Opinion

Robert Ehlert: Ferguson burning a sobering spectacle during Thanksgiving week

Nobody is guilty of anything tonight in Ferguson, Mo., but the spectacle unfolding on cable TV news in Middle America is anything but innocent.

The Heartland looks unglued and some of it is on fire as people upset with a “no indictment” ruling by a St. Louis County grand jury act out amid volleys of tear gas, random gunshots and highly volatile tempers that don’t need much of a spark.

I’m watching CNN and thinking to myself whether this story is being covered or ignited by the cameras. The media portal in my house is larger than the ones I was glued to during Watts and the Summer of Rodney King, but no less contentious.

The attorney for Michael Brown’s parents talks about “Michael Brown and the unknown Michael Browns who are crying out from the grave. We have to change this system that lets people kill them and not be held without consequence.”

Brown, the 18-year-old Ferguson police shooting victim, was never convicted of anything, but he died after an altercation with Officer Darren Wilson last August. Wilson was the only guy with a weapon in that incident and Brown was the only target of about 10 rounds.

But St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch, after getting in some digs against the pesky 24-hour news cycle and social media hype, said Officer Wilson was threatened and was in self-defense mode. Essentially, he said every round fired by Wilson was justified. But it is hard to sort mental frames or measure the angst since the entire Brown-Wilson confrontation played out in about 90 seconds.

Brown and Wilson, two so completely normal and common American names. A young man dead. A young officer’s life changed forever. Almost immediately after McCulloch's summation of “all the evidence” and his discounting of some eyewitness accounts that didn’t measure up to forensic evidence, CNN panelists attacked the findings as “rigged” and otherwise unfortunate. CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin slammed McCulloch for his comments on the media circus and promised to hold him and the grand jury verdict accountable after he had a chance to evaluate “the evidence,” which McCulloch promised to make available immediately after his remarks and announcement of he verdict.

For his part, President Barack Obama in an address to the nation gave a fairly measured appeal for calm - though he, too, could not just say we are a nation of laws. He left an impression that something is seriously wrong between police forces and people of color, something that needs immediate and constant attention.

CNN had baited this moment with cloying coverage that rivaled only its overkill obsession with Malaysian Flight 370 last March. A comment that CNN will regret in the morning is one from Van Jones, a political contributor on the cable network, who referred to police-car-trashing protesters as “knuckleheads.”

Knuckleheads? Stores and businesses being looted. Gunfire.

This is what I saw, what did you see?

Share your thoughts on the grand jury findings, the coverage, and what America must do going forward. Will we easily digest this and move on with Thanksgiving rituals and routines? Or will something linger into the weekend, something dangerous like a toxic dish on our banquet tables?

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