll see that brief look of recognition followed by a frozen mask of politely suppressed revulsion. He can run, but he can’t hide.
God told Cain, “The voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto me from the ground,” sentencing him to live as “a fugitive and a vagabond … in the earth.” Because Cain feared the vengeance of outraged humanity, “the LORD set a mark upon Cain, lest any finding him should kill him.”
Darren Wilson bears the mark of Cain. The state’s own hired killers skate through the state’s “justice” system. But the people’s justice system — our eyes, video, doxxing, ostracism and shaming — can never be evaded.
Kevin Carson is a senior fellow of the Center for a Stateless Society (c4ss.org) and holds the Center’s Karl Hess Chair in Social Theory.