Last night St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Bob McCullouch gave a long, rambling press conference in which he announced that the grand jury decided not to indict Darren Wilson for the killing of Michael Brown. McCullouch, sounding more like a defense attorney than a prosecutor, repeatedly blamed social media and “the 24-hour news cycle” for the civil unrest which followed the shooting, and rather callously said of the grand jury that they “gave up their lives” to look over evidence in the case.
That last bit was necessary because he, as prosecutor, declined to take a position on whether or not the grand jury should indict. Here’s a Vox article on what that means, complete with this important quotation for former federal prosecutor Alex Little:
So when a District Attorney says, in effect, “we’ll present the evidence and let the grand jury decide,” that’s malarkey. If he takes that approach, then he’s already decided to abdicate his role in the process as an advocate for justice. At that point, there’s no longer a prosecutor in the room guiding the grand jurors, and — more importantly — no state official acting on behalf of the victim, Michael Brown…
Then, when you add to the mix that minorities are notoriously underrepresented on grand juries, you have the potential for nullification — of a grand jury declining to bring charges even when there is sufficient probable cause. That’s the real danger to this approach.
Mr. Little isn’t the only lawyer questioning the way this was handled. The National Bar Association almost immediately released a statement questioning the result, and requesting the U.S. Department of Justice to bring federal charges against Darren Wilson.
It’s crucial to remember: the grand jury has nothing to do with saying whether Darren Wilson was guilty or innocent. An indictment is just about whether or not to have a trial at all. By declining to indict, the grand jury declared that no crime was even committed in the fatal shooting of an unarmed 18-year-old, and the issue of Darren Wilson’s guilt or innocence need never be addressed.
The most important statement last night comes from Mike Brown’s family, who said,
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.
Let’s make a difference indeed. Let’s take military equipment out of the hands of the police. Let’s put a body camera on every cop in the country. Let’s do it in the name of Mike Brown and the many, many other victims of racially motivated police brutality. And let’s start with solidarity. There are are protests tonight all around the country, with a list aggregated here. I know where I’m going to be.