Ferguson, MO and America’s Racist Criminal Justice System

As depressingly expected, the grand jury in St. Louis County, Missouri did not indict Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot Michael Brown 12 times from a great distance. Also as depressingly expected, the result was more violence and destruction as protests turned into riots. I’m not going to say much about this specific case because I think we need to take a step back and see it is but a single symptom of a much deeper problem within our criminal justice system.

In early 2012, I wrote a series of four posts detailing why America’s criminal justice is broken and deeply racist at every possible level. In the first one, I pointed to the disparities between which defendants get charged in federal court, where there are stiffer penalties for drug crimes. It is entirely up to the prosecutor whether to charge in state or federal court and the Supreme Court has not only ruled that they can do this, it has ruled that no evidence of racial disparity in such decision-making need even be produced:

She [Michelle Alexander] writes about the case of Christopher Lee Armstrong, who was arrested in 1992 on charges of conspiracy to distribute more than 50 grams of crack cocaine. The prosecutor decided to try Armstrong in federal court, where the penalties were much higher than in state court, and the federal public defenders who handled his case found it remarkable that they had never seen a single case of a white defendant in a case involving crack tried in federal court. Over the previous three years, they had handled 53 such cases; 48 of the defendants were black, 5 were Latino. None were white.

We have the perception in this country that powder cocaine is a drug used primarily by white people, while crack cocaine is used primarily by black people. That perception is false. In fact, there isn’t much of a difference in the rates of buying and selling crack between the different racial groups. Yet blacks are arrested at a far higher rate than whites for possession and selling of crack. And that’s just the beginning of the problem. Once arrested, black defendants are far more likely to be charged, convicted and sentenced to prison — and infinitely more likely to be sent to federal court rather than state court for longer sentences. In fact, the government in that case submitted a list of more than 2,000 crack cases in federal courts over a three year period. All but 11 of them were black; not a single one was white. Not one.

Yet the courts ignored all of this, and refused to allow Armstrong’s attorneys to file a subpoena for records from the prosecutor that would allow them to show a pattern of racial injustice through the patterns of which cases were sent to federal court and which to state court. In 1996, the Supreme Court ruled that the prosecutors did not have to make any evidence available to the defense, concluding that courts must show great deference to prosecutors in how they go about their business, even in the face of such staggering statistical evidence of bias, whether conscious or unconscious.

In part two I cited the many studies that show that the police are far more likely to pull over and search the car of a black or Latino driver than a white one even though white drivers are actually more likely to be found with contraband in the car.

A study of stops by the New Jersey State Police on the New Jersey Turnpike, for example, found that 15% of the drivers on the turnpike were minorities, but blacks were 42% of those stopped for a traffic violation and 72% of those subsequently arrested — despite the fact that blacks and whites were equally as likely to be violating traffic laws at the time. 77% of all searches were of minorities. A similar study in Maryland found that 17% of drivers on a major highway were black, but 70% of those stopped and searched were black. For minorities on the whole, they constituted 21% of all drivers but 80% of those who were stopped and searched.

But here’s the even more important finding. In both of those studies, whites who were pulled over and searched were actually more likely to have illegal drugs or contraband in their vehicles. In New Jersey, whites were twice as likely to be found with illegal drugs or contraband than blacks and five times more likely than Latinos. The same thing held true in Maryland. So even though white drivers were far more likely to be caught breaking the law if stopped and searched, black and Latino drivers were far, far more likely to be pulled over by the police.

Lots of other studies back that up. In one county in Florida, 5% of motorists were black or Latino; more than 80% of those stopped were black or Latino. In Illinois, 8% of the population is Latino but more than 30% of those stopped were Latino — and again, whites were significantly more likely to be found with drugs when they were pulled over. In Oakland, blacks were twice as likely to be stopped and three times more likely to be searched than whites.

In New York City, the police routinely stop and frisk pedestrians walking down the street, more than half a million people a year. More than 80% of them are black or Latino. Between 1997 and 2006, more than 350,000 people in NYC were arrested for marijuana possession; blacks were five times more likely than whites to be arrested, even though we know that whites smoke marijuana at slightly higher rates than blacks.

In part three, I talked about what happens once someone is arrested, how prosecutors used overcharging to force plea bargains, virtually eliminating the ability to plead not guilty. I also talked about our failed public defender system, which gives the illusion of justice without the reality of it.

