Moving toward Tomorrow: A Reflection on the Tragedy in Ferguson

For Immediate Release
November 25, 2014
For More Information Contact:
Hanif Houston, (510) 684–0322, hhouston@childrensdefense.org

Alex M. Johnson, Executive Director of the Children’s Defense Fund – California, issued this statement in response to the grand jury decision not to indict Officer Darren Wilson for the shooting of unarmed Michael Brown:

The shooting of unarmed Michael Brown, and the subsequent decision by the St. Louis County grand jury not to indict Officer Darren Wilson, is indeed a tragedy. While I, and countless others, remain deeply disappointed with the outcome, nothing can take away the profound grief experienced by the family of Michael Brown. On behalf of the Children’s Defense Fund-California, we extend our sincerest thoughts and heartfelt prayers to the family as they continue to cope with the loss of a loved one.

Regrettably, the tragedy in Ferguson is no different than the shootings of unarmed black and brown males in California. From Oscar Grant in Oakland to Ezell Ford in Los Angeles, the constant pattern of unarmed boys and men of color being killed by law enforcement represents a systemic failure of our justice system. And although throughout California and across this nation, many, including myself, are questioning the ultimate outcome of the grand jury proceedings; the question we must ask today is where do we go from here. How do we channel the anger and outrage of a nation into a sustained nonviolent movement that results in catalytic change in law enforcement practices and procedures – and ultimately an end to the deaths of unarmed individuals? Black and brown lives do matter. Slogans alone do not. Fundamentally, any movement arising out of the Ferguson tragedy should address not only the policies, practices, and procedures of patrol officers -it must endeavor to change the overall culture of law enforcement whether patrolling a community or overseeing juvenile detention facilities, jails, or prisons.

I will not tolerate a system in which we advocate to dismantle the cradle to prison pipeline, end harsh school discipline policies, and place a child on the pathway to educational achievement only to witness yet another unarmed young male of color shot down by a police officer. And yes, the overall pervasiveness of violence in our communities must be addressed. But it must be addressed in a holistic manner that takes into account educational equity, economic equality and poverty, affordable housing, workforce development and access to employment, health disparities and other societal ills that disproportionately impact poor communities and communities of color. The time is now to replace rhetoric with strategic nonviolent action that endures long after the attentive eyes of the nation have departed from Ferguson. 

In the words of civil and human rights activist Ella Baker: “Until the killing of Black men, Black mothers’ sons, is as important as the killing of White mothers’ sons, we who believe in freedom cannot rest.”  Every single child can thrive if provided a level playing field in which the scales of justice are balanced regardless of ethnicity, gender, or socioeconomic status. The Children’s Defense Fund-California stands in solidarity with the families of Michael Brown, Ezell Ford, Oscar Grant and all of those whose lives have been cut tragically short as a result of a deeply ingrained institutional “shoot first” culture that has largely been held unaccountable for its actions.  Going forward, Children’s Defense Fund-California is committed to partnering with nonprofits, elected and government officials, community leaders, law enforcement and anyone whose objective is to create a more safe and just California for all of our children.