Michael Brown didn’t get due process.
The still unnamed police officer who shot the 18-year-old black teenager dead in Ferguson will get plenty of it.
This is the root of the frustration that is driving the African-American community to the streets in north St. Louis County over yet another senseless killing of a young black man.
“What do we want? Justice!” chanted a crowd of family, friends and community members who gathered after the Saturday shooting. “When do we want it? Now!”
They may get justice — in the form of a prosecution of the police officer who shot and killed the recent Normandy High School graduate — but the odds aren’t stacked in their favor, and even if it happens, it won’t happen anytime soon.
America’s history is riddled with officer-involved-shootings in which juries give police who perform a dangerous job the benefit of the doubt. Trying to learn from those shootings to prevent further ones is difficult, says criminologist David Klinger, one of the nation’s foremost experts on police shootings.
Mr. Klinger, a former police officer, practices his craft just down the street from Ferguson, at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, where he is an associate professor in the criminal justice department.
One of the findings in a 2012 study he did of shootings by police in the city of St. Louis could offer some interesting guidance to whomever ultimately investigates the shooting of Michael Brown. Mr. Klinger recommended that the shooting investigations be handled with more transparency, and that ultimately, findings be posted on the department’s website, with the names of officers clearly identified.
Few police departments nationwide operate with such transparency, Mr. Klinger’s research has found, and that means little public accountability when a police officer shoots an unarmed civilian.
It’s no wonder, then, that leaders in Ferguson, including members of the NAACP, have called for the FBI to take over the lead in the investigation into how an unarmed 18-year-old was shot.
That’s a good suggestion, especially considering that the NAACP already has an ongoing federal complaint against the county police department over alleged racial profiling.
While answers are likely not to come in this case as quickly as some would like, appointing a federal agency to oversee the investigation will instill the sort of trust that might calm some of the justified anger over the shooting.
It’s a good first step.
Here’s a second one: Efforts to elevate the importance of annual studies of racial profiling by police in the region and the state should be intensified.
Last year, for the 11th time in the 14 years that data has been collected, the disparity index that measures potential racial profiling by law enforcement in the state got worse. Black Missourians were 66 percent more likely in 2013 to be stopped by police, and blacks and Hispanics were both more likely to be searched, even though the likelihood of finding contraband was higher among whites.
Every year these numbers come out to little fanfare, in part because there isn’t enough political will to do the further study to break them down by precincts and individual officers to determine whether there is a cultural or training problem in entire departments or just a few rogue, racist cops who need to find another line of work.
Perhaps the tragic death of Michael Brown will spur a little political will.
While he wasn’t driving a car when he was pulled over and shot, the concept is the same: Nearly every black man in America has a story of being pulled over, stopped or harassed as a young person for doing something that a white teenager would never imagine might end in being on the wrong end of a police officer’s gun. Driving While Black. Walking While Black. Wearing a Hoodie While Black.
In Ferguson, the city where Michael died, the police in 2013 pulled over blacks at a 37 percent higher rate than whites compared to their relative populations. Black drivers were twice as likely to be searched and twice as likely to be arrested compared to white drivers.
Those statistics don’t prove racial profiling.
But those numbers plus a dead young man in the street make a strong case for deserving a closer look.