KEYWEST — As crowds burned cars and buildings and threw chunks of concrete at Ferguson police officers Monday night, Key West resident Peggy Ward-Grant watched the events live on television. A grand jury, after deliberating for months, announced Monday night that it did not charge Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown, 18.
“I’m still letting it sink in,” Ward-Grant told South Florida Times of the grand jury’s decision. “How they could decide not to indict this police officer is beyond me.”
Ward-Grant is a professional with the Monroe County Health Department and a trustee of her historic church in Bahama Village, which is 65 percent black.
“In my 70 years, I have never seen a case so mishandled from the beginning,” she said of Brown’s shooting. Witnesses say Brown had his hands up in surrender when Wilson hit him with multiple gunshots.
Ward-Grant’s reaction mirrored those of many in the black community: That the more things change, the more they stay the same. “Why, in 2014, we still have this question of race and police violence against young black men, is beyond me.”
The statistics bear her out: The FBI’s Supplementary Homicide Report identified 426 cases of a “felon killed by a police officer” in 2012. Thirty-two percent of those were black; 13 percent of Americans are black, which means they were fatally shot by police at the rate of 2.5 times their proportion. Brown, by the way, did not have a rap sheet.
Watching the stores burn and hearing gunfire on the TV, Ward was not pleased.
“I hope some other person does not end up on a slab tonight,” she said.
Mike Mongo, who is married to an African-American woman, spoke at a Bahama Village rally after a jury found George Zimmerman not guilty in the killing of Trayvon Martin. He sees Brown’s shooting as a pattern.
“If you do not understand the shame and heartache represented by the killing of Michael Brown and the resulting conflict in Ferguson, you do not have a son or daughter who is not white,” Mongo told South Florida Times. “If you do not understand that Darren Wilson would be in jail right now had Michael Brown been white, you are not black.”
Both Ward-Grant and Mongo said all races have to pressure police to halt their deadly gunplay.
“There has to be a change or we’ll continue to lose young black men to these police shootings,” Ward-Grant said. “African American parents have to worry about this happening to our children.”
“Bigotry is not sustainable,” Mongo said. “We must do better or else perish. The good news is, as human beings, we can do better.”