The Darren Wilson grand jury has decided that the officer will not be indicted for the August 9 fatal shooting of unarmed, black teenager Michael Brown. The decision comes within the context of intense local and national protesting and organizing. So what does the lack of an indictment in the Michael Brown killing mean? Here’s what leading activists and thinkers told Colorlines immediately after the decision was announced:
Patrisse Cullors, executive director of Dignity and Power Now and co-founder of Black Lives Matter
How do you feel about the decision? The decision to not indict Darren Wilson is infuriating, frightening, and maddening. This country has shown time and time again that black life is without value. I also know that the indictment or non indictment of one officer will not end the rampant terror police departments enact upon black communities. We can not jail or indict our way out of white supremacy.
What can we do to move forward? We must continue to be in the streets, lobby for new laws and push for the demilitarizing of police departments as well as reducing their budgets. We need to believe that safety does not have to rely on a badge or gun, but rather healthy communities that are provided with jobs, shelter and proper education.
Brittney Cooper, Crunk Feminist Collective
How do you feel about the decision? Devastated.
What can we do to move forward? Revolt.
Imani Perry, professor in the Center for African American Studies at Princeton University
How do feel about the decision? The decision is harrowing and yet mundane. Police violence, a lack of due process, surveillance, presumptions of black guilt, and the absolute devaluation of black life are all everyday business in America. The American criminal justice system is so rotten, perhaps it is a fools errand to ever seek justice or fairness from it. Had Darren Wilson been indicted, the odds that he would be convicted would have been minimal. If he had been convicted, it wouldn’t have changed the fact that law enforcement is an engine of anti-black racism in this country. Yet this decision is still a terrible blow. It is a green light for an ever more murderous police state.
What can we do to move forward? We must follow the organizers, both Ferguson organizers and national organizers. It is time for us to remember the legacies of SNCC, Ella Baker and Fannie Lou Hamer, to hold them close as our inheritance. It is time for us to study the systems of racial and economic injustice in order to best struggle against them. It is time for establishment and bureaucratic civil rights professionals to step back and make space for this rebirth of the freedom movement. It is time for us to join this movement, to listen, to learn, and to keep our hands on freedom’s plow.
Deepa Iyer, Race Forward board of directors and former director of South Asian Americans Leading Together
How do you feel about the decision? I am deeply saddened and outraged by the failure of the grand jury to indict Darren Wilson. The legal system too has failed Michael Brown and his family. But I’m also trying to draw courage and inspiration from the protestors in Ferguson who have, for three months now in the midst of a virtual police state, reminded us why we must continue to fight for reforms in the criminal justice system, from police accountability to the demilitarization of law enforcement to anti-profiling laws.
What can we do to move forward? As a South Asian American, I am committed to the struggle for racial justice and my responsibility to our movement has become even more clearer in light of the events in Ferguson.
Dr. Yaba Blay, director or Africana Studies, Drexel University
How do you feel about the decision? I’m frustrated with myself for expecting, if only for a moment, that people who have historically not valued black life, would actually value black life. More than anything, I’m sad. I’m just sad. This is no way to live.
What can we do to move forward?Organize. Organize. Organize.
Mychal Denzel Smith, writer and Knobler Fellow at the Nation Institute
How do you feel about the decision? The decision was as expected. The United States is founded on white supremacy and the destruction of black bodies and continues its existence on those principles.
What can we do to move forward? Moving forward, toward justice, is a matter of making the privileged uncomfortable. The marginalized and terrorized communities of America will have to assert their right to existence in every way possible, from politics to the arts, from classrooms to corner stores, and beyond. The fight is on.
Bakari Kitwana, executive director of Rap Sessions and author of the forthcoming "Hip-Hop Activism in the Obama Era
How do you feel about the decision? The debt America owes the Brown family can never be paid. This verdict reveals the salient message lost on the powers that be: There is no conditioning that can be imagined that can prepare black people to accept that death of an unarmed teen at the hands of a police officer is justifiable. America has just lost the latest generation of black Americans who imagined justice could be found in the land that prides itself on a perverted sense of the rule of law.
The country has no jobs for black youth. No affordable meaningful education. No justice. With every new state sanctioned murder, America is signing its own death certificate. Minus an apparatus of justice, black people are left to mete out a brand of justice of their own.
