FERGUSON, MO—A Missouri grand jury declined to indict Ferguson police Officer Darren Wilson yesterday in the shooting death of Michael Brown on August 9. Brown, an 18-year-old African-American man was unarmed when he was killed.
St. Louis County prosecuting attorney Robert McCulloch read the grand jury’s finding that there was insufficient evidence to warrant a trial on any of the five possible charges, ranging from first-degree murder to manslaughter. Immediately, a night of rioting ensued, which left several buildings scorched, more than 80 people arrested, police cars smashed, and a city writhing from frustration and disillusionment in the wake of the controversial ruling.
As it turned out, the 12-person grand jury in the case of State of Missouri v. Darren Wilson found it impossible to reconcile the varying accounts from the 60 eyewitness. The grand jury transcripts reveal witness after witness taking the stand, describing the same two minutes, in which the incident took place.
An indictment, unlike an actual trial, requires only nine of the 12 jurors to agree on a charge, just to take it to trial. Making matters even more controversial is the fact that nine of the 12 jurors in this case were white.
Some observers on social media and social rights organizations are wondering, to what extent racism is factored into the grand jury’s decision. Despite the witness accounts and the three autopsies, one performed by the Justice Department, one by the county and a third as requested by the Brown family, there were no answers.
Lou Shapiro, a legal analyst and certified criminal specialist explained the legal context of the jury’s decision to Canyon News: “Based on the prosecutor’s statement, there was an overwhelming amount of witnesses inconsistencies. This left the jury to focus on the physical and scientific evidence—in particular the blood and ballistics. That evidence was consistent with the officer’s testimony that he was acting in self-defense and therefore the jury decided that no indictment was appropriate.”
Reading Shapiro’s statement, Minnie Hadley Hempstead, the President of the NAACP’s Los Angeles chapter mentioned to Canyon News, “The witnesses who spoke to the grand jury did not speak to the media. Who were the eyewitnesses?” She said there was a high potential for racism to occur within the legal process.
Hempstead is also critical of the belief that the fact that the jurors were randomly selected meant that they were fit to adjudicate a fair decision. She hinted that perhaps the jurors might not have been as random as one might think. She explained that in a city where there is a disproportionate amount of white people to African-Americans, even a true random selection could be problematic.
She provided a personal example: “I was driving in California and there was a checkpoint. I was “randomly” selected to be stopped and I asked them, ‘why did you stop me?’ They answered that they were stopping every fifth car. So I counted 5 cars. And I looked and no other cars were being stopped. Random does not always mean fair. Remember what the population of Ferguson is.”
Thousands of people across the nation are turning out in solidarity with the protestors in Ferguson because they feel a travesty of justice has taken place. Some don’t buy the fact that Wilson, weighing 240 pounds and standing at 6 feet and 4 inches tall, felt that his life was threatened by Brown.
Another point of contention is the the fact that according to Missouri law, a person may legally shoot a fleeing suspected felon, even if the suspect doesn’t pose a threat; whereas, according to federal law, that law is considered unconstitutional.
Hempstead doesn’t believe that this case is an isolated incident nor does she think it’s a social anomaly. She believes it is widespread issue, which is the product of decades of racial inequality; she added that her grandfather was a sharecropper working for a white family for nearly 85 years. She also shared, “We had a young 25-year-old African-American man killed in Los Angeles a couple days after Brown was killed, and he was unarmed. He was shot by a white officer. Darren Wilson compared Brown to a demon, and he was intimidated by him. So some people are scared. We are not in the history books, and all you ever hear about [African-Americans] is something negative. ”
When asked if it would surprise her if any of the African-American jurors voted against the indictment, she responded, “It wouldn’t surprise me if the black jurors also rejected the indictment out of fear for their lives. Im not saying that’s the case but I’m saying it could have been. ”
In Ferguson, while some protested peacefully, others fired guns, looted stores, hurled rocks at police and caused serious damage throughout the city.
The police and the Missouri National Guard responded with repeated rounds of tear gas and shot bean bags into the crowds to disperse them.
In a press conference held by Michael Brown’s family, on November 25, Benjamin Crump, the Brown family attorney, said, “A prosecutor is supposed to prosecute… he was supposed to defend Michael Brown, but instead, accused Michael Brown.”
In the same news conference, Reverend Al Sharpton, condemned the violent protests saying, “There are other ways other than to explode…If you burn down building you achieve a fight, but not justice, for Michael Brown.”
In response to Michael Brown’s step-father, Louis Head’s, repeated calls to “Burn this B—– Down,” referring to the city of Ferguson, Crump explained that it was a regrettable remark, which arose from the grieving step-father’s “raw emotions.” He continued, “No parent should ever have to hear the devastating news that the killer of their child was not going to be brought to justice.”
Hempstead agrees with Crump’s reasoning, saying, “If your child or step child is killed by an officer and his body remained in the street for four hours and no one could go near him—I have not lost anyone to violence in my family—but I would not hold them responsible for naything they did. There is a lot of hurt and frustration. “