In an eye-opening piece run by the New York Times late Friday evening, federal government officials close to the Justice Department’s investigation of Michael Brown’s death state that the evidence they’ve seen so far does not support a civil rights charge against Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson. An unarmed Brown was shot to death by Wilson on August 9th. The officials who spoke with the Times say that Wilson testified that Brown scuffled with him in his vehicle and caused him to fear for his life, leading to the fatal shooting.
The Times pointed out throughout the article that the information on Wilson’s testimony came only from federal officials and not from the Ferguson Police Department. Also, the federal investigation into both Wilson and the Ferguson PD is still ongoing. However, based on the content of the article and the appearance that federal authorities are taking Wilson at his word, confidence that an indictment will happen from either the St. Louis County Court or the Justice Department is not very high.
Perhaps the part of the article that will be the most disheartening and frustrating for protesters in Ferguson is the following:
In September, Officer Wilson appeared for four hours before a St. Louis County grand jury, which was convened to determine whether there is probable cause that he committed a crime. Legal experts have said that his decision to testify was surprising, given that it was not required by law. But the struggle in the car may prove to be a more influential piece of information for the grand jury, one that speaks to Officer Wilson’s state of mind, his feeling of vulnerability and his sense of heightened alert when he killed Mr. Brown.
Police officers typically have wide latitude to use lethal force if they reasonably believe that they are in imminent danger.
The officials briefed on the case said the forensic evidence gathered in the car lent credence to Officer Wilson’s version of events. According to his account, he was trying to leave his vehicle when Mr. Brown pushed him back in. Once inside the S.U.V., the two began to fight, Officer Wilson told investigators, and he removed his gun from the holster on his right hip.
Currently, a grand jury is convened to hear evidence and provide a recommendation as to whether or not Wilson is indicted with a crime. St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch has suggested that we should hear from the grand jury no later than mid-November. In a somewhat unorthodox move, Wilson testified in front of the grand jury for four hours last month. Typically, if someone is standing accused of a crime and it is referred to a grand jury, that person tends to not testify in the proceedings. However, it is well within the person’s right to do so.
Activists and protesters in the Ferguson area are starting to get a feeling that a non-indictment is coming soon. The perception isn’t just coming from the length of the grand jury hearing or the notion that McCulloch is unable to be objective when it comes to investigating law enforcement. Much of that perception is coming from what is seen as the local media’s attempt lately to change the narrative regarding law enforcement and the protesters. Specifically, stories run by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the major local news stations where they’ve tried to frame protesters as violent and dangerous while also trying to portray local police in a more positive light. Essentially, they are trying to give the moral high ground to the police ahead of the likely scenario where Wilson is allowed to walk.
This latest article from the NYT will only feed this pessimism more. It would seem that morale should be at an all-time low among Ferguson activists. Besides the ever-growing likelihood that Wilson will walk, other changes in the area have not occurred. Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson is still on the job. McCulloch has not recused himself from the investigation. The racial disparities among the staffs of the Ferguson and St. Louis County police departments and they way they handle law enforcement in the communities continues seemingly unabated.
However, there is a resilience among those on the ground. While it began as getting justice for Mike Brown, it has grown into something much more. Brown’s death was an awakening for many in the area. That awakening moved to different parts of the country and world. Many of those people from all over made their way to St. Louis last weekend to take part in Ferguson October. Now, it is a full-fledged movement. And that movement is gaining momentum. It isn’t going to stop. People, no matter their race or nationality, are demanding change in our society. They don’t just want equality, fairness and opportunity. No. They demand it.
Justin Baragona is the Managing Editor at Politicus Sports as well as Senior Editor at PoliticusUSA. He was a political writer for 411Mania.com before joining PoliticusUSA. Politically, Justin considers himself a liberal but also a realist and pragmatist. Currently, Justin lives in St. Louis, MO and is married. Besides writing, he also runs his own business after spending a number of years in the corporate world. You can follow Justin on Twitter either with his personal handle (@justinbaragona) or the Sports site’s (@PoliticusSports).