What can we do to move forward? It is clear the police have been empowered by the state to shoot to kill with impunity. In the reformist lane, that means at the very least disarming the police and requiring officers to live in the communities they serve. In the revolutionary lane, we must keep in mind that we are dealing with the second generation of black Americans to come of age after the civil rights movement. The promises that black folk imagined two generations ago have not been realized. This is a generation to whom America feels no obligation. No obligation to provide jobs. No obligation to provide a living wage. No obligation to get the vampire corporations out of their pockets. No obligation to provide affordable, meaningful education. We have a generation that imagined justice would prevail who just had that snatched away. Much like the second generation that came of age after the civil war, who ushered in the great migration, this is a generation whose backs have been pushed to the wall. They have nothing to lose. In my estimation, no form of vigilante justice is off the table.
Salamishah Tillet, associate professor of English, University of Pennsylvania, co-founder, A Long Walk Home
How do you feel about the decision? Waiting for this [decision] is the ritual of black life in America: dying, grieving, fighting, demanding, mourning, mounting protests, hoping, voting, being disenfranchised, shot at and dying again. Right now, I am wondering how to stop a cycle that African-Americans neither created nor condone and how far from freedom we still remain.
Last time Black America gathered around like this was probably when Barack Obama became president in 2008. How little the word "hope" means right now and how huge the project/practice/principle and radical act that #?BlackLivesMatters means today, as it did then, as it is always has in this grand experiment we call America. Rest in power, beloved prince. #?FergusonGoddam.
What can we do to move forward? We continue to organize with vigilance to dismantle a capitalist, racist, and sexist system that predicates itself on rendering black lives as weaponized bodies, as inferior, and not worthy of state protection and due process. This means we continue to take on the prison-industrial complex, violence against women, wealth inequality, and our elected officials (even those who claim to be with us) with deep, unwavering resistance.
Dorian Warren, Columbia University assistant political science professor, Roosevelt Institute fellow, Race Forward board member
How do you feel about the decision? Deeply saddened for the family of Mike Brown and deeply angered by the lack of justice in this country for black people. I feel like this is the millennial generation’s Emmett Till moment.
What can we do to move forward? Mourn. And then organize. Strategize. We have plenty of demands and solutions to change, systematically, racially unjust policing and a criminal justice system that does not value black life. Now we have to organize–over the long haul–to win.
Darnell L. Moore, co-managing editor of The Feminist Wire and member of Black Lives Matter
How do you feel about the decision? That I continue to not be shocked when the legal system fails black folk is a problem. New laws and polices are great, but if we fail to change anti-black ideologies we won’t experience the type of transformation necessary to ensure black folk can live free from extrajudicial murder, state sanctioned police killings, and the various affects of institutional racism.
asha bandele, author, advocate, mother
What can we do to move forward? As the process followed the terrible historical arc of cynical, vulgar, anti-justice and racist actions undertaken within American jurisprudence it tells me that we have to be as disciplined, focused, loving and courageous as so many of our progenitors were to ensure we even made it this far up the mountain. I believe in organizing. I believe in agitating. I believe in confrontation and speaking truth even when it’s unpopular or frightening. And I believe that all of these done together and with integrity and an other centered spirit will ultimately be lifesaving.
Gary Delgado, Alliance for a Just Society and Race Forward board member
How do you feel about the decision? The preparation, timing, and cautions for peaceful protest all pointed to an unjust decision. I’m angry but not surprised. The most common result of a police murder is the exoneration of cop who didn’t get the memo that America is post racial. As Wilson’s defenders say, "He was doing what he got trained to do." Now, as communities of color express, a deep sadness, and a glowering rage, men in riot gear are doing what they are trained to do–channeling their fear into defending bricks, glass, and concrete.
Feminista Jones, activist
I did not expect an indictment. I have seen this happen too many times over the years. When police are held accountable for taking the lives of black Americans, I find myself surprised; it is troubling, yes, but honest. This is a great miscarriage of justice and a reminder that we cannot give up our fights for justice and liberation. We must have true freedom and that freedom includes the ability to live without fear of being killed by police simply because we were born black. We are still awaiting news on whether or not Officer Pantaleo will be indicted in the choking death of Eric Garner. Officer Dante Servin goes on trial soon for killing Rekia Boyd in 2012. Joseph Weekley may face a third trial in the shooting death of Aiyana Jones. Officer Randell Kendrick was indicted after a second grand jury reviewed the case. There is more to come.
