What you need to know about what happened in Ferguson and around the county
Last night, a Missouri grand jury announced their decision in the case of white police officer Darren Wilson, who, in August, shot and killed an unarmed black teenager named Michael Brown in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson. The grand jury decided not to indict Wilson for his action, a decision that sparked protests around the country, scenes of riot police beating back people as they chanted “Hands up, don’t shoot” and “Black lives matter.” It is a moment our children will likely learn about in school, it is a moment that shows the deep racial divides still alive in our country in 2014, and it is a moment we need to pay attention to. Here is a rundown of the events in Ferguson, both what happened and what happens next.
There has been much speculation about what transpired between Officer Wilson and Brown on August 9, the day that he shot the 18-year-old Michael Brown to death. Before a grand jury of nine white and three African-American citizens, Wilson testified that Brown had reached into the police car and fought him for his gun. He also said that Brown ran at him, at which point Wilson shot him in self-defense. (This account has been publicly questioned, as Brown was unarmed.) Other witnesses gave testimony around the event (60 witnesses in total over 70 hours), with some saying that Brown appeared to surrender to the officer right before he was shot. There is no dispute over whether or not Wilson killed him, the issue is over whether or not he was acting in self defense. The grand jury went into deliberations on Friday. On Sunday night, the grand jury announced their decision: Wilson’s killing of Brown was not a crime.
What it means
Because a grand jury’s decision is not determining whether there is reasonable doubt, but establishing if there was probable cause that Wilson committed a crime. Grand juries usually rule for indictment because the burden of proof is so much lighter. This non-indictment is unusual, and we may never know what piece of evidence was the one that ultimately caused the group towards leaning away from indicting Wilson. For the short term, it means that Wilson will face no state charges for his actions.
Why it’s not over
Even though the grand jury didn’t indict Wilson, it doesn’t mean that he won’t face any further legal action. Wilson could face civil suit from Brown’s family for Michael Brown’s death. There are also two federal investigations currently looking into the case—a civil rights inquiry into Wilson’s actions and an inquiry into whether the Ferguson Police Department has a pattern of civil rights violations. There is also a petition calling for Attorney General Eric Holder to bring federal charges against Darren Wilson under hate crime statutes.
What the reaction has been
All over the country, people gathered to protest the decision in Ferguson. In St Louis, schools were shut down in the wake of the decision, due to enormous groups of protestors on the streets and sidewalks. Police made 61 arrests last night in Ferguson. Missouri Governor Jay Nixon declared a state of emergency. In New York City last night, protestors shut down bridges to traffic, and demonstrators stood outside the White House in protest. A sense of injustice over the decision has sparked reactions both online and on foot all over the country. Meanwhile, legal experts are weighing in, and according to the Washington Post, some feel the decision reflects a willingness to give officers of the law the benefit of the doubt.
How President Obama’s reacted to the decision
In a statement last night, the President urged calm even as he acknowledged the frustration and anger that the decision had caused. “The fact is, in too many parts of this country, a deep distrust exists between law enforcement and communities of color. Some of this is the result of the legacy of racial discrimination in this country. And this is tragic because nobody needs good policing more than poor communities with higher crime rates,” Obama said. “We need to recognize that this is not just an issue for Ferguson, this is an issue for America.”
What Michael Brown’s family stated about the decision
Following the grand jury’s decision, the family of Michael Brown released a statement through their lawyer. Their sentiment was both heartbreaking and incredibly brave. “We are profoundly disappointed that the killer of our child will not face the consequence of his actions,” the family stated. “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.”