Because the vast majority of those targeted for arrest and prosecution are poor minorities, about 90% of them are represented by public defenders appointed by the court. In most states and local areas, public defenders are seriously underpaid and overworked and lack all resources to mount a credible defense. In most cases, the defendant doesn’t even meet their attorney until literally a few minutes before going into court. The attorney has done no investigation (and couldn’t afford to do it even if they wanted to), hasn’t even spoken to their client, and then has a few minutes to tell them what to do — which is almost always to plead guilty.

There are many reasons for this. First, as I said, they just don’t have the time to go to trial. In Detroit, for instance, there are five part-time public defenders who handle an average of 2,400 cases a year. They can’t spend even one day on a trial, much less spend the time preparing for it, interviewing witnesses, preparing briefs and motions, and so forth. So their goal is to push people through as quickly as possible.

Second, the prosecutors often multiply charges in order to force people to plead guilty. They’ll charge them with multiple offenses, each of them carrying mandatory minimum sentences, but offer a deal — we’re gonna charge you with multiple counts that add up to 30 years in prison, but if you plead guilty to one felony count we’ll recommend a year in prison and probation after that. Even if you’re innocent and know it, what choice do you have? Your attorney can’t really defend you in court anyway, so you could easily lose and end up spending the rest of your life locked up.

And in part four I looked at what happens after someone pleads guilty or is convicted. The system is designed to virtually eliminate any genuine opportunity for an ex-con to get their life together and improve themselves.

Once you have a felony conviction on your record, even for a minor offense like marijuana possession, you are effectively shut out of mainstream society. Even if you were totally on the straight and narrow and dedicated to bettering yourself, there are incredible roadblocks in your path, especially if you’re poor (as the overwhelming majority of them are).

When you get out of jail, your odds of finding a job are dramatically reduced by having to check the box on the application that says you’ve been convicted of a felony. Want to go to college? You are now ineligible for Pell grants and other forms of tuition assistance. You can’t support yourself, but you’re also now ineligible for many forms of public assistance, including public housing and, in many states, even food stamps. You may not even be allowed to vote for a number of years, or ever, depending on the state you’re in.

On top of that, you’ve probably got a huge bill from the state or county stemming from your stay in jail — fees paid to the public defender office and the courts, per diem charges from the jail, fees paid to the parole officer for keeping track of you. And if you can’t pay them, you can be rearrested for failing to live up to the terms of your probation and thrown back in jail to start the whole process over again. You could hardly design a more perfect system for creating a permanent underclass that is shut out of society, herded into ghettos and prevented from ever improving their lives. This is what Michelle Alexander calls the New Jim Crow.

And it doesn’t even have to be motivated overtly by racism. There are built in incentives that push the actors at every level in the same direction to maintain that caste system. Police departments qualify for federal grants by increasing the number of people arrested for drugs, so the focus isn’t on the kingpins but on arresting as many of the low level users and dealers as they can. Prosecutors are elected and they get reelected by pumping up their conviction rate, giving the incentive to get guilty pleas whenever possible. Everyone is acting in their own rational self-interest, even if they aren’t motivated by racism.

The United States has now constructed the most powerful system of mass incarceration the world has ever seen and created a permanent underclass that is not unlike the caste system in India. And the courts have made it all but impossible to bring a legal challenge on due process or equal protection grounds. It is a moral outrage and it must be dismantled.

The war on drugs and America’s mass incarceration system has destroyed millions of lives and entire communities. It should be a matter of national shame. And that second to last paragraph is an important one. It doesn’t really matter whether most cops are racists (I don’t believe they are), the incentives in place assure the result even if no one is making a consciously racist decision.

So when we talk about the horrifying situation in Ferguson, Missouri, let’s put it in the context of a criminal justice system that is corrupt, racist and broken from top to bottom, from the police to the prosecutors to the judges. Even if Darren Wilson had been indicted and convicted, something that very, very rarely happens, it wouldn’t do anything to fix the larger problem and the justifiable rage that it induces. It is but one star in a constellation of injustice.

As a humanist, I believe we have a moral obligation to fight for justice, not only for ourselves but for everyone.

"That's a very big "IF" there as noted by others here."

Christian Right Still Oblivious to Their ..."
""In Mexico, if you're born poor you die poor."Seems they want to make the US ..."

Orrin Hatch is Terribly Offended
"Made a shit load of money for himself."

