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Chris Gilbert


Despite Plenty of Time to Plan, Ferguson Burns

If you’ve had CNN on with the sound down (as we do at work) at all during the last two weeks, you knew a decision was coming. The news leader made it seem like it was going to happen at any moment, and that was a dozen days ago. They showed the Ferguson, Missouri police station, they showed the fire station, they showed protesters in the streets and the mayor urging calm. Then they waited until eight o’clock at night to announce that nothing would happen to a white police officer who shot and killed a black teenager, and surprise, surprise—all hell broke loose.

When I got home from work this evening, I watched CNN with the sound up, and saw the rioting and looting that was going on. Reporters didn’t seem to have much help from their producers in the field when all were being pelted with tear gas, but even seemed to get less help from the technical people in Atlanta, if there were any. What you got to see was some pretty raw television, and from that aspect, it was kind of fun to watch. Several reporters were on air live coughing from being too close to the gas canisters fired at the crowds. Another was having stuff (somewhat playfully) thrown at her while looting of a market was going on just across the street. And in what should be the safest and calmest confines of a studio, they tried three different times to do an interview with the Brown family attorney, but had audio issues. All of that, though, even with the glitches, gave viewers a sense of how chaotic and crazy things were.

Still the big question, though (and no one still seems to have an answer), is why authorities waited so long to announce the grand jury’s decision not to indict Officer Darren Wilson of any charges in connection with the fatal shooting of 18 year-old Michael Brown earlier this summer. We learned during the noon hour Pacific time (2pm in Ferguson), that a decision by the grand jury had been reached, but did not give a time as to when that decision would be announced. CNN showed people beginning to assemble outside the police headquarters, and also showed officers and other armed officials getting in place. Six hours later (8pm Central), the announcement was made.

People have questioned the prosecuting attorney’s tone when he made the announcement, saying it was rather terse. Brown’s mother, even though she has been pleading for weeks for peace, was visibly upset, and left the building in tears, which many protesters saw. For some reason, several police cruisers were left parked on the streets. Is it any wonder they were set on fire? And while it did disperse some of the crowd, it seemed police were pretty quick to fire tear gas canisters after warning demonstrators to stay off the street (I’m not sure if they even had any, but why not use water cannons instead?).

Despite pleas from Michael Brown’s parents, the governor of Missouri, and the President of the United States to stay non-violent, bottles and rocks were thrown, and later into the night, stores were looted and many set on fire. CNN never mentioned this, but Google tells me that the population of Ferguson is about 20-thousand—roughly the current size of Grass Valley and Nevada City combined. Imagine what those towns, or yours, would look like if that happened there. Certainly, no one is condoning what happened there, but CNN and others have been talking about the possibility of this kind of violence for what seems like forever, but it happened anyway, and was probably worse than originally feared.

Being two time zones away and only watching CNN with the sound down, I have no idea if there was enough evidence to charge Wilson with a crime or not, but as badly as the grand jury decision was handled in Ferguson, what leads us to think the actual investigation was handled any better?

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