What held grand jury back from indicting Wilson in Ferguson shooting case?

Did Michael Brown, an 18-year-old teenager scare Wilson because he was Black or did Wilson simply defend himself?

FP Staff November 25, 2014 16:55:14 IST
What held grand jury back from indicting Wilson in Ferguson shooting case?

"Just coming straight at me like he was going to run right through me. And when he gets about that 8 to 10 feet away, I look down, I remember looking at my sites and firing, all I see is his head and that's what I shot."

Officer Darren Wilson's said this, part of his testimony before the grand jury that decided not to indict him. Much of the race and social justice debates begin right here, in this moment that Wilson describes. Did Michael Brown, an 18-year-old teenager scare Wilson because he was Black or did Wilson simply defend himself?

Lets understand at the very outset that grand juries determine only whether probable cause exists to indict, (in this case) Wilson, not whether he is guilty. If the jury had returned an indictment, a separate trial jury would have been seated to decide whether to convict or acquit him.

What held grand jury back from indicting Wilson in Ferguson shooting case

Ferguson, Missouri. Representational Image. Reuters

So why did the jury decide to not indict Wilson? Following are three possible scenarios which explain why the grand jury might have decided against indicting Wilson.

1) Wilson was allowed to use deadly force to defend himself

Under Missouri law, Wilson is allowed to use deadly force against Brown for two main reasons, the Guardian reported. "If he believed that Brown posed him or others a threat of death or serious injury, or if he believed that Brown was trying to escape and that if he got away he would pose that same threat of death or serious injury."

"Just coming straight at me like he was going to run right through me. And when he gets about that 8 to 10 feet away, I look down, I remember looking at my sites and firing, all I see is his head and that's what I shot." Wilson said in his testimony before the grand jury.

Additionally, the severity of Wilson's injuries that he had sustained in the alleged altercation also play a crucial role in determining whether he needed to defend himself and whether any other reasonable police officer in his situation would've done the same thing.

2) Police officers are rarely indicted by grand juries

In country where grand juries rarely don't indict, police officers are an exception. A piece in Fivethirtyeight quoting numbers from Bureau of Justice Statistics says, US attorneys prosecuted 162,000 federal cases in 2010 of which grand juries didn't return an indictment in 11 of them. Getting a grand jury indictment, as these numbers show, isn't an arduous task. And yet, when it comes to police officers, indictments are rare and few.

Three things could've led to this: juror bias - jurors are likely to trust police officers and trust their decisions in these moments, fivethirtyeight reported. Enlisting other reasons, the article says:

"The second is prosecutorial bias: Perhaps prosecutors, who depend on police as they work on criminal cases, tend to present a less compelling case against officers, whether consciously or unconsciously. The third possible explanation is more benign. Ordinarily, prosecutors only bring a case if they think they can get an indictment. But in high-profile cases such as police shootings, they may feel public pressure to bring charges even if they think they have a weak case."

3) The far right's 'Michael Brown was a thug' smear campaign

Even before footage of Michael Brown stealing cigars emerged, many in the far right had jumped to conclusions. Many had already concluded that Brown was a criminal, a thug who had it coming. More so he was black. The Daily Beast reported:

"The website of Pat Dollard—the genocide-encouraging conservative filmmaker and former cocaine-snorting Hollywood agent—published a story under the headline “EXPOSED: Michael Brown Was A Member Of The Ultraviolent ‘Bloods’ Street Gang.” There is no evidence to back up that allegation, and Brown had no criminal record; Dollard’s site merely posted a few photos of Brown doing things with his hands. Still, the pictures naturally made the rounds in the darker corners of conservative Twitter and social media, and far-right bloggers like Jim Hoft needed little convincing to run with them."

Does that give Wilson a right to shoot? To use this as a justification is as good as saying cases can turn on demeanour or looks, that evidence itself has no value. It's not like Michael Brown is around to tell his side of the story.

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