Orrin Hatch is Terribly Offended
"Except the teacher who was too pretty to go to prison. I would have . ..."

Pastor: Accusations Against Moore Part of ..."

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!


What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • caseloweraz

    Ed: I’m not going to say much about this specific case because I think we need to take a step back and see it is but a single symptom of a much deeper problem within our criminal justice system.

    I agree that our justice system is seriously FUBAR, and that the Ferguson case is a depressing symptom of its malfunctioning state. But this also needs to be said: all the evidence indicates that Brown attacked Wilson through the window of his police car, putting him at a disadvantage. Wilson couldn’t reach his baton. He should have been better trained, should have had a less lethal means of defending himself, but from what I’ve heard I think the grand jury was right not to indict him because he wasn’t and didn’t.

  • http://motherwell.livejournal.com/ Raging Bee

    This problem is NOT “within our criminal justice system,” not by any stretch of imagination. This problem is pervasive in nearly all facets of our society, and it’s been made progressively worse, and more blatant, by decades of Republican misrule and amoral Libertarian ideology. The malfeasance “within our criminal justice system” — and the consistent failure of society as a whole to forcibly correct it — is only one of the more blatant symptoms of this much wider sickness.

  • hoku

    I think this case points out another big problem in the system: the prosecutors decision making in whether or not to bring charges. In this case it appears the prosecutor did everything possible to not indict while giving the appearance of due process. In many others, what gets a white kid a stern lecture to scare them and a call to their parents gets a black or Latino kid jail time.

  • http://motherwell.livejournal.com/ Raging Bee

    caseloweraz: you’re leaving out the fact that Wilson was issued a taser, but he CHOSE NOT TO CARRY IT because it was uncomfortable. You also left out the fact that grand juries are supposed to issue indictments that lead to trial — not to pretend they’re the ones trying the case. This entire process was rigged from day one to prevent any transparency, to prevent any sort of public accountability from taking place.

    You’re also ignoring what this whole bogus “investigation” was rigged to ignore: Wilson’s inexcusable misconduct AFTER the shooting.

    Seriously, do you really think there’s nothing wrong with an unarmed teenager getting shot dead over what started as a mere jaywalking incident? Do you really think no trial is necessary here?

  • Artor

    Ed, as much as I wish it had happened, I don’t think Darren Wilson could shoot Darren Wilson from a great distance, as you have him doing in your first sentence. You might want to edit that.

  • http://en.uncyclopedia.co/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    Raging Bee “caseloweraz: you’re leaving out the fact that Wilson was issued a taser, but he CHOSE NOT TO CARRY IT because it was uncomfortable.”

    Worse, they’re dangerous. He could have accidentally zapped himself with that thing!

  • http://www.facebook.com/drew.vogel2 drewvogel

    caseloweraz #1:

    But this also needs to be said: all the evidence indicates that Brown attacked Wilson through the window of his police car, putting him at a disadvantage.

    That’s not true. Some of the evidence indicated that. Some of the evidence indicated otherwise. When that happens, you indict and leave it to the finders of fact (i.e., the trial jury) to make a final determination. The grand jury’s job was to decide only on probable cause, not ultimate guilt, and there’s plenty of evidence to support probable cause. This case should have gone to trial.

  • eric

    I somewhat agree with @1. As weird as this may sound, I trust that a grand jury may do their job more impartially than a case-trying jury. Not because the people are more trustworthy, but because the standards for sending the decision to trial are so low that if the prosecutor can’t meet them, I think we can have some reasonable confidence that there was no evidential case there.

    Raging Bee @4:

    you’re leaving out the fact that Wilson was issued a taser, but he CHOSE NOT TO CARRY IT because it was uncomfortable.

    …You’re also ignoring what this whole bogus “investigation” was rigged to ignore: Wilson’s inexcusable misconduct AFTER the shooting.

    The first is not a prosecutable offense (AFAIK), but obviously speaks to a need for a change in police doctrine and policy. As for the latter: if Wilson lied in the incident report, tried to cover it up, tampered with evidence, etc… then yes I agree he should be prosecuted for stuff like that. I don’t know whether he did those things or is even accused of doing those things. So I have to say I conditinally agree with Bee on this one, but don’t know whether the conditions pertain.

    Seriously, do you really think there’s nothing wrong with an unarmed teenager getting shot dead over what started as a mere jaywalking incident?