What can we do to move forward? We cannot become complacent. We must fight for our rights and for the rights of our children to live as free human beings in this country.
Jessica Luther, freelance writer
How do you feel about the decision? I am not surprised by this outcome; all signs pointed to it. That doesn’t make it less painful or less frustrating. My thoughts are with Mike’s family and the community of Ferguson.
I think moving forward there are some things we can do. First, follow the lead of the Ferguson community and the organizers working there. Continue to listen to them and see what they need and want, what they think is best. Second, look into our own communities because the problems in Ferguson are in your community, too. I live in Austin, Tex. The People’s Task Force (http://taskforceatx.org/) is a group whose singular goal is to "hold the police department accountable for any and all police shootings." They are doing the work here. And if you look where you live, you will find people there doing it already. Listen to what they want and need and offer support, and begin to change things where you are. Finally, us white folks need to talk to other white people about the injustices happening around this country, about the fact that the police around the country keep committing violence against black people disproportionately, from the shooting deaths of the unarmed like those of Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, John Crawford, or Akai Gurley, to the deaths of the mentally ill like Tanesha Anderson and Kajieme Powell, to the sexual assault of black women at the hands of cops like Daniel Holtzclaw. White people need to tell other white people about the risks that black people take for simply existing in this world, risks that we will never face because of the privilege we carry in our skin. And maybe that will feel uncomfortable but so what. We are talking about people’s lives and risking uncomfortable conversation seems like the least we can do.
Barbara Ransby, professor, historian of African-American history, writer and longtime activist based in Chicago
How do you feel about the decision? It is profoundly disturbing but not terribly surprising. The threshold was so low, one would hope a group of jurors would at least consider the possibility of involuntary manslaughter, which suggests at a minimum, Wilson’s actions were reckless. Given this decision, we do have to ask, "Do black lives, especially the lives of poor and working class black youth, really matter?"
People have a right be outraged by this. It is another way of denying our humanity to suggest that in the face of rampant police violence across this country and disregard for the lives of young black people, that we should not be upset. What kind of parents, grandparents, teachers and elders would we be to not be upset? And for young people, if they do not speak out for themselves and their peers loudly and forcefully, who will?
What can we do to move forward? Well, if the decision had been different, the next steps would have been virtually the same. Why? Because the underlying problem is racist policing practices, the criminalization of poor black youth, regardless of whether they are engaged in criminal behavior, as well as poverty and the lack of jobs and quality education. So, this is not about one death and one rogue cop. We need to fight for access, resources and accountability. This case is not an isolated one. It is symbolic of the plight of poor and working class black communities all across this country. This is so much bigger than Ferguson and Darren Wilson and we have to remain clear about that. Building broad coalitions, rejecting the idea of outside agitators, and generating creative and sustainable tactics of direct action to push for change.
Joan Morgan, writer
How do you feel about the decision? I expected this decision. Optimism is something that is too dangerous an indulgence in a country deeply and historically invested in using both racism and sexism to maintain white supremacy. I know many feel this is a different political moment. I think what we just saw was a long, condescending rationale that was tantamount to saying to us black and brown people, "Same shit, different day."
How do we move forward? I don’t know that the immediate response should be to "move forward". I’m tired of lost black lives being a teaching moment. I think we need to feel every bit of this pain. Every bit of this anger before we move anywhere.
Linda Sarsour, National Advocacy Director, National Network for Arab American Communities
How do you feel about the decision? While the decision was unfortunately not a surprise, it still was overwhelming. I watched the decision unfold with my family including my three children. My 10-year-old daughter, upon learning that Wilson will not be indicted, said, "This is just not fair." I am feeling sad, outraged, angry and frustrated–these are normal emotions that unfortunately are being criminalized by the media and others. I’m keeping my eyes on Ferguson, my heart in the movement and my feet on the streets of New York City because Ferguson is everywhere.
How do we move forward? We need to stay united and use this moment to refuel us to bring true systematic change to our communities. We need to empower each other, take care of one another and remain hopeful. We need to revamp the campaign to pass the End Racial Profiling Act, a bill that would prohibit the use of profiling on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin or religion by local, state and federal law enforcement agencies. We need to continue the fight to bring justice for Mike Brown, Ramarley Graham, Eric Garner and the countless others who have lost their lives to police violence.
*Post has been updated since publication to include Linda Sarsour’s responses.