Nel's New Day

December 2, 2014

Ferguson: White Entitlement Defeats Justice, Part II

People all over the United States are still protesting the grand jury’s lack of indictment against Darren Wilson, who killed Michael Brown almost four months ago. St. Louis DA Robert McCulloch firmly believed that Wilson is innocent and manipulated the evidence to present that case. Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon (D) will not appoint a new prosecutor, but, according to state law, Maura McShane, presiding judge of the 21st Circuit, can appoint a special prosecutor. There is a precedent for this action:  in State v. Copeland (1996), a Missouri court replaced the prosecutor because the judge “sensed that [the prosecutor’s] sympathies for [the defendant] may have prevented him from being an effective advocate for the state.”

There are many reasons that there should be an indictment to send Brown’s killing to a trial.

After the shooting, Wilson removed evidence by washing the blood of his body before there was any investigation. His actions allowed the spread of rumors about the extent of his injuries. Wilson’s gun was not tested for fingerprints, allowing Wilson to claim that Brown had grabbed the gun. In fact, Wilson didn’t immediately turn over his weapon to investigators. He left it in his holsters, took it back to the station, and put it in an evidence bag himself. The shooter was the last person with chain-of-custody control of the murder weapon.

The first officer who interviewed Wilson took no notes; he gave testimony over a month later from memory. The interview came after Wilson was taken to the hospital. “I didn’t take notes because at that point in time I had multiple things going through my head besides what Darren was telling me,” the officer stated. Wilson changed his story between the first interview and later testimony. Originally, he said he didn’t know that Brown may have been a suspect in a theft from the local liquor store. In the original interview, he said he didn’t know that Brown gave to Dorian Johnson but later reported that he saw the cigarillos, leading him to believe that Brown was the thief.

McCulloch demonstrated a possible conflict of interest. As president of The Backstoppers, Inc., he was involved in fundraising for Wilson with a T-shirt drive featuring a picture of Missouri with the statement “I SUPPORT OFFICER D. WILSON” to raise money for the Darren Wilson Defense Fund.

The lack of indictment, although not surprising, was highly unlikely. Former New York state Chief Judge Sol Wachtler famously remarked that a prosecutor could persuade a grand jury to “indict a ham sandwich,” a statement backed up by data. Of the 162,000 federal cases prosecuted in 2010, grand juries declined to return an indictment in 11 of them. Wilson’s case was in state, not federal, court, but a lack of indictment is extremely rare in those courts as well. “If the prosecutor wants an indictment and doesn’t get one, something has gone horribly wrong,” said Andrew D. Leipold, a University of Illinois law professor who has written critically about grand juries. “It just doesn’t happen.”

The exception to these statistics is police shootings. A recent Houston Chronicle investigation found that “police have been nearly immune from criminal charges in shootings” in Houston and other large cities in recent years. In Harris County (TX) grand juries haven’t indicted a Houston police officer since 2004; in Dallas, grand juries returned on indictment out of 81 reviewed shootings between 2008 and 2012.

McCulloch set up the grand jury for no indictment when he presented “all evidence.” The usual procedure is to present only evidence necessary to establish probable cause. McCulloch also allowed Wilson to testify for hours in defense of his actions. The DA admitted his team acted in Wilson’s defense when he said that prosecutors “challenged” and “confronted” witnesses to discredit their accounts.

At the very least, Wilson should have been indicted for negligence, based on documentation. McCulloch, however, had given no instructions to the jury. He just presented the case like any defense attorney would, adding a tremendous amount of non-related material.

Not considered by the grand jury was whether Wilson could have avoided killing Brown.  The “de-escalation” training in other parts of the country has reduced the unnecessary use of force and improved safety for both officers and civilians. De-escalation means that multiple officers respond because of just one person, calmly introducing oneself, listening, and using body-worn cameras that helps both officers and civilians to behave better. Instead of waiting for backup, Wilson got out of his car and pursued the Brown after stopping him for jaywalking. As a police officer, Wilson had a nightstick, mace, gun, and self-defense training. The question is why he would leave his car without backup and chase a man who terrified him.

The social media is not the only source of discontent in the way that McCulloch handled the case. The National Bar Association has released a statement pointing out the flaws in how the AG handled the case. It is pushing for the Department of Justice to continue its own investigation.

Past events have shown police that they can harass and bully people—especially blacks—with no retribution. The lack of indictment in the Ferguson case reassures police that they can continue to do so while the false information distributed to the public makes people comfortable with this, and future, killings.

Ben Carson, the first person to become a 2016 GOP presidential candidate, blames the women’s liberation movement for Brown’s killing. According to Carson, women are incapable of teaching their children to respect authority. The result is a high number of black youth killed by police or incarcerated. He believes that Michael Brown could still be alive if we women had not fought for our rights. Warning: Caron is a neurosurgeon. Anyone seeing him professionally should be warned to get a second opinion. There certainly should be a second opinion on the grand jury that failed to indict Darren Wilson.

Places such as Ferguson and St. Louis County have the opportunity to change their strategies after the killing of Michael Brown, and an 11-year-old explained how this can be done. Eleven days after Brown was killed while protesters faced tear gas and arrests, Marquis Govan spoke to the St. Louis County Council. He said:

“The people of Ferguson, I believe, don’t need tear gas thrown at them. I believe they need jobs. I believe the people of Ferguson, they don’t need to be hit with batons. What they need is people to be investing in their businesses. You’re paying attention to the looting and things like that, when the real issues aren’t being solved. There’s a reason why those people are out there.”

Marquis was in foster care before his great-grandmother took custody of him when he was two years old. She took him with her when she went to vote, and he said he began to think about politics when he was five. Marquis is one of those people who can make a difference—if he lives long enough.

marquisOn the same day that Marquis spoke to the council, Eugene Robinson wrote, “Anyone who thinks race is not a factor in these fatal encounters should have to cite examples of unarmed young white men being killed by trigger-happy police or self-appointed vigilantes.”

People want to think that we live in a “post-racial society” because those who attempted to quiet the Ferguson protests- the Missouri highway patrol commander, the U.S. attorney general, and the president—are black.  Yet millions of blacks are blocked from achieving this high level through failed schools, lack of high-paying blue-collar jobs, and racial bias in arrests and imprisonment. Brown had managed to graduate from high school with no police record and head to technical college. A police officer stopped him for jaywalking and then ran after him and killed him. That’s what happens to many young black men in the United States. Brown is dead, and Wilson was not punished. How can anyone be surprised that the end result is rage?

As Gary Younge wrote, “In Ferguson the violence of the state created the violence of the street.”

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