    Of course there is something wrong with it. Many things wrong. Police employment selection, police training in how to respond to civilians, prosecutor bias in favor of police, the list goes on. But I also don’t want our grand juries to operate as vigilante justice-dealers. They are one part of the system, one cog. It is not their job to rectify the other parts of the machine, or to ‘make up’ for the problems in the other parts of the machine by recommending a trial when they have no reasonable evidence that someone could be guilty.

    Do you really think no trial is necessary here?

    My media-only-informed opinion was yes. But I didn’t see what the grand jury saw. Moreover, I know the media I’m seeing is biased in favor of Brown. That is obvious every time they depict the two individuals, Wilson in a blurred and mean-looking picture and Brown in his HS graduation gown. I mean seriously, how much more heavy-handedly lopsided could they get?

  • http://motherwell.livejournal.com/ Raging Bee

    Wilson couldn’t reach his baton. He should have been better trained, should have had a less lethal means of defending himself, but from what I’ve heard I think the grand jury was right not to indict him because he wasn’t and didn’t.

    I totally disagree. Letting an incompetent cop skate on such grounds sends a message that they can do just about anything they want, then dodge accountability by pleading incompetence, poor training, and/or insufficient resources. We need to deter such poor performance by giving EVERYONE plenty of incentive to insist on decent training and tools, and to make maximum use of said training and tools every day. Ferguson’s cowardly dodge just gave their cops the opposite incentive.

  • Donnie

    @Ed:

    As a humanist, I believe we have a moral obligation to fight for justice, not only for ourselves but for everyone.

    Hear hear. I hate being older-and-wiser. I grew up with the idea that America was a melting pot that made us stronger because of our diversity. Laws were equally applied to all, and everyone could succeed based upon effort and hard work. Having the veil of meritocracy ripped from your eyes over the past couple of decades (and last couple of years) really fucking hurts because I never realized how blind I was when I was younger.

    More people need to have the blindfold ripped off, and we need action. Like a battleship, it will take decades to turn – probably not until the last of the baby boomers die off, but hopefully the GenXers can start the process for the Millennial to finish it.

  • http://motherwell.livejournal.com/ Raging Bee

    But I also don’t want our grand juries to operate as vigilante justice-dealers. They are one part of the system, one cog.

    How the fuck is indicting a suspect “operating as vigilante justice-dealers?” THAT’S THEIR FUCKING JOB! They’re supposed to issue indictments, which then lead to (one hopes) an actual jury trial to determine actual guilt or innocence. That’s what they do for suspected drug-dealers and murderers, and that’s what they probably would have done to Michael Brown had he lived to face…whatever charge Wilson intended to bring against him (what suspected offence was he shot for again?) Why is this basic part of criminal justice suddenly wrong?

    A cop shoots an unarmed kid for no good reason, but it’s the grand jury that’s “operating as vigilante justice-dealers?” Where the fuck do you get that?

  • http://www.facebook.com/drew.vogel2 drewvogel

    eric @8

    As weird as this may sound, I trust that a grand jury may do their job more impartially than a case-trying jury. Not because the people are more trustworthy, but because the standards for sending the decision to trial are so low that if the prosecutor can’t meet them, I think we can have some reasonable confidence that there was no evidential case there.

    Whoa whoa whoa. First of all, the grand jury and the trail jury have different jobs. In this case, the grand jury did the trial jury’s job, and that is not appropriate. And don’t believe for one second that the prosecutor couldn’t get an indictment. He didn’t want to get an indictment. In a typical grand jury, the prosecutor presents only the evidence which favors the prosecution. No exculpatory or otherwise ambiguous evidence is presented, there is no defense present, and the defendant is normally not invited to speak. In this case, the prosecutor deliberately muddied the water by presenting both sides and giving the defendant the opportunity to testify without cross-examination.

    This whole process was designed to return no indictment. It has no legitimacy.

  • http://motherwell.livejournal.com/ Raging Bee

    My media-only-informed opinion was yes. But I didn’t see what the grand jury saw. Moreover, I know the media I’m seeing is biased in favor of Brown. That is obvious every time they depict the two individuals, Wilson in a blurred and mean-looking picture and Brown in his HS graduation gown. I mean seriously, how much more heavy-handedly lopsided could they get?

    How about a grand-jury dance that was rigged to avoid public accountability? You don’t think that’s “heavy-handedly lopsided?”

  • http://www.facebook.com/drew.vogel2 drewvogel

    Dammit. I meant “trial jury” in #12, not “trail jury”.

  • http://motherwell.livejournal.com/ Raging Bee

    Wilson in a blurred and mean-looking picture…

    What other picture did Wilson allow us to use? His first response, after killing Brown, was to run away and hide!

  • http://en.uncyclopedia.co/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    Raging Bee “What other picture did Wilson allow us to use? His first response, after killing Brown, was to run away and hide!”

    To be fair, he thought the police were looking for him.

  • http://motherwell.livejournal.com/ Raging Bee

    I trust that a grand jury may do their job more impartially than a case-trying jury. Not because the people are more trustworthy, but because the standards for sending the decision to trial are so low that if the prosecutor can’t meet them, I think we can have some reasonable confidence that there was no evidential case there.

    The fatal flaw in your lame rationalization is that the prosecutor deliberately sabotaged this proceeding by choosing to present a more ambiguous case than prosecutors normally present to grand juries. In fact, in this case, the prosecutor didn’t even suggest any specific charges. That’s not how grand juries normally work.

    I gotta hand it to you, eric, you’re giving us more ignorance in one comment than I can keep up with.

  • John Pieret

    Raging Bee and others:

    Technically, a grand jury is supposed to look at all the evidence and reach a conclusion as to whether there is reasonable cause to indict. The fact that prosecutors can, in the usual course, get a grand jury to “indict a ham sandwich” by presenting only one side of the evidence is not the grand jury’s purpose but a defect in the system. Whether the grand jury was right in this case would take considerable study of the mounds of evidence they examined and which the prosecutor has released.

  • http://motherwell.livejournal.com/ Raging Bee

    Pieret: In this case, the grand jury failed in its mission, because of or guidance by the prosecutor. Your bullshit lectures about “technically” this or that are nothing but a dodge. Do you really think there was NO PROBABLE CAUSE to indict an officer who is KNOWN to have shot an unarmed man over a minor dispute? Do you really think no crime at all was committed here?

  • http://www.gregory-gadow.net Gregory in Seattle

    Keep in mind the racial profile of this grand jury: according to the BBC, the jury consisted of six white men, three white women, one black man and two black women. Nine votes were needed to indict. In addition, the prosecutor has his own axe to grind: his white father was a police officer killed in the line of duty by a black perp, and civil rights groups had been trying to get him replaced as the person whose job it was to convince the grand jury to indict. That means there is absolutely zero chance that he will bring the case to trial without an indictment, which a prosecutor can do.

    This whole process was designed from the very beginning never to result in any kind of justice.

  • Uncle Ebeneezer

    Good post Ed. Look forward to reading these links later today. I would only add that to really get the full perspective we also need to keep in mind: everyday racism, slavery, segregation, the Klan, relatively bleak education/job opportunities, an ongoing media narrative portraying PoC as lazy moochers and criminals, having peers lecture them on pulling their pants up etc. (and seeing those peers receive pats on the back for saying so), all in addition to a current campaign to silence their voices at the voting booth (affirmed by a SCOTUS that has determined that voting rights are no longer an issue because racism is over! and that will possibly soon rule that Affirmative Action is unconstitutional) along with one party that openly despises PoC and one that likes their votes but does very little on issues like the Prison-Industrial complex. When I take all of this into account, it’s easy for me to understand the rage that PoC must feel. God damn America, indeed.

  • John Pieret

    I won’t dignify your “mindreading” of my motives with a response. As to whether there was reasonable cause to indict, I would, instead of merely spewing emotion, look at the evidence in a rational fashion.

    I will say that based on my limited knowledge of the facts to date, charges of some sort (manslaughter in some degree) probably could … maybe should … have been brought. On the other hand, I am not convinced by mere shouting that the grand jury was part of any racist plot.

  • http://www.facebook.com/drew.vogel2 drewvogel

    John Pieret @18

    Technically, a grand jury is supposed to look at all the evidence and reach a conclusion as to whether there is reasonable cause to indict. The fact that prosecutors can, in the usual course, get a grand jury to “indict a ham sandwich” by presenting only one side of the evidence is not the grand jury’s purpose but a defect in the system. Whether the grand jury was right in this case would take considerable study of the mounds of evidence they examined and which the prosecutor has released.

    What you call “a defect in the system” I call “the system as it currently exists”. It would be better if every criminal defendant got the kind of grand jury investigation Wilson got, but they don’t, and they’re not supposed to under the system as it currently exists. Wilson got special treatment from the system as it currently exists. The case should have gone to trial.

