Ferguson Is Burning

Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images
Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images

I spent a couple hours this evening at a friend's going away party. He recently accepted a job overseas, and 50 or so people gathered at SAVOY — a Black-owned restaurant in Pittsburgh's Strip District — to see him off. The crowd was predominately male; (mostly) Black men ranging from the early 20s to the mid 60s. Some I knew pretty well, a few I knew moderately well, and a couple I met for the first time tonight.


As expected, Ferguson was a popular topic of conversation. There wasn't much variance, though. At least not with the conversations I was involved in and the ones I overheard. All (myself included) spoke of Darren Wilson not being charged as a foregone conclusion. An inevitability. It wasn't a hopelessness, though. More just a sober recognition of how things have worked here and how things will continue to work here. We didn't all know each other. But we all know America.

My wife and I left a little after 8. We got home 20 minutes later. I walked our dog, took out the garbage, turned on the TV to watch the press conference, and started writing this.

I expected to be done writing before the decision was announced. But as it neared closer to — and eventually past — 9pm, I couldn't continue. As certain as I was that the man who killed Michael Brown would not be indicted, I was anxious. My heart began to race. I couldn't put any sentences together. At least not the type of sentences I wanted to publish.

The anxiety turned to anger when Prosecuting Attorney Bob McCulloch came to the podium with what looked to be a smirk. (Seriously. Watch the video again. That motherfucker was smirking.) And, as he droned on and on — blaming everything from Twitter to bad eyewitnesses for how many of us feel about this case — the anger turned to rage. It crescendoed when the decision was announced, and peaked when President Obama spoke. His words were sober and presidential, as usual. But his eyes and countenance said something else. He was exasperated. Exhausted. Enraged. It was a familiar sight. They were the same words I had earlier this evening, and the same eyes I have right now.

These feelings — all of which I'm still experiencing as I write this sentence, at 10:52pm — were unexpected. I honestly did think I was too much of a pragmatist about America and race to really feel much of anything aside from resignation. An acknowledgement of shit happening the way it always happens. I did not expect to be this angry. I did not expect this rage. I did not expect these tears.

But they're all here now. Evidence that as sober and practical as my public face was, the core of me remained invested. Because I have no choice but to be. Tonight, we learned that the police officer who shot and killed Michael Brown will not face any criminal charges. A couple months ago, we learned that the police officers who shot and killed John Crawford III would not face any criminal charges. A year and a half ago, we learned that the neighborhood watchman who shot and killed Trayvon Martin would be a free man. A week, or a month, or a year from now, we'll learn that another yet-to-be-named White police officer or self-appointed officer of the law who shot and killed another yet-to-be-named Black male will go free. And that yet-to-be-named Black male could be me.


Tonight, Ferguson, Missouri is burning. And so am I.

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB, a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times, and the author of What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Blacker (Ecco/HarperCollins)



This decision was telegraphed like a mother, so I'm not surprised. Still, even if Darren Wilson did time, a lot of other cops have gotten away with similar things. The scary part is that it reveals in explicit detail how scared cops are of Black people. Apparently, anything other than a full shuck and jive act is threatening. Our existence is dependent how pleased the White people around us are.

And the upshot is that on average, they only know one of us per person. Yikes.