“I don’t believe a word of it”, said Lesley McSpadden after a grand jury refused to indict former Ferguson, Mo., Police Officer Darren Wilson for killing her son.
As a grieving mother it’s hard to begrudge her disbelief, but what about the rest of us?
“Hands up. Don’t shoot!” became the rallying cry against perceived systemic racial animus on the part of police departments everywhere. Peaceful protests turned violent as a frenzied mob destroyed Ferguson in an orgy of rage and avarice.
Now a second grand jury has refused to indict a police officer for killing an unarmed black man, this time on Staten Island in New York.
His name was Eric Garner and his cries of “I can’t breathe!” reminded many in Southern California of the final words of Kelly Thomas, a homeless white man beaten to death by three Fullerton police officers.
There was no ambiguity in Garner’s death. Every second of his encounter with NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo was captured on video with Pantaleo appearing to put Garner in a chokehold, a tactic prohibited by the NYPD and many police agencies across the country, including the LAPD.
Thousands now are chanting “I can’t breathe!” along with “Hands up. Don’t shoot!” and “Black lives matter.”
But do facts matter or does anger trump all?
After the non-indictment of Officer Wilson, Taylor Gruenloh, a 32-year old white protester from nearby Florissant, Missouri, told the Associated Press, “Even if you don’t find that it’s true” – “it” being Michael Brown’s hands up in surrender posture – “it’s a valid rallying cry.
It’s just a metaphor.”
Maybe, but Darren Wilson isn’t a metaphor.
Wilson is an actual flesh human being. Is it justice to indict a man as a metaphor?
Two mixed-race grand juries said no in two different states. In Fullerton the cops went to trial but walked when a jury returned a not guilty verdict.
Now the American judicial system itself is on trial.
Despite statistics showing many more whites die each year from encounters with police than African-Americans, millions echo Michael Brown’s mother and “don’t believe a word of it.”
There’s reason to be skeptical.
The Center for Disease Control reports between 1999 and 2011, 2,151 whites were killed by police versus 1,130 blacks. In 2012, 326 whites died along with 123 African-Americans.
Unfortunately, there’s no national data base for deadly use of force by police agencies. Each department keeps its own records. The Wall Street Journal uncovered 550 deaths not counted in the CDC numbers, so who really knows?
Still, to watch CNN you’d think the only people ever killed by cops are African-Americans.
It took months of relentless campaigning by Ron Thomas before Kelly’s death finally saw the light of day. Even then it remained a local story. Don Rosenberg continues to plead with the national media to cover the thousands, yes thousands, who are killed each year by illegal immigrants via drunk driving, reckless driving, or outright murder.
Some stories just don’t fit the narrative.
None of which diminishes the deep rift between communities of color and law enforcement. Los Angeles knows better than most cities how deep that wound is.
From the Zoot Suit riots of the 1940s, to Watts in ‘65, and 1992’s post-Rodney King beating riots, our city has experienced eruptions of rage-fueled destruction more terrifying than any earthquake.
But the real tragedy remains that it took a massive riot to usher in change; a Federal Consent Decree that led to an improved LAPD and a better Los Angeles.
Yet we still have an unacceptable culture of distrust and we always will as long as blacks and Hispanics continue to live elbow to elbow with poverty, crime and social dysfunction.
Doug McIntyre’s column appears Sunday and Wednesday. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.