A secret trial. A SECRET TRIAL! Cast aside the Constitution for political expediency and protection of the Jim Crow status quo in St. Louis County, Missouri. As one reporter noted, the grave of Dred Scott was just a mile and a half down the road from Ferguson, MO. The prosecutor staged a secret trial by Grand Jury, rather than pursue an indictment of wrongful death against a police officer. Due process in this instance should have been a trial in front of a judge and jury with the police officer as defendant and the state as prosecutor representing the man who was killed.
The prosecutor’s explanation of the “verdict” was tantamount to a defense attorney’s summation remarks in a trial. By his sending the incident to the Grand Jury—unarmed Michael Brown being shot to death by police officer Darren Wilson—with instructions to find all relevant evidence to inform the prosecutor if Officer Wilson committed a crime. Last night’s drama was staged by the prosecutor and the local law enforcement agencies, with the complicity of the governor, to ensure that there would be a violent, made-for-television, angry protest when the Grand Jury rendered its verdict. The Grand Jury returned its verdict that Officer Wilson was not guilty of any crime. It is hardly a surprise that within the hour of the announcement, riots began in Ferguson with several cars being burned, four stores looted then burned, and police using anti-riot tactics to clear the streets. Across the nation, large demonstrations were held in New York City, Los Angeles, Oakland and Seattle. Unlike so many previous demonstrations and protests, no one was killed, property damage was minimal, and there were relatively few arrests by police. Most likely, the lack of a surprise verdict contributed to the tenor of the protests.
From the announced findings, it appears that Officer Wilson decided that Mike Brown and his companion were the men who had robbed a convenience store of some cigars—based on their being Black, wearing a red baseball hat and yellow socks—and were fleeing the scene in their neighborhood. It is clear that Officer Wilson identified the suspects, with whom he was already in contact, and challenged Mr. Brown and his friend. This police officer made the guilt and arrest decisions within a few minutes for a minor shoplifting crime he heard about on his police radio. Officer Wilson made the verdict that Mr. Brown and his companion were guilty and should be arrested—on his own. He then decided Mr. Brown’s fate by resorting to deadly force in the process of arresting his guilty persons. Was Officer Wilson trained for such decision-making? Did he have any training that led him to escalate his tactics to deadly force once a suspect challenged him?
What did not come out of the Grand Jury was anything regarding the use of deadly force by a police officer against an unarmed assailant. Nor was there any comment regarding the need for civilian oversight of police practices and actions within a community. Nothing was said about the rights of an unarmed civilian to be preserved during apprehension, arrest or interrogation by police services. There were no findings about the crime scene procedures that allowed Mr. Brown’s deceased body to lie in the middle of the street for four hours; there were two autopsies performed, one funded by Mr. Brown’s parents; there did not appear to be any structured attempt to take witness statements at the time of the incident. There were no recommendations whatsoever beyond the finding that Officer Wilson did not commit a crime when he apprehended and killed Mike Brown.