One Thing I Know about Ferguson


    I don’t know enough about the facts of what happened that night in Ferguson to know with any certainty whether an indictment was called for or not. I’ve not explored the witness statements, and don’t know who or what to believe about what happened between Darrell Wilson and Mike Brown.

    But I do know that the authorities handled the legal process about it it quite wrongly.

    Their priority should have been to conduct the process in such a way as to maximize the chance that everyone would have confidence in its integrity and fairness. They didn’t even try.

    That should have been their priority because taking care not to damage the larger society by exacerbating a major fault line is what has been most important all along.

    Every effort should have been made to protect the society from further divisive wounding. The over-riding question for the county prosecutor, and for the Missouri governor, should have been: How can this be dealt with so that everyone feels assured that every good faith effort has been made to see that justice is done, whatever that may entail?

    That would have meant bringing in a special prosecutor, of unquestioned integrity, in charge of the investigation and the grand jury process.

    Even if the county prosecutor was indeed going to be fair, from the outset, he was not seen that way by the side most aggrieved. Leaving him in charge, pre-determined that, rightly or wrongly, a non-indictment would be seen as a failure of justice, and would unleash the pain and rage that we have seen.

    Then this prosecutor — with a personal history and set of allegiances that already seemed to stack the deck — proceeded to conduct the grand jury process in a very unorthodox way, not seeking an indictment as prosecutors generally do, but leaving to the grand jury what prosecutors generally do. This alteration of the usual process clearly served the interest of the accused.

    And finally there were the leaks, all of which served the interests of the officer who shot Mike Brown.

    All in all, the prosecutor and the Missouri governor failed to do what was required. They proceeded in a way that placed dynamite along a sensitive fault line, and now that community, that state, and our nation are unnecessarily wounded.

    It didn’t have to be this way, indictment or no. Not if proper care had been taken.

    We don’t need to know anything about the shooting to know that the officials in charge here failed to serve the public interest.

    • last night were also widly “off.”  I mean, was this guy trying to present the grand jury decision in the most chip-on-his-shoulder defense, not to mention inflammatory, way possible or what?

    • Jim B

      Seems to me they could have preserved their power by doing the right thing. Cops like Wilson are dime a dozen so getting rid of him would not be a great loss. If they keep him they risk a greater financial loss for the community than letting him go.

    • Basically, the prosecutor did a horrible, unprofessional, bizarre job with the grand jury. WTF?

    • pvogel

      mcCulloch is the son of a police officer who was shot in the line of duty. In his 24 years as prosecutor, he has never recommended charges against any police officer.

    • Quizzical

      Here is an interesting take on the grand jury process that was employed in this case:

      The gist of it is that in the normal grand jury process, a prosecutor is not required to present all the exculpatory evidence to the grand jury, and very rarely does.  And of course, normally grand jury proceedings are secret.  Here, the prosecutor presented all the exculpatory evidence to the grand jury, and in addition, most if not all of the grand jury proceedings have been made public.

      So that gets us to the question whether the procedure followed here was wrong or unjust.  It seems to me that that is a difficult leap to take.  That would be like saying that justice required the prosecutor to keep the grand jury ignorant of exculpatory evidence.  

      It can be said that the police officer probably got special treatment not accorded to the run-of-the-mill felony suspect. On the other hand, police officers are authorized by law to carry firearms and to use them when deadly force is allowed, which made this a much different case than the run-of-the-mill felony.  So how do you get into that without eyewitness testimony as to the blow by blow sequence of events?  Further, if a grand jury will not indict even under the lower standard of probable cause, which only requires that it is more likely than not that a crime was committed and the accused did it, then why should there be a full blown jury trial under the more stringent beyond a reasonable doubt standard?  True, an indictment might have been a club to force Wilson to plea bargain to some lesser included offense.  That’s how the game is played, but is that justice?

      The more I learn about this case, the more I believe it all comes back to the guns.  Did you read or hear the gist of Wilson’s interview?  He justified the shooting by saying that he was being charged by Brown and that Brown was reaching into his waistband and was concerned about whether Brown had a handgun, and felt that he had to start shooting to save his own life.  This was the first time he ever used his handgun on duty. So there it is.

      A couple of quick Google searches shows that it is estimated that there are enough privately owned firearms in this country to equip every man, woman, and child with one; and that there are on average 100,000 shootings in the United States every year, of course not all shootings are fatal.  And not all gunshots actually hit people.  So into this we send our police officers, themselves heavily armed and wearing bullet proof vests, to enforce law and order.  It is inevitable there are going to be police shootings when we are tolerant of a gun-crazy society like we have.  

      So I have to agree with Holly Near, that if it were up to me, I’d take away the guns.…  

    • Jim B

      Back to Wilson again. He should never been hired as a policeman in the first place. In the comments above it is reported he used his pistol for the first time. Well he sure made a mess of that. Another dumb move was using his vehicle to get near Brown and his friend. Then an even dumber move was to reach out of the car window and grab Brown. Then, he apparently pulled his pistol still while in the car and shoots(this may be verified by the powder burn on Brown’s thumb). Later he shoots multiple times. You wonder if he had any regards for the neighborhood where a stray bullet could have hit someone else. All in all he wasn’t ready for prime time.

    • Andy Schmookler

      I posted a version of this piece on my FB page first, and them it was picked up by a Tea Partier of my acquaintance. He posted it under a caption suggesting that I was working to “dumb down” the left.

      A discussion ensued that I find discouraging and downright disturbing on more levels than I care to enumerate.

      Maybe I’m mistaken in my impression of the America I grew up in and, indeed, up until the past decade plus. But I think there are aspects of brokenness of thought and feeling on display here — and in the subculture of the right generally in these times — that were hard to find, confined more to the fringe, in the earlier eras.

      If you’ve got the appetite, or at least the stomach, for it, the exchange can be found here: