Statement by NYSNA President Judy Sheridan-Gonzalez, RN on Ferguson

An unarmed, young black man was shot to death by a police officer and there will be no trial, no selection of a fair and unbiased jury, no presentation of evidence, no prospect of a full review before the community about whether a mortal crime was committed.

No justice for Michael Brown or his family.

That’s the source of the enormous outpouring in 14 cities in recent days, as outraged citizens protested, incensed with a decision not to bring criminal charges against a police officer, Darren Wilson, in his shooting of 18-year old Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, on August 9. Ferguson is not alone. The Brown killing exemplifies what is becoming an all-too-common trend of unrelenting police presence in communities of color, where police violence against residents is regularly reported.

The local prosecutor in the Brown case, an entrenched politician with a poor record of protecting citizens across communities within the racially divided county, stands accused of yet another failure to bring alleged homicides of African Americans to trial.

Bottom line—the Michael Brown case is a symbol of a system built on racial bias.

Racial disparity pervades “every stage of the United States criminal justice system, from arrest to trial to sentencing,” according to a report of the Sentencing Project, submitted to the UN Human Rights Commission this year.

It starts with overly aggressive and targeted police activity, which explains the outcry in the aftermath of Ferguson.

For far too long, African Americans in Ferguson have been victimized and denied justice by the authorities. According to the US Department of Justice, police arrested black youth for drug crimes at twice the rate of white youth over a 30-year period ending in 2010. Yet data show white youth are more likely to have illegal drugs than black youth of the same age.

Additionally, it is well established that blacks are more likely than whites to be stopped by police while driving.

When many of such cases go to trial, very often African Americans are poorly defended. In 2012, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, more than 70 percent of public defender offices reported that they were struggling to come up with the funding needed to provide adequate indigent defense services. By last March, according to Huffington Post, the problem was so bad that Attorney General Eric Holder declared the public defense system to be in a “state of crisis.”

Currently underway at the Department of Justice are two investigations: the first examines the Ferguson police department for complaints of profiling and the use of excessive force; the second is whether to charge Officer Wilson with intentionally violating Brown’s civil rights in the shooting. We urge the DOJ to pursue these matters vigorously and expeditiously.

We stand with the people of Ferguson and all organizations, in labor and elsewhere, that condemn the outrageous failure to bring the Brown case to court.

In the meantime, as NYSNA nurses, we recognize that overall conditions of inequality, incarceration and poverty linked to racial bias are nothing short of a public health crisis. Our hearts and minds are with the Brown family during this holiday season and with all of those who also have suffered such a senseless and unnecessary loss.

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