What We Know about Ferguson

There has been a lot of nonsense peddled out there online since Prosecutor Bob McCulloch announced that Darren Wilson would not be indicted by the Grand Jury on last Monday evening. I’ve heard people saying that the Grand Jury cleared him because of evidence. This was very emphatically and confidently stated, even though to even speak of evidence is to incorrectly understand the role and intention of a Grand Jury. So here is a helpful list of things we know about Grand Juries and the particular Grand Jury assembled in Ferguson.

– A Grand Jury does not determine innocence or guilt. They do not “clear” individuals. These are the terms most people are speaking about the Ferguson ruling with, including sources that ought to know better, like the media. In fact, a Grand Jury “is a legal body that is empowered to conduct official proceedings to investigate potential criminal conduct and to determine whether criminal charges should be brought.” Grand Juries do not determine innocence and guilt. They determine if the prosecution has a case. As Nancy Leong, Professor of Law at University of Denver Sturm Law College writes, “Grand juries don’t decide whether someone is innocent or guilty. Nor do they “acquit” people, as do juries in criminal trials. Grand juries simply decide whether there is probable cause to indict someone for a crime.”

– We know that Prosecutor Bob McCulloch was just supposed to present the evidence of the prosecution, not to present equal evidence for both sides. Because it is not a court jury, despite the deceiving name. The Grand Jury is assembled by the Prosecutor to present his case against the defendant, to determine whether such a case merits a trial. Even Justice Scolia, the Rush Limbaugh of the Supreme Court, writes, “As a consequence, neither in this country nor in England has the suspect under investigation by the grand jury ever been thought to have a right to testify or to have exculpatory evidence presented.” Instead, McCulloch allowed Wilson to testify and presented contrary evidence, which is fundamentally contrary to the purpose of a Grand Jury. This resulted in the conclusion of the Jury. As the New Yorker notes:

McCulloch gave Wilson’s case special treatment. He turned it over to the grand jury, a rarity itself, and then used the investigation as a document dump, an approach that is virtually without precedent in the law of Missouri or anywhere else. Buried underneath every scrap of evidence McCulloch could find, the grand jury threw up its hands and said that a crime could not be proved.

– McCulloch has a long history of being pro-police and essentially served as Wilson’s defense attorney during the Grand Jury. As the Washington Post noted, “McCulloch essentially acknowledged that his team was serving as Wilson’s defense lawyers, noting that prosecutors ‘challenged’ and ‘confronted’ witnesses by pointing out previous statements and evidence that discredited their accounts. … This shouldn’t be a surprise, given McCulloch’s history. That his father, a police officer, was killed by a black suspect doesn’t by itself disqualify him, but his record should have: not a single prosecution of a shooting by police in his 23 years on the job. Four times he presented evidence to a grand jury in such a case and didn’t get an indictment; now he can add a fifth.” You can read more about McCulloch’s ridiculously biased career here, care of Newsweek.

– We also know that if McCulloch wanted an indictment he would have gotten one. The famous saying about Grand Juries is that the prosecutor could “indict a ham sandwich.” Out of over 160,000 Grand Juries in 2010, only 11 were returned without an indictment. According to Andrew Leipold, a law professor at the University of Illinois, “If the prosecutor wants an indictment and doesn’t get one, something has gone horribly wrong. … It just doesn’t happen.” Yet instead, McCulloch conducted himself like Wilson’s defense attorney, according to the Grand Jury transcripts.

– We know that McCulloch’s assistant gave the Grand Jury a 1979 statute that permits a police officer to use lethal force if they have “reasonable belief” that there is danger to them or others. What McCulloch’s office did not tell the Grand Jury was that this statute had been ruled unconstitutional in 1985 and replaced with “probable cause,” which in legal terms must be based not on perception but upon evidence and fact, which Darren Wilson certainly did not have. This was not corrected to the Grand Jury for over six weeks, until they were about to deliberate. When a Juror asked about this and whether the Supreme Court trumped state law, McCulloch’s assistant told the Grand Jury, “Don’t worry about that.”

– We also know that it is virtually impossible to bring charges against a police officer, as Federal Prosecutor Jenny Durkan writes.

– We know that the Ferguson police department lied to the public for 108 straight days regarding the distance between Darren Wilson and Michael Brown. They claimed Brown died 35 feet from Wilson’s SUV. In fact, Brown died 148 feet away from Wilson (roughly half of a football field), a story initially broken by Shaun King of DailyKos and finally confirmed by McCulloch himself. We shouldn’t be surprised. This is the same department that released a tape alleging that Brown had robbed a convenience store even though the tape shows him paying for what he supposedly stole. This is the department that beat an unarmed black man and charged him for bleeding on their uniforms. This is the department in which one of their corrections officers allegedly raped a pregnant woman locked in their jail. This is the department that didn’t bother to take measurements or photographs of the crime scene because they thought it was unnecessary, and which allowed Wilson to drive himself away from the crime scene in the SUV that served as evidence, allowed him to wash the blood off of his hands, and bag his own gun for evidence.

– We know that Witness 10 was vital to Darren Wilson’s escape from indictment because Bob McCulloch quotes from Witness 10 in his press release, the only witness he bothered to quote. Yet this witnesses testimony is extremely unreliable.

– We know that another witness vital to Wilson’s case is an admitted racist, according to the Washington Post. Read a detailed report of the witness statements from DailyKos.

– We know that the National Bar Association has called the Grand Jury proceedings into question.

Wilson’s testimony comes across as the ramblings of a white supremicist. He refers to Brown as “it” in his testimony, and that he looked like a demon. “The only way I can describe it, it looks like a demon, that’s how angry he looked.” This is the ultimate in dehumanization, perceiving another human being to be a being of supernatural evil and strength.

– We know that the Right-wing echo-chamber spread false information about Brown and Wilson both; that Wilson’s injuries were severe and that Brown was a thug. Jim Hoft, of the Gateway Pundit, claimed that Brown was a thug based on information he gained from the white supremicist and KKK-affiliated group, the Council of Conservative Citizens. Hoft also claimed that Wilson suffered from severe facial injuries, even though this turned out to be totally untrue. But you won’t be able to find Hoft’s article claiming Wilson was seriously injured, because once it was shown to be false he altered the content and title of his piece.

– We know that the Right circulated photographs like this, claiming them to be Officer Wilson, and managed to raise over 500,000 dollars for Wilson on that basis, falsely implying that Wilson needed to cover his own legal fees.

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Here we have Wilson and his “injuries” on the right, and the photo peddled by the Right to raise money for Wilson on the left.

– Speaking of Wilson, we know that he recently married his lover while the Grand Jury deliberated, a police office with whom he (also married) had been having an affair. We know that before he came to Ferguson he was working at a police department that was completely dismantled for its systemic problems with racial abuses. And then, of course, there is the video that surfaced two weeks ago of Wilson verbally abusing a man for filming him, who Wilson then arrested and wrote a report that covered up the events on the tape. Yet police like Wilson are still model policemen for white Americans. But that would likely be because most white Americans are completely oblivious to African-American experience in our country.

– Also speaking of Wilson, while ABC denies they paid Wilson any money for his recent hour-long interview, NBC reports they engaged in an expensive bidding war with ABC for the right to the first interview. ABC eventually won with a “mid to high” six-figure payment – between 500,000 and 900,000 dollars. Which means that Wilson walked away from shooting an unarmed teenager in the middle of the street with the better part of a million dollars.

And people want us to believe our society isn’t racist.

If you seriously think any kind of justice was served by this prosecutor or this Grand Jury, you are truly deluded.

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