A St. Louis County grand jury has declined to indict Ferguson, Mo. police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of unarmed Black teen Michael Brown.
Prosecuting attorney Robert McCulloch spent several minutes explaining inconsistencies in the testimony of some witnesses and blaming the “24-hour news cycle” and social media before announcing the no bill returned by the grand jury.
Protesters had called for Wilson’s arrest since he shot and killed Brown on a Ferguson street on Aug. 9. The mismanagement of the investigation by Wilson’s colleagues and city leaders began immediately, as Brown’s body was left laying uncovered in the sun for hours as authorities began looking at evidence.
Soon, authorities were hiding Wilson’s identity, but sharing information that Brown was a suspect in a convenience-store robbery that took place just minutes before the confrontation between Wilson and Brown. What they failed to disclose initially was that Wilson did not know Brown was a suspect, and the confrontation took place only because Brown and a friend were walking in the street.
An autopsy showed he had been shot at least six times, including two wounds to the head.
Tensions rose quickly and protests escalated as Ferguson and St. Louis County police turned out in militaristic riot gear and positioned high-powered rifles atop armored personnel carriers, pointing them into the crowds. Dozens were arrested, including professor Cornel West.
Ferguson Mayor James Knowles claimed there is no racial divide in the city, despite the obvious mistrust between the almost entirely white police department and the city’s majority Black population. Or the white St. Louis Cardinals fans (and others influenced by the Koch Brothers’ publicity machine) mocking Black Ferguson protestors. Or the aggression of policeand national-guard troops and the way Highway Patrol Captain Ron Johnson—one of the few Black men amongst the authorities patrolling Ferguson—was able to calm the crowds and change the attitude of the gatherings.
Racial divide or not, what happened in Ferguson represents a complete breakdown in diversity management.
Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson released a poorly designed, half-hearted videotape apology, claiming he was “truly sorry” for the Brown family and the protesters. But his St. Louis County police counterpart, Chief John Belmar, said he did not regret using tear gas and pointing high-powered rifles from atop armored trucks at protesters.
But as leaks emerged from the grand jury—leaks that left Attorney General Eric Holder incensed and that included Wilson’s own personal testimony—and concerns about prosecutorRobert McCulloch’s motives and impartiality grew, Ferguson police spent more than $100,000 on new riot gear and tear gas in anticipation of escalating protests.
“If there is not an indictment, excuse my French, all hell is going to break loose,” one protester told CNN.
A coalition of local organizations asked for 36 hours’ notice of the grand jury’s decision to prepare and staff safe houses, where protesters could eat and receive medical attention. They asked officers to avoid using armored vehicles, tear gas and rubber bullets, and to only don riot gear as a last resort.
“There is going to be agitation and demonstration. It’s just a matter of what kind,” said Michael McPhearson, co-chair of the Don’t Shoot Coalition. “We aren’t trying to quiet people’s anger. We are just trying to direct it in a positive direction.”
School superintendents asked for the decision to be announced after 5 p.m. or on a weekend, due to safety concerns for students trying to get home from school.
“It’s a high-stress, low-trust environment,” said Johnetta Elzie, 25, one of the most visible and vocal protesters. “We are living day to day waiting on this announcement.”
But officials scoffed at many of the requests. Ed Magee, McCulloch’s spokesman, said prosecutors would inform police once the grand jury had reached a decision, but other advance-notice requests hadn’t been decided, nor had the timing for the manner of announcing the decision.
The Ferguson police, meanwhile, invested $65,000 in fresh riot gear, including body armor, helmets, shields and batons. Another $37,000 was spent on tear gas and smoke-and-gas grenades, pepper balls and plastic handcuffs.