We've collectively missed the point, allowing the media to redirect the narrative surrounding the shooting of Michael Brown. I know, I'm a member of said media, so I'm at least partially culpable for not having done more to stem this tide. Since Aug. 9 the public has been misled into equating "justice" with a grand jury indictment against Ferguson officer Darren Wilson.
Have we not learned anything from the trial of George Zimmerman?
An indictment is not the justice Brown supporters are searching for, and its constant positioning as such is tremendously damaging and dangerous. And given the questionable procedural decisions by prosecutor Bob McCulloch and the Ferguson police department's selective leaks, any subsequent trial is already doomed.
Let's be clear on who Bob McCullough is and his path to becoming prosecutor.
McCulloch's father was a police officer who was killed by an African-American man when McCulloch was 12. McCulloch's brother, cousin and even an uncle all served with the St. Louis Police Department. That's not even including his mother, who worked there as a clerk.
McCulloch's original life ambition was to be a police officer like his father, but due to cancer, which led to a leg amputation, that dream was taken. Instead, McCulloch chose to pursue becoming a prosecutor, as it was "the next best thing."
In 2001, two undercover drug officers from Dellwood shot and killed two men on the parking lot of a Jack in the Box in north St. Louis County. The officers said the suspects, who had prior felony convictions for drug and assault offenses, tried to escape arrest and then drove toward the officers.
A subsequent federal investigation showed that the men were unarmed and that their car had not moved forward when the officers fired 21 shots and killed the suspects, Earl Murray and Ronald Beasley. The probe, however, also concluded that because the officers feared for their safety, the shootings were justified.
McCulloch refused to prosecute the officers. St. Louis has a documented history of facts not always making their way into the investigation of police officers killing unarmed citizens. McCulloch has a long, documented and questionable history of siding with law enforcement, even if the facts urge otherwise. But the subjectivity of "feared for their safety," even in the absence of a weapon or evidence to support the official narrative, is not lost on the residents of St. Louis County when the discussion turns to Michael Brown.
The false narrative largely promulgated by the media has been that the unrest in Ferguson is mostly, if not solely, about the killing of Michael Brown. It's untrue, and we the public have been complicit in this. The issues of police brutality and judicial injustice never play out in a vacuum, but we've allowed the issue of Ferguson to be portrayed as such.
This is not and never been just about Michael Brown. As the unrest in the wake of the Rodney King verdict wasn't just about Rodney King. It was also about Latasha Harlins, a 15-year-old girl shot in the back of the head for supposedly trying to steal a single bottle of orange juice. She died with the money in her hand. All of it was caught on video. The Korean grocer Son Ja Du received probation and community service. Harlins' video appeared 13 days after the Rodney King police beating video.
The discussion in past weeks has been about how Ferguson law enforcement and law-abiding citizens are preparing for an eventual grand jury decision and whether it will lead to violence. Most outlets have been strident in their coverage in a hopeful, self-fulfilling-promise sort of way. I get it: "Rioting" make for ratings, and so does the fear-mongering that precedes it. But we should see it for what it is.
Curiously enough, even though there is violence annually because some team in some city won some championship, or even something more inane like a pumpkin festival takes place, news outlets and commentators instead have worked overtime whipping the Ferguson community into a frenzy, arguably outright rooting for violence. It's been irresponsible and downright shameful.
The last time we saw such reprehensible drumbeats forecasting African-American violence, it never materialized. George Zimmerman went free, and the previous months of predictions were miles off the mark.
But back to Ferguson....
If you view a grand jury indictment as either "justice" or a step towards justice, you are deceiving yourself. Finding probable cause and bringing charges do not suggest prosecutor Bob McCulloch is remotely committed to putting a St. Louis officer in jail, much less for killing an African-American man.
True justice requires more than merely publicizing the process. It must also be transparent and without even the appearance of bias and impropriety.
Is this case about race?
Ferguson residents and the multitude of African Americans around the country will say it is. The Justice Department has run a parallel investigation to assess whether Brown's rights were violated for reasons specifically relating to race. And this too is about how poorly expectations have been managed. The reality is that there is less chance of the DOJ filing charges than of Bob McCulloch doing so.
That was not a typo. I do mean less of a chance.
That's not an indictment (no pun intended) of the DOJ but an acknowledgment of the much narrower scope of its investigation. Conceivably, Wilson could be indicted and later found guilty of manslaughter or homicide with that having no bearing on whether federal charges would be brought forth. Because this has been less discussed, explained and emphasized, many have an unfair and unrealistic expectation of what is to happen and the reasons why. The DOJ isn't on the ground as insurance but instead for a different type of investigation. Better and more comprehensive news coverage would have gone a long way toward deescalating the situation leading up to the eventual grand jury decision.
We in the media failed miserably in best informing the masses. We the public need to be clear what is about to happen and why.
