By Nick BeJeaux
“We shouldn’t focus on the destruction – we should focus on rebuilding.”
Despite a grand jury’s decision to not indict his killer, the outrage over the shooting of Michael Brown isn’t going away anytime soon.
The jury’s decision was delivered last week, and though it sparked the most violent riots since the night of the shooting, it also inspired dozens of peaceful gatherings, protests, and vigils across the country. One of them was right here in Baton Rouge on LSU’s Campus. Within 22 hours of the jury’s announcement that Darren Wilson will not be charged with murder, a vigil was organized at the Greek Amphitheatre, where at least 200 people gathered in silence or to speak out against the “broken system.”
Alfreda Tillman Bester, the loquacious and outspoken legal council for Louisiana’s chapter of the NAACP, was one of 25 speakers at the vigil. When asked about her feelings on the decision, she didn’t pull any punches.
“As an officer of the court, this decision was the most egregious instance of malfeasance I’ve ever seen,” she said. “But make no mistake, I do not blame the jury. They, I’m sure, are honorable people. They were only doing their civic duty.”
But St. Louis District Attorney Bob McCulloch? That’s a different story.
“He had the decision himself whether to indict Wilson or not, but he abdicated his responsibility and gave it to a grand jury,” said Tillman. “He didn’t even ask for an indictment, when it’s a matter of procedure for a DA to ask that of a jury. He intended to influence them and essentially had the case thrown out without asking for it.”
Grand juries are only tasked with finding probable cause, and therefore almost always decide to indict, which will then lead to a trial. According to statistics from the Bureau of Justice, U.S. attorneys prosecuted 162,000 federal cases in 2010 (no later data is available) and of that number only 11 were not indicted. (It must be noted that Wilson’s case was heard by a state grand jury, not a federal one, but the statistic remains relevant). That said, what happened in Ferguson is statistically rare, if not extremely improbable. Some, however, were not surprised.
Tillman does not doubt that McColloch, whose policeman father was killed by a black man, was guided by bias and therefore unfit to prosecute the case.
“We have a responsibility to recuse ourselves if we are too close to a case,” she said. “The Bar Association of Missouri advised to do so. And he refused.”
In an interview with DIG, Tillman says she could see pain in the eyes of the audience of the vigil, but hope as well.
“There was a lot of pain coming from everyone that was there,” she said. “But so many that were there were not African American. We were equally outraged, by the decision and the violent reaction in Ferguson. But we shouldn’t focus on the destruction – we should focus on rebuilding.”
Alex Camardelle is a Ph.D student at LSU studying educational leadership and research.
“As a male of color, I can relate to Mike Brown and felt compelled to see what people in Louisiana are saying about Ferguson,” he said.
Camardelle says that this vigil, and the dozens of gatherings like it across the country, are important to recognize in light of the smaller sparks of violence.
“This was not the only instance where there was a peaceful protest,” he said. “We’re not seeing the peaceful protests, or the gatherings of young people coming together discussing these problems with our system. We’re seeing only the destruction – not the constructive things.”
Samantha Bares, an English senior, attended the vigil to stand in solidarity with her peers against oppression of any kind.
“I attended the vigil because it’s the least I could do to acknowledge this tragedy,” she said. “As a white person, it’s easy for me to go about my day after hearing about crimes like this one, to put it out of my head. Solidarity with the black community on occasions like these is my responsibility as a white person educated on the implications of white supremacy, as well as a woman who faces misogynistic oppression. Oppressed people must stand together against the forces that seek to marginalize them, whether based on race, gender, or sexuality.”