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Who's in charge?

Soric, Miodrag / bw November 25, 2014

The grand jury has decided, and Ferguson is in flames. Was a reaction of this degree not expected? Ultimately, Ferguson's local authorities are hopelessly overburdened on every level, writes DW's Miodrag Soric.

Ausschreitungen in Ferguson 24.11.2014
Image: Reuters/Jim Young

Benefit of the doubt. The grand jury ultimately decided against a trial. Apparently there were too many conflicting statements from witnesses. There was no evidence that Officer Darren Wilson acted negligently or broke a law. In a statement, Officer Wilson defended the killing of the 18-year-old boy, saying he acted in accordance with his training. His words seem cold, dogmatic - the perpetrator posing as the victim. It would have been better for him to have remained silent.

Second-class police

With his statement, Wilson only rubbed salt in the wound, making it difficult for African Americans - not only in Ferguson - to accept the decision of the grand jury. Wilson is certainly not an appealing figure. He personifies world-wide prejudices about American police forces - shoot first, ask questions later. The bad thing about some prejudices is that they are occasionally true.

The statistics speak for themselves. Police use of excessive force against African Americans remains a problem in the USA, even if US citizens refuse to accept this reality. Police officer training and standards are deficient in some areas. Some of the standards are certainly different to the ones in place in Germany. It would, for example, be unthinkable that someone who was not good enough for a police job in Frankfurt would be allowed to join the force in Ludwigshafen. But exactly that is what is happening in the state of Missouri. Good police are allowed, for example, to patrol in St. Louis, while less accomplished officers - to euphemize it - are allowed to "prove themselves" in social flashpoint neighborhoods like Ferguson. There they are "second-class police officers," and poorly paid as well. Not exactly good motivation.

Miodrag Soric
Miodrag Soric runs DW's Washington BureauImage: privat

New racial unrest?

The death of Michael Brown is more than just a tragedy. It is more than just a single case in which an apparently overpowered police officer grasped hastily for his gun. Comparable cases happen almost every day across the USA, but only few make headlines. The Michael Brown case has the potential to trigger nationwide racial unrest. Much depends on how the case is handled politically, and above all, how President Obama and others in Washington respond.

Local politicians in Missouri have proved that they are hopelessly out of their depth. For example, Governor Jay Nixon in an interview was unable to say who is ultimately responsible for security in Ferguson. He stutters around so much that he is becoming the laughing stock of the entire nation.

Ferguson Entscheidung Grand Jury - Protest Weißes Haus Washington 24.11.2014
Protests against a grand jury's decision not to indict Darren Wilson erupted across the USAImage: Reuters/Joshua Roberts

The prosecuting attorney Robert P. McCulloch isn't exactly shining in this case either. Immediately after Michael Brown's death, many accused the attorney of being biased. The reason: McCulloch's father was a police officer who was shot to death by an African American. McCulloch decided the jury should sift through all the evidence under the motto "Let them decide." It would have been better for him to have left the case to a special prosecutor who would have then gone over the evidence with the grand jury. But McCulloch rejected this. Maybe out of vanity, maybe out of a misguided sense of duty.

Ultimately, McCulloch has done his city no service. The ranks of overmatched local politicians in Ferguson will let themselves carry on, the mayor of Ferguson is just one of many. Admittedly, there is little to be done against incompetence in politics. The citizens must elect new representatives.

The disappointment over the politics and over justice in the USA cannot however be an excuse for violent riots, which we have unfortunately seen. Whoever loots businesses or burns cars belongs in prison. The residents of Ferguson should ask themselves what they can do to diffuse the tense situation. Michael Brown's parents have set a good example. They are calling for calm and peaceful actions. Representatives of local churches, unions and NGOs are acting similarly. They all have a special responsibility during these difficult days.