The grand jury hadn’t said a word yet, but the press releases foreshadowed fear. Ferguson-Florissant schools closed. Clayton schools closed. Riverview Gardens schools closed.
The eventual announcement also brought inaction. Officer Darren Wilson would not face charges in the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown.
That’s yesterday’s news. Here’s today’s, delivered far too early to a child of five, or a child of 18: Your future is closed.
The odds have been stacked against the children of Ferguson, a once all-white suburb that is now majority black in population (but not its power structures like the mayor’s office or police force). About two-thirds of children receive a free or reduced lunch because their families are poor. Last week, Washington Post reporter Wesley Lowery talked to the friends and acquaintances Brown left behind. He interviewed 16-year-old Kaylen Lucas:
We come to school every day and at least someone says: I didn’t think we were going to have school today. … It’s really stressful, everybody is talking about getting all of our work done before the schools get shut down if there are riots.
Another student says the cancellations take a huge toll on the psyche—and college applications: “It’s been hard to keep up with band, tennis and National Honor Society meeting, when they were all getting scraped.”
The list of closures affects schools that are rich and poor, black and white, emblematic of districts that are more segregated today than before Brown vs. Board of Education. Indeed, after this summer’s shooting and ensuing protests, two prominent scholars on race and education called Ferguson ”a reality check for anyone ignoring the changing racial demographics of our suburbs and the need to work toward sustainable, racially diverse suburban communities and schools.”
That makes the closure all the more despairing. Why fret over big-box stores staying open but not our schools? The National Guard arrived in Ferguson last night presumably to keep calm in the streets. Would it not send an even more powerful message for those officers to guarantee the safe passage of thousands of children to school?
There is no rewind button here. There’s no going back to the night of Aug. 9 when Brown was shot six, or eight, or 12 times. Or the next four hours where his body just lay there, Twitter as its witness. Last night’s grand jury decision makes any further action against Wilson highly unlikely.
Yet they closed the door on the future.
This moment of fatalism is what advocates of racial justice fear most, that somehow we’ve reached the end of a line and change is never coming. Things won’t get better. At a criminal justice conference last week, one panelist dreaded precisely this defeated reaction if a grand jury chose not to indict: “I can’t DO anything with that.”
In many ways, Ferguson’s schools and children are our last hope. For today at least, even that has been taken away.