A St. Louis County grand jury has declined to indict Ferguson, Mo. police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of unarmed Black teen Michael Brown.
Prosecuting attorney Robert McCulloch spent several minutes citing inconsistencies in the testimony of some of the 60 witnesses that testified during 70 hours of proceedings. He also blamed the “24-hour news cycle” and social media before announcing the no bill returned by the grand jury.
McCulloch said that the grand jury, made up of nine whites and three Blacks, was a representative cross-section of the demographics of St. Louis County and that they were “the only people who heard every witness … and every piece of evidence.” St. Louis County as a whole has a population that is 24 percent Black.
Wilson fired 12 total shots10 outside his vehicle and two insideduring the confrontation, according to McCulloch. The final 10 shots were captured by a witness in an audio recording. The grand jury decided that all 12 shots were justified.
McCulloch said that the grand jury was asked to consider five different charges ranging from first-degree murder to involuntary manslaughter, but found that no probable cause existed to sustain any of the charges. All 12 grand jurors were presented for every session, he added.
“We are profoundly disappointed that the killer of our child will not face the consequence of his actions,” Brown’s family said in a statement, before pleading for protestors to assemble peacefully. “Answering violence with violence is not the appropriate reaction.”
Wilson’s defense lawyers also responded to the grand jury’s decision.
“Law enforcement personnel must frequently make split-second and difficult decisions. Officer Wilson followed his training and followed the law,” the defense team said in a statement. “We recognize that many people will want to second-guess the grand jury’s decision. We would encourage anyone who wants to express an opinion do so in a respectful and peaceful manner.”
President Obama addressed the nation just minutes after McCulloch’s press conference wrapped up.
“We are a nation built on the rule of law,” the president said. “So we need to accept that this decision was the grand jury’s to make.”
“We do have work to do here,” the president added. “We shouldn’t just paper it over.”
He also asked for protestors to remain peaceful and asked the nation to focus on Michael Brown’s parents and the long-term positive, solutions and progress that can come from Brown’s death and the conversations it ignites.
Protesters had called for Wilson’s arrest since he shot and killed Brown on a Ferguson street on Aug. 9. The mismanagement of the investigation by Wilson’s colleagues and city leaders began immediately, as Brown’s body was left laying uncovered in the sun for hours as authorities began looking at evidence.
Soon, authorities were hiding Wilson’s identity, but sharing information that Brown was a suspect in a convenience-store robbery that took place just minutes before the confrontation between Wilson and Brown. What they failed to disclose initially was that Wilson did not know Brown was a suspect, and the confrontation took place only because Brown and a friend were walking in the street.
An autopsy showed he had been shot at least six times, including two wounds to the head.
Tensions rose quickly and protests escalated as Ferguson and St. Louis County police turned out in militaristic riot gear and positioned high-powered rifles atop armored personnel carriers, pointing them into the crowds. Dozens were arrested, including professor Cornel West.
Ferguson Mayor James Knowles claimed there is no racial divide in the city, despite the obvious mistrust between the almost entirely white police department and the city’s majority Black population. Or the white St. Louis Cardinals fans (and others influenced by the Koch Brothers’ publicity machine) mocking Black Ferguson protestors. Or the aggression of police and national-guard troops and the way Highway Patrol Captain Ron Johnsonone of the few Black men amongst the authorities patrolling Fergusonwas able to calm the crowds and change the attitude of the gatherings.
Racial divide or not, what happened in Ferguson represents a complete breakdown in diversity management.
Consider these racial breakdowns in Ferguson:
|Percentage of Statewide Population||10.9%||82.8%|
|Percentage of Ferguson Population||63.0%||33.7%|
|Percentage of Ferguson Police Department||6.0%||93.0%|
|Percentage of Ferguson City Council||7.0%||93.0%|
|# of Members on Ferguson School Board||0/7||6/7|
|Search Rate||12.13% of traffic stops||6.85% of traffic stops|
|Contraband Hit Rate||21.71% of searches||34.04% of searches|
*Disparity Index = proportion of stops/proportion of population. A disparity index of 1 indicates no disparity exists. An index above 1 means a demographic is stopped at a greater rate than its proportion of the population, while an index below 1 means a demographic is stopped at a lesser rate than its proportion of the population.
Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson released a poorly designed, half-hearted videotape apology, claiming he was “truly sorry” for the Brown family and the protesters. But his St. Louis County police counterpart, Chief John Belmar, said he did not regret using tear gas and pointing high-powered rifles from atop armored trucks at protesters.
But as leaks emerged from the grand juryleaks that left Attorney General Eric Holder incensed and that included Wilson’s own personal testimonyand concerns about prosecutor Robert McCulloch’s motives and impartiality grew, Ferguson police spent more than $100,000 on new riot gear and tear gas in anticipation of escalating protests.
“If there is not an indictment, excuse my French, all hell is going to break loose,” one protester told CNN.
A coalition of local organizations asked for 36 hours’ notice of the grand jury’s decision to prepare and staff safe houses, where protesters could eat and receive medical attention. They asked officers to avoid using armored vehicles, tear gas and rubber bullets, and to only don riot gear as a last resort.
“There is going to be agitation and demonstration. It’s just a matter of what kind,” said Michael McPhearson, co-chair of the Don’t Shoot Coalition. “We aren’t trying to quiet people’s anger. We are just trying to direct it in a positive direction.”
School superintendents asked for the decision to be announced after 5 p.m. or on a weekend, due to safety concerns for students trying to get home from school.
“It’s a high-stress, low-trust environment,” said Johnetta Elzie, 25, one of the most visible and vocal protesters. “We are living day to day waiting on this announcement.”
But officials scoffed at many of the requests. Ed Magee, McCulloch’s spokesman, said prosecutors would inform police once the grand jury had reached a decision, but other advance-notice requests hadn’t been decided, nor had the timing for the manner of announcing the decision.
The Ferguson police, meanwhile, invested $65,000 in fresh riot gear, including body armor, helmets, shields and batons. Another $37,000 was spent on tear gas and smoke-and-gas grenades, pepper balls and plastic handcuffs.