It remains to be seen whether Wilson will face criminal charges, but a limited review of similar killings by police suggests that the officers more often than not walk away without an indictment, and are very rarely convicted. Delores Jones-Brown, a law professor and director of the Center on Race, Crime, and Justice at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, looked at 21 publicized cases from 1994 through 2009 in which a police officer killed an unarmed black person. Of those, only seven cases resulted in an indictment—for criminally negligent homicide, obstruction of justice, conspiracy, or violation of civil rights—and only three officers were found guilty.You know something? I'm fine with the whole notion of not-rushing-to-judgment in this case. I'm fine with it taking a while to figure out "what happened." The vast majority of America is fine with that as well.
What's not fine was and is the apparent disinterest of the Ferguson authorities in finding out. A half-dozen eyewitnesses, not interviewed. No explanation of the officer's side of events at all, save an anonymous "friend" of his "fiancé" giving out a thirdhand account on CNN. The aggressive and militarized and very violent response to protesters asking for more justification than the fistful of nothing that the police have handed out. The department is either utterly incompetent, so incompetent that the lot of them needs to be canned and the town be placed under the jurisdiction of God knows who, or crooked, in which case ditto. Regardless of whether the shooting itself was "justified," the response has ticked off all the marks of what a racist and hyper-agressive police response would look like, and every last protester can see that firsthand, and if you can't figure out how that might be confirming every one of the neighborhood's suspicions about how the shooting of Michael Brown went down, neither I nor anyone else can help you out on that one.
Witnesses to the shooting said the officer acted with excessive violence and a person who wasn't resisting ended up dead. Every last day and night since then has demonstrated exactly why their neighbors believe they're telling the truth. Having politicians and prosecutors and law enforcement officers get the vapors because the community wants more information than rubber bullets or a tear gas canister can provide is condescending twaddle. You want to defend the shooting, you do that—Christ, we would all love to get to the point where there's a defense other than "the guy smoked pot" or "he wasn't just a jaywalker, he was a hardcore, thug jaywalker." But there is no defense—none—of the police actions from then until now. Pointing military-castoff rifles at reporters asking for directions is not okay in America, and to have this go on for days on end with absolutely no repercussions is a damn fine indication that whatever the residents say about their local law enforcement and how it treats them on a daily basis, they are very much damn right.
Here's the single best thing Eric Holder could do during his time in Ferguson. Appoint one black officer from his department to go undercover, posing as a reporter or as citizen. Have that officer wander around the town, during the day and at night, doing nothing but existing alongside the protesters and reporters. And every last police officer, from any department, who points a rifle at that man for no reason gets fired ten minutes later.
You do that, maybe we start to get somewhere. Put up or shut up. Don't give an entire town lectures about due process and the rule of law when you're pointing guns at their heads for walking where they're not supposed to walk.