A Missouri grand jury has found that there is insufficient evidence to indict Darren Wilson, a white police officer who shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed black 18-year old, whose fatal shooting in August sparked weeks of sometimes-violent protests.
St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Bob McCulloch announced the decision Monday evening. A grand jury of nine white and three black members had been meeting weekly since Aug. 20 to consider evidence. At least nine votes would have been required to indict Wilson.
“[The Grand Jury] are the only people who have heard and examined every witness and every piece of evidence. They discussed and debated the evidence among themselves before arriving at their collective decision,” McCulloch said.
Shortly after the announcement some protesters erupted in anger and overran a barricade and taunted police. Some chanted “murderer” and others threw rocks and other items.
Officers in armored vehicles lobbed canisters of irritants that made people’s eyes and lungs burn, dispersing crowds in Ferguson after a police car was vandalized, business windows shattered and gunshots rang in the streets.
The windows of a police car were smashed and protesters tried to topple it before it was set on fire. Officers responded by firing what authorities said was smoke and pepper spray into the crowd. Protesters insisted it was tear gas.
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Some in the crowd reportedly tried to stop others from taking part in the violence.
U.S. President Barack Obama delivered a short statement following the grand jury announcment.
“We are a nation built on the rule of law. We need to accept that this decision was the grand jury’s to make… I also appeal to the law enforcement forces in Ferguson to show care and restraint in manning peaceful protests that may occur,” Obama said.
“We need to recognize that the situation in Ferguson speaks to broader challenges that we still face as a nation. The fact is in too many parts of this country a deep districts exists between law enforcement and people of color.”
The Aug. 9 killing of Brown reignited a debate over how police treat young black men in the U.S. It drew attention to racial tensions simmering in Ferguson and other U.S. communities four decades after the civil rights movement of the 1960s. The tensions have evoked other racially charged cases, including the riots that rocked Los Angeles in 1992 after the acquittal of white police officers in the videotaped beating of black motorist Rodney King. More recently, peaceful protests followed the 2013 not-guilty verdict in the Florida slaying in unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman, who was not a police officer but coordinated the local neighborhood watch.
The U.S. Justice Department is conducting an investigation into possible civil rights violations that could result in federal charges.
The Ferguson Grand Jury has been unlike most, if not all, other grand juries that are convened frequently across the U.S. Typically prosecutors ask grand jurors to consider a specific charge against a person and decide whether the evidence warrants that charge.
“This grand jury has been used more as an investigative grand jury,” said Sue McGraw, Law Professor at St. Louis University. “They are getting all the evidence for and against indictment and being asked to draw conclusions from all the evidence.”
This panel, which has been meeting Wednesday afternoons since shortly after the shooting, had to sort through reams of information and, McGraw said Monday, also try to get inside Officer Darren Wilson’s head. What was he thinking on that Saturday in August? Did he fear for his life or the lives of people immediately around him? McGraw added that it’s entirely plausible that St. Louis Co. Prosecutor Bob McCulloch chose the grand jury process in an attempt to be fair.
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“There are people who are more cynical and say that he’s actually looking for political cover,” said McGraw. “If no indictment comes back, he wants to be able to say to the public, look I did everything I could, I gave it to the grand jury. These are your fellow community members and they made the decision.”
The law professor said grand jurors undoubtedly knew the implications of their decision as they made it, making their jobs more difficult than anyone in Ferguson could imagine.
St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch’s office had said he expected a decision by mid-to-late November, but it was not ultimately not in his control. The 12-person grand jury deliberates in secret and sets its own schedule depending upon when the members are available.
Benjamin Crump, an attorney for Brown’s family, said Sunday that they were frustrated the prosecutor did not charge Wilson himself or suggest a charge to grand jurors.
It’s not uncommon for deliberations to take a while in complex cases when self-defense is alleged or when there are two widely conflicting versions, according to Cole County Prosecutor Mark Richardson, who is not involved in the Ferguson case.
Story compiled from CCTV America and AP reports.
For more as we await the grand jury’s decision and the potential fallout, CCTV America interviewed James Peterson. He’s Director of Africana Studies and Associate Professor of English at Lehigh University.