I have to admit to being torn about the situation in Ferguson, Missouri. As one who always bends toward being the protector of the weak, it would be normal for me to jump head-long into protesting the treatment of the young man who was killed. There is a part of me that has gone there, and I am fully aware of the issues surrounding the place in the justice system for people of color. They regularly get a raw deal. The System isn’t geared toward them in many ways, and our society has not yet embraced multi-culturalism to the degree I would like to see it.
It is clear that there were flubs and flaws along the way in this case that don’t make it a clear-cut situation. The most obvious flaw, to me, was the decision to wait until after dark to announce the decision of the Grand Jury. That was a stage that spelled trouble from the git-go. Had the announcement been made in a timely fashion it might not have been as dramatic as it was in the dark.
But there is more to the complexity of this situation. One, which I have chosen to speak to, is a common misunderstanding about what actually happened behind the closed doors of the Grand Jury Room. To listen to some of those being interviewed on television and radio and to read the commentary on Facebook and in the print media, it would seem that the police officer in the shooting was found to be innocent. That is not the case.
A Grand Jury is charged with the task of asking if an allegation of wrong-doing is sufficient to require a case to proceed to trial. In a sense, the defendant is not the focus of the Grand Jury action…the Attorney General is. The question before them is: “Has the Attorney General’s office substantially shown that the evidence before them indicates that the accused should stand trial?” If so, the accused is indicted and a trial is forthcoming.
If the evidence is insufficient to assure the Grand Jury that a trial is warranted…or if the Attorney General’s office has not adequately presented evidence that a trial is warranted, the accused is not held for trial. There is no assessment of guilt or innocence…that can happen only in a trial.
In this case, some variations on the Grand Jury process took place, and the Attorney General’s office did not seem to believe that a trial was warranted. Their presentation of the facts was insufficient to sway the Grand Jury toward a trial. This is the issue which has riled the crowds. They believe that the accused, the police officer, has been let off the hook by the Attorney General’s office.
The Attorney General of Missouri chose to give the decision to the Grand Jury rather than directing the Grand Jury to bring a decision for a trial, which is the usual method. They saw evidence that is usually reserved for a trial. There were a number of inconsistencies in the methodology of the Attorney General which reflect upon the Grand Jury, who can only do what they are directed to do. They have said that they saw nothing that upheld a decision (not a judgment) that would lead to indictment of the police officer. They may have done their job perfectly.
It may well be that there is insufficient evidence to lead to trial. Or vice-versa. But a perceived prejudice in favor of the accused, an officer of the law, has angered the crowds who believe that there has not been enough proper legal procedure to walk away from a trial. Race is an issue. But that cannot be determined because there will be no trial during which testimony can be disputed.
It appears that there will be further inquiry by the Federal Government on charges that go beyond the County in Missouri. They may well override this decision and charge the officer with violation of federal laws. One of the questions is whether there is an indication of racial bias on the part of the police officer (and the police department.)
And, of course, there can be a civil trial which is not about criminal activity on anyone’s part. It is about whether there are circumstances which require monetary remuneration of the family of the young man who died. That is a totally different situation with different rules.
So, you can see why I’m torn, and why I’m uncomfortable with the reactions which have led to rioting. I don’t think that’s the correct way to resolve this situation. Someone should be calling for the Governor to appoint a special investigator to determine if the Grand Jury process was violated in favor of the police officer. Burning buildings and destroying police cars is not helping that come about. It is just lawlessness spawned by people who have let their long-festering anger pour out. It foments responses against inappropriate stereotypes of people of color, and so clouds the situation that it will be difficult to proceed if this wanton rioting continues.
I’m not sure who is right in this story. But until the emotions are replaced with good thinking, we’ll never know.
Photo Credit: Weekly Standard