We need to reevaluate the way we talk about race in the United States.

Just half a century after the Civil Rights Movement, we live in a country that politically, economically and socially suppresses black Americans. But racism today, more often than not, lacks an element exhibited generations ago—the explicitly conscious intent to target individuals on the basis of race.

Decades-old policies continue to disproportionately target black individuals, but they often do so through the work of civil servants who do not share the prejudices of those who crafted the policies to begin with. Racial policing practices and judicial biases, for example, are the byproducts of Nixon’s racially motivated “War on Drugs.” In his diary, Nixon’s Chief of Staff wrote: “[President Nixon] emphasized that . . . the whole problem is really the blacks. The key is to devise a system that recognizes this while not appearing to.”

To deny that racism permeates our culture and our policies is simple naiveté, but the fact that many do not realize this racism is significant. Though racist policies have persisted, intentional acts of racism today are uncommon and condemned by most Americans. Many readers will consider this a distinction without a difference, and to an extent, I agree. Ignorance of the nature of policies that an individual practices does not fully absolve that individual of accountability to their negative impacts.

But this distinction must shape our discourse on racial disparities.

Individuals generally oppose the Ferguson Grand Jury’s decision (to not indict Officer Wilson with a charge for his shooting and killing Michael Brown) for two reasons. First, many make the probabilistic assumption that Officer Wilson acted on racist tendencies in his shooting of Brown. They assume that this case is not an example of an officer exerting his right to self-defense, and that under identical circumstances save skin color, Michael Brown would still be alive.

I contend that the majority of consistent evidence refutes these claims. Undeniably, racism is a central element of tragedies every day, many of which involve police officers extending their power inappropriately, but this does not imply that Wilson is necessarily guilty of the same. To blindly assume so is to exhibit ignorance on par with that of individuals who do not realize the unfair privilege associated with not being black. It would be to criminalize a potential victim (by this I mean someone who may have truly acted in self-defense) exclusively on the basis of his race.

The Grand Jury spent an enormous amount of time reviewing every last detail of the case, and ultimately decided not to push for charges for Officer Wilson. No one in this country knows every intricacy of this case as well as this jury. Some claim that Grand Jury indictments are broad enough that even a ham sandwich could be indicted if someone brought up a case against one. But the conclusion from this claim—that the Grand Jury must have racially decided to protect Wilson despite the evidence—is circular and illogical.

There is a very low bar for an indictment, but this does not necessarily imply a corrupt jury any more than it suggests that the potential case against Officer Wilson was too weak to meet this bar. If this explanation does not satisfy readers, then any conclusion from Wilson’s trial outside of an ultimate conviction would have been unjust. I have trouble understanding a conception of justice in which the premise is that the defendant is guilty regardless of the results of the trial.

This leads me to the second reason readers might provide for why Wilson should have been indicted and ultimately charged—regardless of the context of this case, his prosecution would have offered a symbolic stimulus that would allow us to revise our criminal justice system in a way that outweighs the cost to one potentially innocent man. This presumably utilitarian argument sets a dangerous precedent for a justice system built on defending the individual from sensationalized accusations. It is easy to defend the practice of making one individual the scapegoat for the greater good, but most of us who employ this argument would not take that individual’s place.

Regardless, protests are occurring in Ferguson and throughout the country precisely because Wilson was not indicted. If readers want justice for the black men, women and children who have been unfairly harmed by racist institutions, as we all should, then Wilson’s freedom is ironically the best way to ensure it, despite what occurred in the moments preceding Brown’s death. Peaceful demonstrations nationwide have the potential to influence a huge group of individuals who do not recognize racial privilege.

But unfortunately, so long as these protests are conducted violently at worst and offensively at best, the potential for policy and attitude shifts will be mitigated. When we use violence, we worsen racial stereotypes. When we post #BlackLivesMatter, we systematically and without discretion characterize all who do not believe Officer Wilson deserves a conviction as conscientious racists who do not place value on human life. Instead of demonizing each other for subjectively accused ignorance, we should try to use this tragedy as a window to educate an ignorant public about racism in this country and to actualize public policy changes that could help tragedies like these from reoccurring in the future.

Brendan McCartney is a Trinity junior. This is his last column of the semester.