Two words that weren't spoken by Barack Obama on Monday night:
He's the white police officer who shot and killed a black lawbreaker in Ferguson, Mo., in August. A grand jury that sat for months and weighed mounds of evidence essentially exonerated Wilson of any wrongdoing. The man was vilified. His life threatened. His career is in shambles. Many Americans still consider 18-year-old Michael Brown as the only victim in this case.
Ferguson, Mo., police officer Darren Wilson is a victim as well. Yet Obama, in a prime-time TV appearance, never mentioned the man. Instead, he turned the grand jury's decision not to indict Wilson into a rambling discourse on the need for better race relations in this country.
Following announcement of the decision, the streets of Ferguson turned into a theater of the absurd, with CNN reporters interviewing each other about the effects of tear gas and subtle hints that the police show of force may have been overwrought.
Then the curtain rose on the setting of fires, vandalism and looting of a liquor store, among other venues. Obama's call for calm — and that of Brown's own family — were unceremoniously ignored. Indeed, split-screen images featured Obama's face and voice on the right while the mayhem was escalating on the left.
We were among those who urged the public to await the grand jury's determination and accept the findings of those who know the case best. Rushes to judgment in August turned Brown into an instant hero and martyr for racial injustice. He is neither.
That the grand jurors — nine white, three black — could find no justification for sending Wilson to a trial says everything we need to know about the legal particulars of the case. That case, we now know, was weak. Still, we thought the grand jury would recommend trial on the lesser charge of involuntary manslaughter, effectively kicking the can down the road.
Such an outcome might have only delayed rather than prevented the anarchy that ensued Monday night, but we're not so sure: Involuntary manslaughter was clearly not the verdict desired by elements of society who read the Brown case as the next chapter of the civil rights movement.
But Brown was no Rosa Parks.
Obama dispatched Attorney General Eric Holder to Missouri shortly after the killing. Members of the administration attended Brown's funeral. The assumption then was that Wilson killed Brown for no good reason.
The grand jury didn't buy it. It said there was no probable cause to bring Wilson to trial. Yet he will continue to be portrayed as the bad guy and Brown the victim, not only of "police brutality" but of unrequited justice.
Given the facts, given the grand jury's deliberation, given what we all know about Brown's behavior that day, Wilson deserves an apology — from Obama on down. Appeals for calm and assurances that the "vast majority" of cops are fair, just and restrained aren't enough.
More valuable is the call for continued dialogue to heal racial wounds. But the Ferguson case illustrates how little true dialogue there can be when a faction of society can't intellectually separate this case from numerous others over the past century in which racism led to violent deaths for which there was never an official finding of guilt.
True dialogue requires reason, calm and objectivity. If Ferguson stimulates true dialogue, then something very good could come from something very bad. For now, though, Ferguson is a symbol of deep divides among Americans and the reality that people can view the same set of circumstances and come to vastly different conclusions.
— The Oklahoman, Nov. 26