Eddie Bernice Johnson2

Eddie Bernice Johnson

Recently individual members of the Congressional Black Caucus spoke on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives regarding the decision by a grand jury in Ferguson, Missouri not to indict a police officer for the shooting death of Michael Brown, an unarmed African-American teenager.

Without exception, members of the Caucus expressed outrage with the decision, and the conduct of the Ferguson County prosecutor, Robert McCullough, whose ability to be fair-minded and non-partisan was challenged by members of Ferguson’s African-American community.

McCullough undermined public confidence by taking a highly unusual approach to the grand jury proceedings. Rather than conducting an investigation into the August shooting and then making a recommendation to the grand jury, as most prosecutors do, McCullough left the decision to the 12 men and women who comprised the grand jury.

The grand jurors were faced with massive amounts of data to consider.  In a highly unusual move, the officer who did the shooting, Darren Wilson, was allowed to testify before the grand jury for nearly four hours, and his account of events leading up to the shooting went unchallenged by the prosecutor. The testimony of witnesses whose accounts differed from the officer’s was discounted by McCullough during a press conference following the grand jury’s decision.

To the great surprise of many observers who had closely followed events in Ferguson, McCullough decided to announce the grand jury’s decision at 8 p.m. A small minority of those protesting the decision turned to violence. Fires were set, looting took place and police vehicles were overturned.  While arrests were made, there was no loss of life. Protests against the decision have continued in Ferguson and in other parts of the country by people of all races.

The decision by the grand jury and the turmoil that followed it is consistent with the deeply painful belief held by many in this country that lesser value is placed upon the lives of young Black men in this country.   A recent study by ProPublica, a media research organization in New York City, stated that Black males in America were 21 times more likely to be shot by police than their White counterparts.

In the wake of events in Ferguson President Obama convened a meeting at the White House of community activists, elected officials, law enforcement officials and members of the clergy to address the events that occurred in Ferguson and their aftermath. President Obama has pledged his personal involvement.

As the proud mother of an African-American son and the grandmother of three grandsons I can only imagine the depth of the wound that is in the hearts of Michael Brown’s parents.  Their son will not sit with them for another holiday meal. Nor will they see him graduate from college.

As a nation we must immediately address the social ills that lead to the senseless deaths of young Black men.  We must somehow harness the hurt and the anger that exists and create positive and lasting change.

Senseless tragedies can be avoided if we initiate and sustain dialogue and mutual respect among our youth, elected officials, clergy, community leaders and members of law enforcement.  We must do this to ensure that events, like the shooting death of Michael Brown, do not occur on the streets of Ferguson, or on the streets of any of our cities and towns.