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Lessons from Ferguson

On Monday, some protesters let emotion rather than reason dictate their reactions to the grand jury decision to not indict Ferguson, Mo., police officer Darren Wilson for Michael Brown’s fatal shooting. Fortunately no one was killed on Monday, but a number of people were injured and multiple small business owners saw their property burned or looted.

The violence was unfortunate. Harming others or destroying property is never an acceptable form of protest.

It was also troubling that the NAACP and some other black leaders said they were disappointed with the grand jury’s decision, even before they had time to read all the evidence presented in the case. Wilson is white and Brown was African-American. Translation: The justice system failed the black community, again.

East St. Louis Mayor Alvin Parks offered the measured tone that was needed on Monday. He said he didn’t have enough information to be disappointed, but that based on what he’d heard over the past several months, “It was going to be one of those situations where it’d be an appropriate shooting on the part of the police.”

There is no doubt that black people are treated badly at times by the police; but given the evidence in this case, this was not one of those times.

The fact that so many people don’t trust the results of the the investigation, that they decided early on that the only acceptable outcome was Darren Wilson in jail, points to the serious racial divisions that remain in the St. Louis area. People of all races deserve to feel that the criminal justice system will protect them and will ensure that police officers who do discriminate or use excessive force will be held accountable.

Body cameras are one concrete way to help build trust in the police. An accurate record of police stops would protect both individuals and the officers involved. It would provide clarity when eyewitness accounts conflict. What other reasonable steps could be taken to help build trust?

There’s no way to bring back Michael Brown, but let’s hope some good can result from this tragedy.

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