It took “less than a minute” (Grand Jury Hearings vol. V, p.272 [subsequent references by volume and page number]) according to (then) Officer Darren Wilson for him to kill Michael Brown. In that moment, the relations of force that the police—meaning the entire apparatus of social control—try to prevent us from seeing became starkly visible. Ferguson has become a symbol because it depicts the ongoing strength of white supremacy. A majority African-American city is ruled by a white minority, funded by fines and other charges levied on the majority by the police. Unsurprisingly, then, this system is enforced by casual violence that has now been found legal, even when it results in death. The grand jury’s refusal to indict makes this system visible.
As much as we are outraged by what happened, it is therefore vital to display carefully and methodically how unreasonable and illogical those proceedings were, which I do here in substantial detail: these are the kind of talking points we need to win over still more people. For Ferguson matters because white supremacy has become visible at the local and national level, not just to the “usual suspects,” but to a new coalition that connects Occupy veterans with African American networks and people entirely new to activism. It worries the dominant. Even the St. Louis Rams players who performed“Hands Up” at their game with Oakland were at once threatened by St. Louis police. Ferguson provides a means to “crack” white supremacy (Holloway 2010), to break its apparent naturalness and to see ways towards alternatives.
We need to use the grand jury proceedings as a mirror to show them their own system and, by extension, themselves. The twenty-four volumes of their proceedings with supplementary photographs give us, as it were, a picture of whiteness as it actually goes about ordinary business.
After reviewing thousands of pages of grand jury materials, what happened in that minute was this in my view: