Not the radioactive kind -- the news-cycle active variety. Last night,the grand jury in Ferguson came to a decision: that Officer Darren Wilson hat not committed a criminal offense in the shooting death of Michael Brown. The prosecutor was at some pains to describe the process, including multiple autopsies and eyewitness testimony, including the witnesses whose accounts which had changed over time, and gave the narrative the grand jury had arrived at after their investigations. Fat lot of good it did -- as near as I can tell, Fox was the only over-the-air network to cover that part of his statement, while the other three contented themselves with quick coverage of the verdict and crowd reactions in Ferguson and then back to America's Most Talented Amateur Detective Wizards and toothpaste commercials or whatever.
The President came on not long afterward, as calm and calming as I've heard him (though he still looks like Dick Nixon to me, right down to making only fleeting eye-contact with the cameras), and was still talking when Tam, looking at a news network online, reported the first brick-hurling and tear-gassing. --Not that any President has ever stopped any rioting, but he did get out there and try, fat lot of good it did. I'll leave it to the pundits pick apart his words.
News media keep worrying at the situation like it was an itchy wart; they're not helping, either and unlike the President or the prosecutor, don't much look to be trying..
By the time I went to bed, Ferguson stood at two (empty) police cars ablaze, a freeway blocked, at least one store looted and a strip mall burning. Nobody dead. No rubber bullets fired and it's hard to tell but appears most if not all of the reported "shots fired" may have been ammunition cooking off in the burning police cars. Quite a few thrown brickbats and plenty of tear gas lobbed at the crowd.
I watched quite a bit of Bassem Mastri's live-streamed celphone journalism; his comments were sometimes a bit naive, wondering why the police weren't putting out the burning cars (which were well outside police lines and any attempt to douse the fires would have involved confronting protestors) and bemoaning the "military-style vehicles" (used not to assault the protestors but as a mobile barrier) and "soldiered-up" LEOs in riot gear (some of the other photographers were wearing helmets and gas masks, too). Well, it did look just awful and he did a good job of showing it, but I never saw so much as an orange shotgun full of less-lethal shells pointed anywhere but down. Tear gas was lobbed from well behind of the line -- and sometimes lobbed right back. As riots go, it was more of a protest and I think that's a good thing. In a final ironic touch, a Person Unknown jostled Mastri, grabbed his phone and took off running into the bordering residential district, live stream still feeding the web until the thief got a few blocks away and shut it down. And there you have the whole picture: courthouse, cops, protestors, journalists (about one in three of the crowd had a camera or celphone in camera mode), a few "direct action" types and a smattering of the kinds of predators who hunt whatever's grabbable when things get messy.
Now we've got today. Protests overnight in various major cities did not approach even the level of violence in Fergeuon, MO. Might get worse today, might not; if you live in a big city, expect pissed-off people with signs in whatever are the Ususal Places.
One good thing that might come of this: the case and the reactions are all based on eyewitness accounts; there's no video. If Officer Darren Wilson had a camera on his person, we -- and the grand jury -- could have seen pretty much what he saw. There would still be room for debate, there always is, but it would be a lot less driven by speculation and stereotype. Rugged little cameras have become cheap and sticking them on policemen is cheaper than having to replace burned-up police cars and burned-up civility.
One bad thing: after George Zimmerman shot Treyvon Martin, I saw a lot of young African-American men going around in hoodies with the hoods up, making a statement on even the hottest days. Michael Brown came to Darren Wilson's attention by walking well out into the street -- and starting today, you may find people making a statement by doing the same thing. Look out for them. Agree or disagree with the "statement," but let's not have people die of posturing, hey?
4 months ago