It turned out we didn’t need to know what the verdict was in the Michael Brown case in Ferguson, Missouri, to confront some ugly facts and emotions.
In the afternoon came word that the grand jury considering the fatal police shooting of the 18-year-old had reached a decision. The cable news channels began to roll out talking heads, and show video of Ferguson. They pictured the streets where nothing had been announced, and shared learned analysis of the big thing that hadn't happened yet.
And then the preparations for potential violence began in Ferguson, and the speeches from the governor and other politicians, and the worrying of Americans who remember past riots, and the worrying of other (or the same) Americans who remember black men gunned down and cops uncharged.
As I write this it is nearly 8 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, meaning the announcement of the decision is about an hour away. But I don’t think we’ll know much more after the announcement, because we know so much now.
We know we are a nation with a nearly 400-year history of racial strife. We know each of these racially charged incidents, those that involve cops and those that don’t, from Rodney King to Trayvon Martin to Abner Louima to Michael Brown, take their place on the timeline of American race relations.
Brown was shot and killed by police officer Darren Wilson on Aug. 9. The shooting brought on huge protests and the wildly militaristic overreaction to the protests by the cops shocked the nation.
So there is a grand jury. And deliberations. And the politicization that always accompanies such situations.
It seems like we’re not getting anywhere with race relations anymore. It seems like progress has stopped. It seems like every time something like this happens so many people pick sides based on who looks more like them, who earns more like them, who lives more like them or talks more like them.
It will be hard to judge the grand jury decision once it is released. I won’t have heard the evidence. That’s true of everyone else, too, but many will judge the decision as right or wrong, instinctively, the minute it is announced.
And there may be violence. And there may not.
But in the hours building up to the announcement, as we watched the news and worried and waited and discussed it all on Twitter and Facebook and, in many cases, took our pre-assigned and pre-decided sides without a whit of information, I felt I was learning quite a bit.
We are a terrified nation, scared of “the other.” We are an angry nation, sure that “they” are getting away with something. We are a frustrated nation, feeling unheard and convinced that the other side always gets the megaphone.
We are a devastatingly divided nation, because of our history, our behavior and our prejudices.
Regardless of the decision. Regardless of the response to the decision.