EDITORIAL: Cycle of violence needs to be broken before change can be made in justice system

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LEANN BURKE / THE DEPAUW

The grand jury decided no criminal charges would be brought against Darren Wilson, a white police officer who shot unarmed African American teenager Michael Brown, in a decision released Monday night.

The announcement, made by St. Louis County prosecutor Robert P. McCulloch and decided by a jury of nine whites and three blacks, sparked a new wave of protests throughout Ferguson. Hundreds gathered outside the Ferguson Police Department, and officers dressed in riot gear lined up outside the building.

As the night went on, the violence escalated, and ended in the shooting of two police officer, 29 arrests, broken windows and fires lit in both police cars and buildings.

Though no charges will be brought against Wilson, the Justice Department’s findings about the Ferguson Police Department tell a very racially biased story. Though only a third of Ferguson’s population is black, African Americans account for 85 percent of traffic stops, 90 percent of tickets and 93 percent of all arrests.

Email chains within the department also point to blatantly biased views. In a 2008 email, a city official said in an email that Barack Obama would not remain president for long because “what black man holds a steady job for four years?” Another email showed a cartoon of African Americans as monkeys, while a third suggested abortions for African American women as a crime prevention technique.  

The findings indicate that the Ferguson Police Department was routinely violating the constitutional rights of its black residents, but the response of Ferguson residents is not helping.

When it was found that no charges would be brought against Wilson, the Brown family released the following statement: “We are profoundly disappointed that the killer of our child will not face the consequences of his actions. While we understand that many others share our pain, we ask that you channel your frustration in ways that will make a positive change. We need to work together to fix the system that allowed this to happen.”

This Editorial Board could not agree more with the Brown family statement. Cliched though this may be to say, we should not fight violence with violence, as the vicious cycle created by violent responses does no good to either side.

Even before protesters arrived, just after McCulloch announced the verdict, Ferguson police were ready for violent protests. What would it have said about the people of Ferguson if they had responded in a peaceful way that surprised police, and maybe caused them to question their methods.

Clearly, the system needs to change. Whether that is through police cameras or more staff changes such as the stepping down of Ferguson police chief, something about our justice system is broken and needs fixing. But to make those changes, places like Ferguson need to break the cycle of violence.