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April 16, 2024

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Guilty by Association

POSTED: March 05, 2015, 9:00 am

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The decision by the United States Department of Justice to clear Ferguson Missouri police officer Darren Wilson of any responsibility in the killing of Michael Brown is offensive and rooted in the institutional bias that discounts the lives of Black men. By vindicating Wilson, the Department of Justice invalidated the accounts of eyewitnesses to the shooting while at the same time contradicted the department’s own findings, released a day earlier, that the police and court system in Ferguson has a history of racial bias. Given this outcome there should be no confusion as to why Blacks are reluctant to help police investigations. This double-speak is why Blacks in America have such mistrust of law enforcement and little faith that government at any level will hold rogue police officers accountable. To not charge Wilson while at the same time casting the Ferguson Police Department as an evil empire is a supreme act of hypocrisy and an insult to the family of Michael Brown.

And if Americans unable to fathom the anger that erupted following the non-indictment of Wilson still don’t get it, they need to read the Justice Department report on Ferguson. Considering the deeply deposited racism in that community, it should be thankful that the rage resulting from this injustice was as limited as it was.

The move by the Justice Department to let Wilson off the hook is a politically contrived and obvious attempt to play both sides. It fits a pattern of the Obama administration to seek a safe path on matters of race rather than pursue justice. The administration is trying to appease African-Americans and others who are defiant in their position that #BlackLivesMatter while making certain it does not offend law enforcement by not holding Wilson accountable. It is clear that this is what the administration was attempting to do by first condemning the police in Ferguson and then formally announcing no charges would be brought against Officer Wilson. The White House can’t have it both ways because there is a certain truth that it violates by playing this game. President Obama should not contribute to the false narrative in this nation that Black men are dangerous and that police who encounter us are always justified in the use of deadly force. If the nation’s first Black President is unable to correct the racial mythology of our country, then there is little hope that racism rooted in American institutions – police, courts, government agencies, schools and businesses – will ever be eradicated.

What makes this charade that much more hurtful is that it exposes the double-standard that is consistently at play in our nation. Black men are regularly condemned or pitied for being ‘products of their environment’ and our freedom is compromised during incidents with law enforcement by ‘guilt by association.’ We are rarely judged as individuals as the shadow cast by the places we come from and the company we keep is long and impacts our civil liberties. Police, no matter their racial or ethnic origin, are not held to the same standard. Though police departments across the country exhibit patterns of bias similar to that in Ferguson detailed by the Justice Department, rogue officers are never guilty by association and are treated as individual victims of a ‘hostile’ environment – our communities.

“Justice in this case is not a report. It is a federal charge against a police officer who violated his oath and betrayed the public, and who should face prison time for his actions.”

Darren Wilson is a product of his environment, a police department that has gone out of its way to criminalize Black people and demonize Blacks as a race. Ferguson is a cesspool of institutional racism that has given officers like Wilson carte blanche to detain, arrest, and violate the civil rights of African-Americans, and even kill without fear of any repercussions. Darren Wilson is guilty by association and the Justice Department in an act of cowardice gave him a pass while slapping the department on the wrist. Justice in this case is not a report. It is a federal charge against a police officer who violated his oath and betrayed the public, and who should face prison time for his actions. When do we stop using fear as an excuse for trained law enforcement professionals who kill civilians?

Race is the Achilles heel of the Obama administration and has been ever since his convoluted disassociation with Rev. Jeremiah Wright and Obama’s pacifying Philadelphia race speech. No matter the popularity of this President among African-Americans, his tenure in the White House will be marked by a series of implosions that compromised his ability to lead the country down a path to racial reconciliation. It is a harsh lesson in how leadership can fail when it compromises its own purported values when it seeks quiet and not truth.

Walter Fields is Executive Editor of

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