The ire of those who condemn the crowds that are burning Ferguson is misdirected.

The accusing finger must instead be pointed directly at a criminal justice system that has, for decades cavalierly ignored a long line of police officers who unlawfully shot, strangled, tortured, beat, framed and otherwise abused an even longer line of African-descended males.

In Michigan, it is a criminal justice system that has been fed with a steady diet of black men condemned from childhood by a state that claims it has no enforceable duty to educate them; schools like those in Highland Park that teach little; schools across the state that suspend them more often, cause their drop-out matriculation into the streets, and guaranteed incarceration because of a discredited “War on Drugs” and an indigent criminal defense system that is underfunded and unaccountable.

The rebels in the streets know this history. Given that the video of his firing squad execution has gone viral, it is likely that many of them know that even Milton Hall could not get justice. Notwithstanding the availability of contemporaneous, graphic video evidence of Hall’s killing, the Justice Department refused to bring federal criminal civil rights charges against the Saginaw police officers involved.

Against this historical backdrop, the actual facts of Michael Brown’s killing take a back seat to the fact that he is among the latest to die at the hands of law enforcement.

He is an icon for accumulated frustration that caused a loss of all faith in the system. He is the inspiration for rebels who roam the streets of Ferguson with bottles and bricks in hand, throwing themselves recklessly into the pathways of military-grade armored vehicles and police who brandish high-powered firearms.

Consequently, those who have a genuine concern about compliance with the law must turn not to plead with the protesters, but to instead demand that prosecutors seek an immediate cure for the malady that leads them to conclude that so many police killings of black men are justified.

The ACLU of Michigan takes very seriously its mission of ensuring the protection of the civil rights of all citizens. When government fails to protect the rights of everyone – even an unknown black youth in Ferguson or a homeless black man in Saginaw – the safety and welfare of everyone is placed in jeopardy.

While charges should not be brought against police officers when there is no evidence of their guilt, there should likewise be no reluctance to prosecute those officers whose culpability is strongly suggested by credible proofs.

If the criminal justice system can establish a record of prosecuting officers who should be prosecuted, it will be much easier for the public to believe and accept decisions not to file charges when charges are not warranted.

By Mark P. Fancher, Racial Justice Project Staff Attorney

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