Neither the grand jury’s ruling not to induct Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson, nor reaction to it, came as a surprise Monday night. For weeks, MO Gov. Jay Nixon has employed military force and other heavy-handed tactics in preparation of a non-indictment. The FAA even enacted a “no fly zone” policy over Ferguson in advance.
For more than 100 days, mostly peaceful protestors have kept alive images of slain teen Michael Brown through photos, signs, chants and social media. The unarmed 18 year-old was shot multiple times by Wilson on August 9. The shooting has been playing out in the media against the backdrop of poverty, racial tension and violations of free speech and peaceful assembly by police.
Protestors in the northeastern St. Louis community have braved freezing temperatures, tear gas, arrests and the National Guard to assert their civil rights. Brown has become the national face of black unarmed teens gunned down at the hands of police—a systemic problem in communities of color.
Protests organized in advance (regardless of the ruling) in New York, Philadelphia, Houston, Oakland, San Francisco L.A, and scores of other cities went on as planned. The decision was delivered publicly by prosecuting attorneys around 9:15pm EST: “Police Officer Darren Wilson will not face charges following the shooting death of Michael Brown.”
Violence erupts in Ferguson.
Ferguson became a war zone after the jury decision. CBS News reported people looting and tear gas being fired by police. Johnathan Blakely reported by Skype: “About 30 protestors went to the Metro PCS store. . .and some went to McDonald’s and broke windows. At the Ferguson supermarket where Michael Brown was seen before his death, protestors went inside. There was a fire burning inside.”
News crews became targets of both police and protestors. Michelle Miller reported via phone that “It appears those canisters (tear gas) were being fired in the parking lot where the media was staging. Most of the crowd has been dispersed. We had to drive out of the area because the tear gas was so strong.”
Reporter Jake Barlow said, “People were throwing objects at the vehicle. The police started firing tear gas. We were shot at by some of the protestors. We took cover behind some cars.”
Wilson stated in his testimony (a day after the shooting) that Brown kept “charging” him after being told repeatedly to stop. He said Brown’s hands were in his waist band. Wilson also stated his eyes were damaged during a scuffle with Brown in the police car, but pictures taken after the shooting do not prove any such injuries. A struggle allegedly occurred between Wilson and Brown inside the police car over a gun, according to Wilson.
An NAACP spokesman said the incident stemmed from racial profiling. Brown was stopped by police because he allegedly fit the description of a robbery suspect in the area. The suspect was wearing a black tee-shirt. Brown was wearing a gray shirt.
What led to decision?
The investigation by St. Louis County Police lasted over 3 months and consisted of more than 70 hours of testimony and 60 witnesses. The grand jury consisted of 9 whites and 3 blacks. According to reports, three autopsies performed by medical examiners show Brown was never shot in the back, as previously reported. Wilson fired at Brown 12 times. A private autopsy requested by Brown’s family showed the teen was hit at least six times: four times in the right arm and twice in the head.
Michael Baden, a high profile forensic pathologist, hired by the Brown family, said there were “no signs of struggle” between Brown and Wilson. His findings were consistent with those of the Browns’ attorney.
Attorneys for Brown’s family said that the head shot went from a “back to front position” — consistent with eyewitnesses who said Brown was surrendering.
He also said there was no gunshot residue on his body, meaning Brown may not have been shot at close range. Still, Baden said, that was inconclusive because he didn’t have access to Brown clothes.
New York Has a Moment of Silence.
The New York Daily News reports hundreds of demonstrators gathered in Union Square in Manhattan. When the grand jury decision was announced, word quickly spread through the crowd. In a few minutes, most were holding one fist up in the air as they observed a moment of silence that lasted nearly five minutes.
For one New York woman, the non-indictment sends a message that people of color are not valued. There’s an acceptance that black and brown lives don’t matter, she said.
"The fact is, in too many parts of this country, a deep distrust exists between law enforcement and communities of color,” President Barack Obama said in a speech after the decision. “Some of this is the result of the legacy of racial discrimination in this country. And this is tragic because nobody needs good policing more than poor communities with higher crime rates." Calling for criminal justice reform, he added, "We need to recognize that this is not just an issue for Ferguson, this is an issue for America."
Echoing the president, Assemblymember Steven Bradford (D-Inglewood) said in a statement:
“This is a story that I hoped would be relegated to the history books. Unfortunately, it repeats itself today. We must once again make the case for the value of our own lives, in our own neighborhoods.
“The execution of males of color is far too commonplace in America and highlights just why California has a Select Committee on the Status of Boys and Men of Color, to continue to shine a light on this disparity in the criminal justice system”
In Los Angeles, about 300 protestors gathered near USC. The protest was peaceful. College student Brittany Haynes commented, “If they were going to indict Wilson, they would have done it before now. So, this is what I expected.”
The situation escalated by 11:30pm when a group of about 150 people climbed onto the 110 Freeway and sat down, shutting down traffic. Protesters chanted "No justice, no peace. No racist police," according to the L.A. Times.
The Michael Brown case is far from over. A federal investigation is still being conducted. The Brown family may still file a wrongful death lawsuit. Newsweek reported in August that a group of Missouri residents, are suing the city and police department of Ferguson for $40 million for what they describe as “wanton and excessive force” by police during recent unrest.
Parents Michael Brown, Sr. and Lesley McSpadden, issued this statement after the ruling:
"We are profoundly disappointed that the killer of our child will not face the consequence of his actions.
While we understand that many others share our pain, we ask that you channel your frustration in ways that will make a positive change. We need to work together to fix the system that allowed this to happen.
Join with us in our campaign to ensure that every police officer working the streets in this country wears a body camera. We respectfully ask that you please keep your protests peaceful. Answering violence with violence is not the appropriate reaction. Let's not just make noise, let's make a difference."