An honest way to prevent unrest in Ferguson: Do the right thing

Supporters of officer Darren Wilson hold placards outside Barney's Sports Pub in St. Louis, MissouriThere is justifiable concern about an outbreak of violence in Ferguson once the Grand Jury announces whether or not it is issuing an indictment directed at Officer Darren Wilson. If no indictment is forthcoming, it will be very understandable, if not acceptable, for many people to be quite upset. Once again they will have experienced another case of a white police officer acting inappropriately towards an unarmed African-American man, and nothing comes from it.

If Wilson is indicted, there may be an explosion of pent-up joy that the legal process is taking Wilson’s actions seriously and in the end, justice may prevail. I should add that all of this is premised on the contention that Officer Wilson escalated an ordinary citizen-police officer incident into a deadly shooting. Even if Michael Brown acted inappropriately, it was not appropriate for Officer Wilson to bring a gun into the equation.

I remember teaching in an integrated high school in St. Louis when the O.J. Simpson verdict was announced. There was not violence, but the joy of many African-American students permeated the building for hours and on into days. It did not seem to matter whether justice had been done; what was important was that “our side won this one.”

Most conjecture about what might happen seems to be focused on inside-the-box-thinking. There seem to be three possibilities of what might happen: (a) Wilson is not indicted at all, (b) Wilson is indicted for the closest possible crime to murder, or (c) He is indicted for one or more of many possible lesser charges. Any of the three choices has potential to be followed by unrest.

Here’s an outside-the-box possibility that may bring relief rather than intense emotions and could keep the situation calm. It’s simple: Officer Wilson does the “right thing.” He walks himself into the Ferguson Police Station, or possibly a St. Louis County police station, or perhaps Prosecutor Bob McCulloch’s office. He announces that he now recognizes that he has done something wrong, and it’s time for both him and the community to receive justice. He acknowledges that Michael Brown was shot by his revolver and in some way, he was responsible. He says that figuring out what really happened is beyond his ability. It’s difficult for him to be both a participant and an adjudicator in the situation. He wants to be part of figuring out what happened, and he thinks that one way or another, he bears a measure of responsibility.

Once Wilson acknowledges that he did something improper, Prosecutor McCulloch asks the present or a different grand jury to indict Wilson for an appropriate crime. For McCulloch to fail to do so would be disregarding the honest words of a police officer.

As you might expect, I do not anticipate that Officer Wilson will turn himself in. But for those who call themselves his friends, and even defendesr, they might do both Officer Wilson and the community right by bringing up to him that “it’s not too late.” And it’s not.