Instead, we have thousands of people all around the country pinning their hopes on an unlikely indictment, which would only proceed to an even less likely guilty verdict at trial. And all of it would be under the direction of a prosecutor who has been behaving more as counsel for the defense than an agent of the state every step of the way.
Poorly managed expectations are what lead to tremendous disappointment and unrest. The anger is absolutely justified, but disappointment will not be. We should be angry, but not surprised or even disappointed. The St. Louis/Ferguson authorities have clearly shown us who they are.
At the heart of the matter is the well-earned distrust of the process as a whole. With a non-existent police incident report, medical report or X-rays to validate an extensively rumored eye injury to Wilson, the Ferguson police department has rightfully earned more than just a healthy level of skepticism. But for their efforts, they also were delivered a well-tainted jury pool.
From the mishandling of Brown's body to the selective leaking of toxicology and grand jury testimony, the Ferguson authorities not only have "unclean hands" but have waved them wildly with double middle fingers extended for all to see.
Justice will not be found in any such process or even in any indictment. It is virtually unheard of to not complete an incident report in an officer-involved shooting death. Ferguson said it turned the case over to county authorities... but somehow managed to complete and release the liquor store incident report, although it only happened mere minutes before the Wilson confrontation. The absence of an incident report is key for the same reasons we don't allow witnesses to compare testimonies or jurors to follow case media coverage. It is almost equally unheard of to allow a four-hour testimony of the defendant in a grand jury proceeding in lieu of an incident report that would have locked in the officer to certain details.
Officer Wilson didn't even call in the shooting; the department was allegedly notified by outside sources.
You can't trust any result in which the process that precedes it isn't trustworthy. The integrity of the process is equally important as the result.
If you are hoping for an indictment, you are deluding yourself. And even if there is an indictment, it is delaying the inevitable for all the reasons listed above.
But the greatest injustice is the desire for some in the media to incite, encourage and expect violence in Ferguson, choosing not to more substantively address the underlying issues.
Eric Frein allegedly ambushed a state trooper and hid from authorities for some 50 days... and lived to tell about it. Jared Loughner shot a congresswoman in the head while in the process of killing six other people and still had his day in court. James Holmes killed 12 people in an Aurora, Colorado, movie theater, and there are plenty of pictures available for you on the Internet showing Holmes sitting in court in a bright-orange jumpsuit. Boston bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev helped kill four, including an MIT police officer, injured 264 and ended up in an all-out firefight with police.
Tsarnaev's trial began Nov. 3.
Yet the overwhelming response from those who side with Darren Wilson is that Michael Brown either "deserved it" or "had it coming."
This is saying nothing about the reality that Brown was shot multiple times on the inside of his arm, which is impossible to hit if he were charging Wilson but absolutely consistent with hands being raised in a surrender position. Brown was shot at least six times, with the kill shot coming in a downward trajectory from back to front, "at a distance," per the autopsy report. If Brown were 5-foot-4, not 6-foot-4, or if Wilson were holding his gun up above his head while standing on his tippy toes, this wouldn't be so troublesome. But to achieve such an angle while "charging" the officer, Brown literally would have to be bent down, looking at his toes while running headlong, hands down and palms up into an officer shooting at him from a considerable distance away.
But people rarely actually rely on facts, forensics, autopsy and ballistics when forming these opinions. It's little different than saying Trayvon Martin jumped out of the bushes to pummel Zimmerman for "no reason," despite the absence of Zimmerman DNA on Martin. It didn't matter that Zimmerman had both the gun and the history of violence against a police officer. Trayvon "deserved it."
Accordingly, for many supporters of Wilson, the details simply don't matter. The preceding act of stealing $50 worth of cigars ended any right to due process in their minds. Yes, Brown was also shot in the hand at "close range" but was killed "at a distance." Also, being shot at close range doesn't mean Brown was grabbing for Wilson's gun; it's equally plausible his hand was in a defensive position. Nonetheless, the prevailing narrative is that Brown attacked Wilson, was shot, ran down the street and decided to turn around and charge an already shooting Wilson. There is no audio evidence of Wilson having offered any verbal command prior or during shooting.
Brown "deserved it."
Except that rule of thumb seemingly doesn't apply to mass shooters, domestic terrorists and cop killers. Only the unarmed folks end up dead and "deserve" it.
Yes, people rightfully question this process as well as the prosecutor in charge of it.
Michael Brown deserved a trial and the opportunity to explain his actions in a court of law. If Eric Frein, James Holmes, Jared Loughner and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev could get that, I'm sure unarmed Michael Brown could've gotten that too.
Stop the shameful media predictions of violence in Ferguson. It's irresponsible, reckless and unforgivable. Report what actually happens if and when it occurs, not what you hope to happen.