By Dawnn Anderson
In reaction to reports that authorities lack a strong case against Darren Wilson, many Chicagoans say they wouldn’t be surprised if the former Ferguson, Missouri, police officer escaped civil rights charges in last summer’s shooting death of Michael Brown Jr.
Despite an ongoing investigation into Brown’s death, sources say it is unlikely that Wilson will be charged with the federal crime of depriving the unarmed 18-year-old man of his civil rights. In Chicago, a sample survey revealed Tuesday that many weren’t expecting to hear anything differently.
“As an African-American, an attorney, and a woman living in Chicago, I am ashamed and horrified by the unwillingness of people to hold police officers accountable,” said Paula Roderick J.D. of Edgewater. The 58-year-old civil rights attorney has practiced law for more than 20 years, specializing in employment discrimination.
Ranging in age from 18 to 60, Chicagoans, representing various races and ethnicities, said the incident did not raise any new revelations about race relations between minorities and law enforcement.
After a grand jury decided not to indict Wilson on state charges in November, a majority of people said they expect to see the same results on a federal level.
“I am more angered about the structure of the law,” said Eric Bottorff, 32, a philosophy teacher from Bridgeport, “because it is written in a way that makes it hard to prove racist intent.”
According to Human Rights Watch, officers who repeatedly commit human-rights violations make up a small few who are consistently protected by flawed systems of oversight and reporting and the silence of their colleagues, who include fellow officers as well as prosecutors.
“Today there are more African-American adults under correctional control, in prison or jail, on probation or parole, than were enslaved in 1850, a decade before the civil war began.”
– Michelle Alexander, civil rights advocate
“That relationship is suddenly turned on its head when there is a question about whether a criminal case against a police officer should be prosecuted or not,” said Destiny Peery J.D., an assistant professor of law at Northwestern School of Law.
Peery, a Minneapolis native, said it is not uncommon for there to be a historical relationship between prosecutors and police officers because the two are perceived to be on the same side of the law.
She also noted a scarcity of information about trends in abuse, which police departments are responsible for recording and making available to the public.
“Nothing’s changing in a sense,” said Yessenia Bakazar. The 18 year-old of Southeast Chicago said police officers should face heavier punitive measures for acts of misconduct under the law.
However, other experts cite a staggering increase of imprisonment for minorities, particularly young African-American men.
“Today there are more African-American adults under correctional control, in prison or jail, on probation or parole, than were enslaved in 1850, a decade before the civil war began,” said Michelle Alexander, a civil rights advocate and the author of “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.”
In her Monday keynote address concluding Northwestern University’s 10-day celebration to honor the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Alexander denounced the U.S. prison and criminal justice systems, citing mass incarceration and the war on drugs as two instances of oppression.
Alexander made several references to the “get tough movement” where police intentionally target poor, vulnerable communities of color waiting for crime to occur. She says this phenomenon, which has birthed stop and frisk tactics and the Broken Windows theory, is part of a larger systemic problem.
Justin Card, a student at Harold Washington College originally from Belize, said his first encounter with Chicago police involved a confrontation about whether or not the 23-year-old sold drugs.
“Some of us Belizeans come out here to get a brighter future for ourselves and gain opportunities,” said Card, who noted police often mistake him as African-American and consequently stereotype him.
In tackling the issue of race and the criminal justice system Alexander says, “Lynch mobs may be long gone but the threat of police violence is ever present.”