POLITICS

St. Louis Blues: An Old Refrain In Grand Jury Decision

WASHINGTON -- If you know St. Louis, or Missouri for that matter, you know that the family of Michael Brown had no chance, and that police Officer Darren Wilson would go free.

St. Louis is a lovely place, but legally it can be a toxic police mixture of the Midwestern love of social order and Border State race-based severity.

The city is in some ways on the most tremulous fault line in the history of race in America: The home of W.C. Handy and the blues, of Chuck Berry and rock 'n roll, of the Dred Scott court decision on runaway slaves.

Not surprisingly, the Missouri state legislature has chosen repeatedly to ignore a landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision of 1985, which held that a police officer cannot use lethal force against a fleeing suspect unless the officer has reason to believe the suspect is armed and an immediate threat to public order.

Instead, a police officer in Missouri can shoot a person the officer believes to be a fleeing felon. Period. Not to mention that the officer can shoot one who is moving toward him in a threatening manner.

So the real complaint in Missouri on Monday night should not really be with the county prosecutor, however defensive and cloying he may have been in announcing the grand jury's failure to indict the officer who shot the teenager.

It is with Missouri, and America, for thumbs-on-the-scale state laws that the federal government -- from Abraham Lincoln forward -- has only partly ameliorated.

St. Louis is emblematic of the glory and the tragedy of the racial history of which this case is only the latest example. The city was a licentious, anything-goes river town in which the slave trade flourished, and was run in later years by German-American burghers and scions of the slave-holding South who wanted to preserve order, and the Old Order.

At Mardi Gras in St. Louis, there are still clubs severely limited, shall we say, in racial terms.

Some laws are a holdover from those days. They made it easy for the grand jury to return a "no true bill" -- that is, no indictment on any charges -- against Wilson.

Let's face it: In St. Louis, everyone knows who most of the suspected fleeing felons are. They are black. They are from the north side of St. Louis and similar places. It is the way things have worked since the blues began, and barbecue became a thing, and Michael Brown supposedly swiped some cigars. It was the reported theft of them that made the teen a suspected felon and that sealed his fate.

And let's make no mistake: St. Louis is as American, for better and for worse, as a city can get.