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Remarks on the Ferguson Ruling

Kathleen McCartney, President of Smith College, November 25, 2014

We mourn the death of Michael Brown.

We mourn the loss of a young man who was about to start his first year of college.

We mourn for his mother, Lesley McSpadden, and his father, Michael Brown, Senior.

We mourn for his family, his friends, and his community.

We mourn what New York Times columnist Charles Blow calls “[the] criminalization of black and brown bodies — particularly male ones — from the moment they are first introduced to the institutions and power structures with which they must interact.”

We mourn the fact that, as documented by the NAACP, African Americans are incarcerated at nearly six times the rate of whites, and that while African Americans and Hispanics make up approximately one quarter of the US population, they comprise nearly 60 percent of all prisoners in the United States.

We mourn the fact that according to the U.S. Sentencing Commission, prison sentences for African American men are 20 percent longer than those of white men convicted for similar crimes.

We mourn the fact that according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. attorneys prosecuted 162,000 federal cases in 2010, the most recent year we have data. Grand juries declined to return an indictment in just 11 of them.

The grand jury in the Ferguson was a state court and not federal so the numbers aren’t directly comparable. Still, at any level, it is extremely rare for prosecutors to fail to win an indictment.

In a statement released following the decision, the National Bar Association “is questioning how the Grand Jury, considering the evidence before them, could reach the conclusion” that they did.

In the face of such questions, in the face of injustice, let us honor Michael Brown’s family, and their words: “let’s not just make noise, let’s make a difference.”

Let us reflect on the words of the poet Claudia Rankine, from her new book, Citizen:

“To live through the days sometimes you moan like deer. Sometimes you sigh. The world says stop that. Another sigh. Another stop that. Moaning elicits laughter, sighing upsets. Perhaps each sigh is drawn into existence to pull in, pull under, who knows; truth be told, you could no more control those sighs than that which brings the sighs about.”