Those who called for justice had their own handy definition of the word: first, an indictment, then a trial, and then a conviction for murder. That would be justice. Anything else would be injustice.
And so the riots followed a predictable, and depressing, script: the white cop goes free and the aggrieved steal liquor and mobile phones from stores whose windows they bashed in with baseball bats. Yes, we've seen this movie before. A tragedy employed as nothing more than a convenient excuse to loot and burn down businesses so the aggrieved can get free stuff.
Still, even the most ardent defender of law and order has to acknowledge that there's a legacy of mistrust between many black people in America and white people in positions of power, especially white people who carry guns and badges.
I covered hard news for a long time and over the years saw bad cops and bad kids. So I kept an open mind. I don't know officer Darren Wilson. I had no way of knowing if he was one of those bad ones. But unless the grand jury was rigged, unless witnesses (including African American witnesses) committed perjury, he wasn't a bad cop. Michael Brown was the bad one this time. He was the one who attacked the police officer who thought his life was in danger and who shot and killed the teenager in self-defense.
We hear all the time, from black civil rights leaders and white liberals, about how young black men have targets on their backs, how they're victims of a racist white culture that doesn't value black lives. We're hearing it now about Michael Brown.
But these same people say next to nothing about the real problem: an inordinate amount of black crime. We hear about white cops who recklessly kill black kids. But not nearly enough about how it's black thugs with no sense of morality and not white racist cops who are murdering most of those young black men.
After the decision not to indict officer Wilson, President Obama called for peace and said, "We need to recognize that the situation in Ferguson speaks to broader challenges that we still face as a nation. The fact is in too many parts of this country a deep distrust exists between law enforcement and communities of color. Some of this is the result of the legacy of racial discrimination in this country. And this is tragic because nobody needs good policing more than poor communities with higher crime rates. The good news is, we know there are things we can do to help."
The first thing we can do is try to convince African Americans that white America is not out to get them; that they are not a community of victims; and that if Michael Brown hadn't attacked the police officer he'd be alive today. Don't turn him into a civil rights martyr.