Grand Jury Clears Officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson Shooting

( [email protected] ) Nov 25, 2014 12:31 PM EST
Ferguson Riot
A police car burns on the street after a grand jury returned no indictment in the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Photo by Jim Young / REUTERS

On Monday, a St. Louis, Mo. grand jury chose not to indict Darren Wilson, a Caucasian police officer, in the shooting death of Michael Brown, an unarmed, 18-year-old African-American man. The decision, from three black and nine white jurors who were chosen in May, came after nearly three months and more than 70 hours of testimony from 60 different witnesses.

During the 45 minute reading, Robert P. McCulloch, St. Louis County prosecuting attorney, gave his perspective on the past 90 days, as well as a step-by-step synopsis of events surrounding the case. The biggest challenge, he said, was the 24 hour news cycle - what he called 'an insatiable appetite for any type of news' - and rumors that inundated social media.

"The duty of the grand jury is to separate fact from fiction," McCulloch said from the courthouse in Clayton, Mo. "This grand jury is not deciding innocence or guilt but deciding if there is probable cause to send this to trial."

The majority of officer involved shooting cases in the U.S. do not go before a grand jury.

On Aug. 9, Wilson, 28, shot and fatally wounded Brown on a residential street in Ferguson. As Brown and a friend walked home from a convenience store where the duo was allegedly involved in a robbery, Wilson and Brown scuffled and the shooting occurred.

Within minutes after the incident, varying accounts began to surface as people took to social media. Some witnesses claimed that Brown's hands were raised and he was trying to surrender when Wilson fired repeatedly. Others said he was shot several times in the back though two autopsies determined those claims to be false. A third autopsy, completed by the FBI, is still pending.

President Obama addressed the nation from the White House Monday night, and called for better representation of communities in the ranks of local police departments, fair conduct by law enforcement, and peaceful protests in response to the decision.

"The fact is that in too many parts of this country a deep distrust exists between law enforcement and communities of color," the president said. "Some of this is the result of the legacy of racial discrimination in this country...the good news is we know there are things we can do to help."

Weighing in on the case earlier this month, Thabiti Anyabwile, a former Muslim and pastor at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., exhorted people of all colors to work together.

"White Americans need to learn to read the history and accept the history... and conversely African Americans need to learn to be more careful about individual incidents. Not every incident can be rolled up in that history...not every incident of conflict with the police is one of mistreatment."

On Monday, hundreds were in the streets of Ferguson awaiting the decision. As protestors stood bundled up in 40 degree weather, one group of younger women gathered in a circle to chant in unison "Hey, hey, ho, ho, these killer cops have got to go."

Prior to the decision, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon had already activated the state's National Guard and declared a state of emergency. And with more than 100 FBI agents on the ground, according to ABC News, and the community on lockdown, McCulloch appealed for peace in the streets.

"It is important to note here and say again that they are the only people who have heard and examined every witness and every piece of evidence," McCulloh said about the grand jury. "They discussed and debated the evidence themselves before deciding on their decision. They determined that there is no probable cause to file charges against Officer Darren Wilson."

Ferguson Riot
A protester faces off against a line of police on the 110 freeway during a demonstration in Los Angeles, California on November 24. Photo by Lucy Nicholson/REUTERS

Less than 90 minutes later, looting, gun shots, car fires and vandalism was afoot. As rocks and bottles were hurled at police by protestors and one group attempted to overturn a police vehicle, officers responded with tear gas. Protesting continued throughout the night, and Tuesday morning saw smoke rising from a dozen or so building fires. Peaceful protests also took place around the city.

President Obama expressed his belief that relations between police and communities of color are not just a Ferguson problem, but an issue for America, and called for more progress.

"That won't be done by throwing bottles. That won't be done by smashing car windows. That won't be done by using this as an excuse to vandalize property. And that certainly won't be done by hurting anybody."

But even as the president's words were broadcast across the nation, many television viewers watched a live video stream of plundering, flames and chaos. ABC News reporter Micah Grimes was on the ground in Ferguson and called it "basically anarchy." He ran for his life as violence quickly erupted around him, and the sound of smashing glass intensified.

While some have accused McCulloch of shirking his duties as a prosecutor, he believes that handing so much responsibly over to the community, and not just the authorities, was the best choice. Putting this decision in the grand jury's hands, he said, was the fairest way to do it.

"For the integrity of our investigation, almost all witness interviews were recorded," he said. "Jurors were able to assess the credibility of the witnesses, including those whose testimony remained consistent and was consistent with the physical evidence in this case."

McCulloch also expressed his desire to release all testimony, and by late Monday night, more than 1,000 pages of evidence were out.

Brown's family immediately issued a statement following the announcement.

"We are profoundly disappointed that the killer of our child will not face the consequence of his actions," the family said. "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."

Wilson, who married fellow Ferguson police officer Barbara Spradling last month, issued a short thank you to supporters and their dedication to his cause. He still faces the possibility of a civil suit brought against him, as well as a federal investigation.

Albert Mohler, theologian and president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said on his podcast Tuesday morning, "Intelligent Christians operating out of a Biblical world view know that this is not just the problem of Ferguson, Missouri - it's the problem of the human heart."

Ferguson Riot
A woman holds a child before the verdict was announced in the shooting death of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown, at Union Square in New York. Photo by Shannon Stapleton/Reuters

The Bible alone provides an understanding of where these problems reside, where they come from, and how they can be solved, Mohler said. "As Christians, we cannot look for a false sense of peace in this world."

Responding to the actions of Wilson and Brown in early November, Anyabwile said, "There are details there that nobody knows except the Lord, and there's a judicial process that will need to wind its way through, and we live in a land of law and order."

Anyabwile pointed to a shift in civil rights leadership and a migration away from the Biblical principles that charged leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr. "With this change in leadership, there's no longer as closely hinged a relationship between the values that are being fought for and the Bible."

Expressing his concern as an African American leader in the Christian community, Anyabwile said, "I hope that we're learning together as we look at things like Ferguson."

Tags : Grand Jury, Police Officer Darren Wilson, Ferguson Shooting, Christian Response, No Indictment, Black Discrimination, Crime and Violence