On Ferguson

The Grand Jury decision came back yesterday with a No Indictment. I’ve been seeing some people equate that with a Not Guilty. They aren’t the same thing, because Darren Wilson wasn’t actually on trial. The Grand Jury was convened by county prosecutor, Bob McCulloch, to decide whether there should be a trial or not. He could have laid out a case before a jury of Darren Wilson’s peers and actually had a trial. But I don’t think he ever wanted to go to trial. And I think the Grand Jury was a legal cover.

Update: Check out Vox for a great series of articles

I was driving during the press conference. The one that had been set for 4pm local time, which ended up being pushed back to 8pm local time. I turned the press conference on during the prosecutor’s explanation of the process, and that was when I knew for sure the Grand Jury had decided not to indict. He laid out all the possible justification for the Grand Jury decision in the traditional sense of the word apology. I was reminded of Hamlet – “Me thinks the lady doth protest too much”, someone on my twitter feed commented that if he covered his ass any more he’d be a bustle.

But I can’t help but feel that the No Indictment was exactly what the Prosecutor McCulloch wanted. What other reason would the prosecutor have to not lay out a case for indictment? He didn’t advocate for a specific charge; he presented all possible charges without preference; he presented all potential evidence, including the testimony of the proposed defendant. The only narrative that seemed to be laid out was one that presented the case justifying Darren Wilson’s defense. In short, the Ferguson Grand Jury seems to have been held in a non-standard manner. And now, McCulloch has released much of the evidence for everyone to sift through and make their own judgements. But all such judgements will not be criminal charges that carry the weight of the system.

Because I think that McCulloch did not want to be one of the few prosecutors nation-wide to charge a police officer with a crime in the line of duty. Jamelle Bouie lays out a great explanation regarding the the way the judicial system is not set up to handle the violations that proceed from within its structure.

If the shooting in Ferguson illuminated the inequities involved in the interaction with police for those who are not white, the Grand Jury process and decision demonstrated the ways in which the system could be used to reach the desired conclusion. By leaving the decision to the Grand Jury, McCulloch appeared to be taking a democratic approach to the case – leave it to the people to decide. But without a person constructing a narrative that explains the evidence in a manner that leads to a conclusion of illegal activity, how does a dead man speak? The living can speak for themselves, the dead cannot. And no one wants to paint themselves as the killer of a kid. That is the role of the prosecutor, and McCulloch abdicated.

There is no way to know now if the decision would have been different if prosecutor McCulloch had handled the case of Darren Wilson shooting and killing Mike Brown the way he handles all of the other cases that cross his desk. And I wonder whether the same laissez fair approach would have been taken if Mike Brown had been the police officer and not the kid in the street.

From the beginning, with the decision to go to a Grand Jury at all, to the decision to leak information, to the almost textbook approach of how to orchestrate a press conference to facilitate outrage and potential violence, to the way the protests were handled last night, this whole spectacle has exemplified the inequities of the system for large swathes of the population. Even the National Bar Association questions how this turned out the way it did.

But at the heart of it all is a truth that much of the U.S. doesn’t want to acknowledge, much less accept. (Thanks to Tressie McMillan Cottom for letting me Storify some of her fantastic comments. Read her Twitter feed.)
Storify of @tressiemcphd My heart goes out to Mike Brown’s family and friends, and the greater community of Ferguson. This decision was an injustice to you all. Keep raising your voice(s); I hope people will eventually listen.