Politics & Policy

The Ferguson Collapse

Protesting the Ferguson shooting in St. Louis, October 12, 2014 (Scott Olson/Getty)
Evidence discredits the progressive narrative.
The “Freedom Summer” of 2014 started with a bang but appears to be ending with a whimper. Before the investigation had even begun, the progressive narrative of the death of Michael Brown had crystallized: A white police officer murdered a young, unarmed black man trying to surrender with his hands up — the latest example of the systemic racism that renders black Americans de facto second-class citizens.

But that story has all but collapsed. Darren Wilson, the police officer who fatally shot 18-year-old Brown in early August, recently told investigators that he was pinned in his vehicle and feared for his life when Brown reached for his gun. FBI forensic analysis has confirmed that, as Wilson claims, two shots were fired in the car, and Brown’s blood was found in the vehicle, on Wilson’s clothing, and on the gun. The Washington Post reports that “seven or eight African American eyewitnesses have provided testimony consistent with Wilson’s account” that he fatally shot Brown when the young man moved toward him in the street. And, according to the official court autopsy report, Brown probably did not have his hands raised in the “Hands up, don’t shoot” position that has become the defining meme of the protests in Ferguson, Mo. An eyewitness who claims to have seen the shooting from beginning to end further corroborated Wilson’s account in an anonymous interview with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

The forensic and eyewitness evidence seems to be coalescing around a particular account — or, at the very least, suggests that Wilson did not murder Brown in cold blood. Alas, St. Louis County grand jurors face heavy pressure to issue an indictment. There’s a real fear that the protesters who have taken to disrupting the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, brawling with St. Louis Rams fans, and burning the American flag will, in the event that the grand jury refuses to indict, demonstrate their devotion to justice by enkindling a variety of local establishments.

But the jurors should not be cowed by that threat. What happens next in Ferguson may well be, to quote Al Sharpton, a “defining moment,” though not in the way he, other progressives, and Ferguson protesters mean. To their minds, the case required little scrutiny: Michael Brown was a new Emmett Till; Ferguson, a new Selma. But that determination was made well in advance of a careful sifting of available evidence — evidence that shows that the events of August 9 do not lend themselves to a convenient racial parable. If the grand jury, having heard and weighed the available evidence, believes that Darren Wilson is not criminally culpable for his actions, they should not indict him. The judicial system cannot be used to assuage imagined racial grievances.

Michael Brown’s death, unfortunate though it was, is not part of an ongoing civil-rights struggle. The racial antipathies that animated the South in the 1960s are largely vanished — an extraordinary accomplishment that is rarely, if ever, acknowledged by those who point to present-day bigotry. Moreover, the racist justice system that some Ferguson residents decry is nowhere to be seen. The results of a police investigation, closely observed by a suspicious community and national media, have been brought before a grand jury (also under the scrutiny of a nation), which has, by all accounts, slowly and deliberately considered the available evidence. There is no indication that the system has worked otherwise than normally.

Unfortunately, racial demagoguery, too, is pretty normal in America.

The Editors — The Editors comprise the senior editorial staff of the National Review magazine and website.

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