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Reconciliation effort, leadership needed in Missouri
President Obama was considering whether to visit Ferguson, Missouri, today while he's in Chicago to promote his executive order on immigration.
"We are a nation built on the rule of law, so we need to accept that this decision was the grand jury's to make," the president said after the grand jury decided not to indict a white police officer who shot and killed a black teenager last summer.
Critics will see irony in Obama's reference to the "rule of law" after he used executive orders rather than the legislative process to deal with immigration.
He echoed the dead man's family in calling for peaceful protests, while asking law enforcement officials to "show care and restraint."
For their part, law enforcement officers fulfilled that request, limiting their response to using tear gas and pepper spray while mobs burned dozens of stores, torched police cars and shot at firefighters responding to the arson fires.
Riots were a foregone conclusion if the grand jury came back with anything but an indictment of Officer Darren Wilson for killing 18-year-old Michael Brown.
But members of the grand jury, nine whites and three blacks, meeting since Aug. 20, decided they could not do so.
According to video and eyewitness testimony, Brown had just committed a strong-arm robbery, stealing some Swisher Sweets cigars from the Ferguson Market -- ransacked in Monday night's riots -- when he and a companion were first told by Wilson to walk on the sidewalk instead of the street, then stopped and confronted by Wilson after the officer noticed the handful of cigars.
According to an Associated Press account of testimony released by the prosecutor's office, "Wilson said he asked a dispatcher to send additional officers, then backed his vehicle in front of Brown and his friend. As he tried to open the door, Wilson said, Brown slammed it back shut. Wilson said he pushed Brown with the door and Brown hit him in the face. Wilson told grand jurors he was thinking: 'What do I do not to get beaten inside my car?'"
He said Brown grabbed at his gun, it failed to fire the first two times Wilson pulled the trigger and then fired through the window of the patrol car.
More shots, Brown took off, then turned to come back, ignoring Wilson's orders to get on the ground before he was finally shot from short range.
Brown's companion, Dorian Johnson, said he was afraid they would be arrested after stealing the cigars, and while he told a slightly different story, did confirm that the two struggled before the fatal shots were fired.
The death of any young man is a tragedy, and no one deserves to die over petty theft.
But any officer who is involved in a fight over control of a weapon is involved in a life-or-death struggle and may have no choice but to shoot.
Riots and destruction can only exacerbate racial tensions that have been simmering since last summer's tragic death.
It will take cool heads, effective leadership and a real effort at reconciliation by both sides of the issue to avoid bloodshed and destruction in the future.