Amid the signs of a return to normalcy in Ferguson, it’s tempting to just move on to the next story. Often, it’s “easier” to suggest that with the removal of outside agitators and the absence of dramatic film footage, the “problem” of Ferguson has been solved.
Actually, this overlooks the reasons for the protests. They began when eighteen year old Michael Brown was shot dead by Darren Wilson, a Ferguson PD police officer. Brown’s body was left uncovered for four hours. However, his death was the straw that broke the camel’s back, rather than the cause itself.
The protests were culmination of a variety of issues related to economics, housing and police practices that many of us want to believe won’t exist if we just don’t talk about them. Yes, racism played a role in this story. The issues will take time and effort to be resolved, but to suggest that they have been resolved because calm is returning to Ferguson amounts to sweeping these problems under the rug.
The coexistence of racism with police practices and the local legal system is one of those issues. As noted by Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg during an interview with National Law Journal,
Once [gay] people began to say who they were, you found that it was your next-door neighbor or it could be your child, and we found people we admired,” “That understanding still doesn’t exist with race; you still have separation of neighborhoods, where the races are not mixed. It’s the familiarity with people who are gay that still doesn’t exist for race and will remain that way for a long time as long as where we live remains divided. (My bold for emphasis)
With the separation of neighborhoods, schools, jobs, and overall life, the result is a different set of perceptions about the role of race in police practices and the administration of justice. We see it in perceptions about Michael Brown, Darren Wilson and the protests.
Things are calmer in Ferguson, but the chasm between perceptions about policing and justice remain and that chasm is reflected in the positions that people have taken on Michael Brown’s death. Whites predominantly believe that Wilson acted appropriately while blacks predominantly believe that Michael Brown was murdered. Whites predominantly believe that race played no role in this case while blacks predominantly believe was a factor.
The disturbing “reasons” that some of Wilson’s supporters stated they believe him are based on racism. These sentiments give credence to the belief by black people that the sort of justice you get is dependent on your skin color.
We also see it in data that shows if you’re black you’re more likely to be stopped and more likely to be arrested.
So far, the way local officials released information follows a disturbing pattern that gives validity to suspicions about the Ferguson Police Department and the ability of local prosecutor, Bob McCulloch, to follow the evidence and apply the law in a fair and objective manner. Part of the suspicion about McCulloch is based on his extensive ties to the police department and the fact that his father who was a police officer was killed by an African-American man. The Mound City Bar Association, has asked McCulloch to recuse himself indicating that there is a vast amount of distrust in McCulloch’s ability to deal with this case properly. McCulloch’s decisions in this case add to that suspicion.
One thing that jumps out is the release of incident reports. There is a relatively detailed incident report of Michael Brown’s alleged involvement in stealing cigars. Darren Wilson did not write an incident report on his encounter with Michael Brown.
It took nearly two weeks to get the document that was released, as a result of a lawsuit by the ACLU.
That document is notable because it is two pages of no information. You can see for yourself, here.
The St. Louis police released another “incident report” That document is also sparse on information. We know it was “entered” on August 19th. It was approved by a Supervisor eight minutes after it was filed and got final approval the following day. It tells us Michael Brown’s name. This took 10 days?
The only reason we know Brown was shot at least six times is because his family got a private autopsy and a preliminary autopsy report was released to the New York Times. We also know there was no gunshot residue on Brown’s skin.
If we had to rely exclusively on the flow of information from local authorities, the only things we would know about preliminary autopsy findings by the local medical examiner is that Michael Brown was shot “multiple times” in the head and chest, and the irrelevant but prejudicial information that marijuana was found in his system.
We don’t know if Wilson’s car or weapon were examined. We don’t if Michael Brown’s DNA is present in the car or on Wilson’s weapon. We don’t know if the shell casings and bullets were collected. We also don’t know if there was gunshot residue on Michael Brown’s clothing.
True, one can point to the fact that the investigation is on-going and that evidence has to be reviewed by the grand jury. But it begs the question, why release prejudicial information about Michael Brown while withholding Darren Wilson’s name for nearly a week, and next to nothing about his version of the story? What has emerged of Wilson’s story has been debunked, such as the claim that Wilson had a serious eye injury. Justin Baragona examines this in detail. Then there’s “Josie’s” statement to the Dana Loesch show. Even if “Josie” knows Wilson, her information is based on what she says Wilson told her. “Josie” is not a witness.
One can also point to prejudicial information about Dorian Johnson in an effort to discredit his statements about the events leading to Michael Brown’s death. The only problem with that is the fact that other witnesses corroborate his statements on the relevant issues. Even if you question the veracity of several witnesses who saw the same thing and didn’t know each other, they have video that corroborates their statements. There is a consensus on the relevant facts. Brown was running away from the Wilson when he was shot. He turned around and was trying to surrender. Wilson kept shooting as Brown was falling to the ground. This is what is relevant, regardless of what may or may not have occurred with cigars and frankly even what occurred during the encounter at Wilson’s car.
Another curious thing about this case lies in the prosecution’s decision to go to a grand jury. A grand jury proceeding is secret, the prosecutor decides what evidence to present and what witnesses to call. There is no opportunity to present a defense. The evidentiary standard is lower than in court. For example, heresay evidence that would be ruled inadmissible in a trial is allowed in the grand jury. The prosecutor could have, and in this case should have, filed the charges himself. But that would mean opening the process up with a preliminary hearing where the rules of evidence are tighter and people can see for themselves if justice is being served.
There is another red flag. The prosecution invited Wilson to testify before the grand jury. To put it mildly, this is unusual. For all we know, Wilson may have testified before this grand jury panel on another matter, and established a reputation of credibility. It’s a safe bet that he will not go before the panel to present them with self-incriminating evidence.
Meanwhile, Darren Wilson is on paid leave. He skipped town before his name was released to the public. Imagine if the roles had been reversed. Would the shooter be free to skip town before his name is released to the public? Would he be on paid leave? Would officials have waited a week to release the name of the shooter? Would they have released information about the case as they did in this instance?
It’s impossible to see how justice can be served by the decisions made so far and by the selective way by which information is being disclosed. It’s little wonder that Michael Brown’s family and many in the community don’t trust local officials to get justice for Michael Brown.
Image: Music Times
Ms. Woodbury has a graduate degree in political science, with a minor in law. She is a qualified expert on political theory with a specific interest in the nexus between political theories and models and human rights.
Based on her interest in human rights and the threats that authoritarian regimes are to them, Ms. Woodbury’s masters thesis examined the influence of politics on the enforcement of international criminal law was cited in several academic studies.
Published work includes case summaries for the War Crimes Research Office.
She has an extensive background doing legal research in international and domestic law.
Ms. Woodbury’s work for politicusUSA includes articles on voting rights, the right to asylum and other civil/human rights.