The St. Louis prosecutor, Robert McCullough, has started the Grand Jury process involving the shooting death of Michael Brown. It could take as long as two months and perhaps more before it is concluded. Time will tell but based on the makeup of the St. Louis Grand Jury which is 75% white, there is little reason, in my opinion, to believe that a majority white Grand Jury will indict Officer Darren Wilson. White people have not had the experiences with police officers that young black men encounter on a daily basis all across America. And the grand jurors’ decision will likely fall among racial lines. This is despite the fact that most whites don’t see what happened to Michael Brown as racially motivated.
PEW research conducted during the period of August 14 – 17 shows the racial divide on Ferguson. When asked if the shooting was a racial issue, 80% of African Americans who were polled responded “yes” while only 43% of whites feel the shooting of Michael Brown was a race issue. And while 65% of African Americans believe the police have gone too far in Ferguson, only 33% of whites in the poll believe the police have gone too far. Very few African Americans have confidence in the investigation into the shooting death of Mike Brown. Over half of white Americans have confidence in the investigation versus only 18% of African Americans.
Another reason of the unlikeness of an indictment is how the Ferguson police handled the case. The Ferguson police officer, Darren Wilson, killed Mike Brown and then the Ferguson Police Chief assassinated his character by showing a robbery video to the public. Meanwhile, the St. Louis prosecutor has said he intends to keep witness statements out of the public. And Ferguson Police Department tried to keep the identity of the officer hidden until they were forced to reveal his name. And no incident report has surfaced to date. They are still working on it. Yet, the police chose to show Mike Brown on videotape in the convenience store with a purported robbery. Can anyone spell double standard? As a young black man, Michael Brown’s life is already devalued by many in America. Many non-minorities never see the humanity of black men. Instead they only see thugs, killers, robbers, drug users and always someone “up to no good”. “Up to no good” has become the standard legal defense in cases involving a killing of a black man. The victim was probably “up to no good” as if to say he or she got what they deserved.
And perhaps the main reason for the lack of confidence in an indictment against Officer Darren Wilson stems from Robert McCullough, the County Prosecutor who is presenting the case to the Grand Jury. McCullough comes from a family of police officers and wanted to become a police officer. His father was an officer and was killed when McCullough was 12. McCullough’s dream of becoming a police officer was abandoned when he lost a leg to cancer. Yet, with all the appearances of his inability to be objective, McCullough refused to allow a special prosecutor to be appointed. He decides what evidence to bring before the Grand Jury. And apparently, he has decided to present everything to the Grand Jury. Usually a prosecutor decides what goes before the Grand Jury. The prosecutor also usually presents the charges to the Grand Jury that it wants the indictment on the individual. Nothing is business as usual in Ferguson prosecutor’s office.
McCullough says all witnesses will be taken before the Grand Jury. The Grand Jury indictment standard is well below the one of reasonable doubt in trials. In theory, the standard in which to indict is a much lower standard. And unlike a criminal trial, the decision of the grand jurors does not have to be unanimous for an indictment to issue—only 9 in favor are required. And so as the Grand Jury process begins, I hope for an indictment but do not expect an indictment against Darren Wilson for the death of Mike Brown. The deck was stacked against Mike Brown long before August 9. And even after death, the deck is still stacked against him. He was, after all, a black man in America.
UPDATE: As of October 1, 2014 there is information to believe the Grand Jury might need to be investigated as there are alleged leaks coming from within the Grand Jurors with postings on social media by friends of the jurors. Now the Grand Jurors who should be determining charges or not in the Michael Brown killing may be investigated.
Debbie Hines is a trial lawyer, legal analyst and former prosecutor. She frequently appears in the media addressing issues of race, class and gender in the law.