St. Louis Police Brace For Darren Wilson's Verdict

by Chris Tognotti

For months, the citizens of Ferguson, Missouri, as well as observers from all over the world, have been waiting to hear the decision by a St. Louis County grand jury: Will Officer Darren Wilson be charged for the killing of Michael Brown in early August, or will he walk free? But after weeks upon weeks of predominantly peaceful, civil protests, amid undeniably high tensions, St. Louis police are reportedly buying extra riot gear in preparation for the grand jury announcement. Which means, in simplest terms, that they're worried Wilson will get off scot-free, and that the verdict could incite violence.

According to the AP, the stocking-up carries an eye-popping price tag — the county's police department have spent about $100,000 to secure extra riot gear, preparing for the feared eventuality that Wilson isn't charged, and that things get violent. About $65,000 of that has reportedly gone toward defensive items like body armor, helmets and the like, while about $35,000 has gone to refill the stocks of offensive items like teargas, pepper spray and rubber bullets.

Obviously, there's something to be said for having a prepared police force, and the duty to protect the public is a vital one. Although to this point, police on the scene in Ferguson have been notoriously over-prepared, and have instilled a considerable amount of terror in countless protesters — part of the public they're meant to protect, mind you. But there's also a distinctly racial element to this, which feels sadly predictable given the often-militarized response police have brought to the Ferguson protests.

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It's hard not to sense an undercurrent of racial paranoia. When high-profile, perceived injustices against black communities take place, like the acquittal of George Zimmerman in 2013, a lot of ink ends up being spilled about what might happen as a result. It basically boils down to this line of thinking: man, all these black people are going to be angry! They're probably going to start rioting!

This is a distinctly prejudicial and dehumanizing perspective. Obviously, a crowd of black people who feel wronged and dehumanized by the legal system are just as capable of starting a riot as any group of people — but not uniquely so. And considering that nobody is calling for extra resources to combat the scourge of predominantly white rioters across American college campuses, for example, the double-standard is laid rather bare.

After all, for all the brouhaha, nobody did end up rioting after the Zimmerman acquittal. Conversely, predominantly white students at Penn State descended into riotous violence when their once-revered football coach got fired for failing to report a predatory pedophile to the police — to be clear, they were rioting for the coach.

In the event that Wilson isn't charged criminally for Brown's death, there's no telling for sure what might happen. I'm not going to throw around casual predictions about how the Ferguson protesters will respond, or how exactly the emotions of the event will play out. Something presumably so devastating could illicit peaceful reactions, grief-stricken reactions, angry reactions, or all things at once. But it's worth keeping things in a proper perspective, and not indulging base, destructive racial stereotypes. Sometimes people are peaceful, sometimes they get violent. But it has nothing to do with race — just ask the folks at that pumpkin festival in Maine last month.

Of course, in spite of selective grand jury leaks supportive of Wilson's story, there's no assurance yet that it'll play out smoothly for him. Until the decision is made public and official, he's still in hot water — according to the AP, St. Louis County prosecutor's spokesperson Ed Magee says the decision will come no sooner than Saturday, so we've got a bit to wait yet.

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