  • http://motherwell.livejournal.com/ Raging Bee

    You’re the one ignoring crucial facts in this case, but I’m the one “merely spewing emotion?” Kindly take your phony Vulcan schtick and shove it back where it came from.

    I will say that based on my limited knowledge of the facts to date…

    The shooting happened MONTHS ago — you’ve had more than enough time to catch yourself up on the facts. Why have you not done so? And why do you admit your ignorance and then pretend you’re the most rational person in the room?

  • http://motherwell.livejournal.com/ Raging Bee

    It would be better if every criminal defendant got the kind of grand jury investigation Wilson got…

    How would letting suspected violent criminals go without a trial be “better?”

  • http://www.facebook.com/drew.vogel2 drewvogel

    It would be better if prosecutors had to present all the evidence, including exculpatory evidence, in order to get an indictment. I’m sorry, I thought that was obvious.

  • http://motherwell.livejournal.com/ Raging Bee

    No, it would not necessarily be better: exculpatory evidence is best presented by the defendant and his/her lawyers in a jury trial, which would have actual power to determine guilt and set a punishment, and in which the defendant has actual power to control their own defense, rather than relying on the other side to choose which evidence to allow. A jury trial requires both sides to present coherent cases; a grand jury organized by a prosecutor does not.

  • hoku

    drewvogel,

    we have that process. It’s called a trial, and it’s public and open.

    The point of an grand jury is to see if there’s enough evidence that a rational jury could convict, in the absence of any defense. That’s why they’re secret and closed.

    The way this was conducted was simply a way to prevent an open trial wile pretending to do something. If you don’t think that’s the case, answer one question: why were so many leaks, all of which favored the defendant, coming out of a proceeding with only the prosecution?

  • http://motherwell.livejournal.com/ Raging Bee

    It would be better if prosecutors had to present all the evidence, including exculpatory evidence, in order to get an indictment.

    The Ferguson case clearly proves you wrong: the defendant was let off the hook in a closed-door procedure, with ZERO input from any other interested party; and as a result, the legitimacy of the entire system has now been legitimately called into question. A jury trial, with witnesses being publicly questioned and cross-examined, would have got far better results — for the community and for justice if not for Wilson himself — than the fiasco we just witnessed.

  • John Pieret

    Bee:

    you’ve had more than enough time to catch yourself up on the facts.

    Facts? From the news media? Since when? And admitting ignorance is the most rational thing to do when all you have is second-hand accounts.

  • http://motherwell.livejournal.com/ Raging Bee

    Damn good question, hoku.

  • caseloweraz

    I just read this from CNN:

    The medical investigator did not take photographs at the scene of Brown’s killing because the camera battery had died, the grand jury heard.

    The investigator, who goes to the crime scene to collect evidence for the pathologist, also did not take measurements of anything at the scene because they “didn’t need to.”

    The investigator, whose name was redacted, said: “It was self-explanatory what happened. Somebody shot somebody. There was no question as to any distances or anything of that nature at the time I was there.”

    Typically, a medical investigator will take crime scene photos in addition to the ones taken by police investigators.

    The investigator testified that they did not see evidence of “stippling” (gunpowder) around the wounds on Brown’s body.

    Now this guy, whose name is apparently “Incurious”, should be indicted for incompetence.

  • http://motherwell.livejournal.com/ Raging Bee

    Facts? From the news media? Since when?

    So now you’re blaming “the news media” for your ignorance? Try expanding your reading. Have you ever taken a serious look at Salon or Al Jazeera America? They’re clearly better sources than “the [unspecified] news media” you’ve chosen to rely on.

    And no, “the news media” are NOT to blame for your transparently asinine Vulcan schtick.

  • wscott

    It doesn’t really matter whether most cops are racists (I don’t believe they are), the incentives in place assure the result even if no one is making a consciously racist decision.

    Thanks for this, Ed. I know you’ve said it before, but it bears repeating. I used to work in law enforcement and still have a number of cop friends, and I’ve known very few racist cops. (I’d say no more than any other group of people I’ve known.) It’s easy for people to scream “racist pigs!” whenever an incident like this happens, but I really think all that does it draw attention away from the larger problem of the systemic racism built into the process.

    FWIW, I remember when you originally posted this in 2012, and it really changed my thinking on the subject. So thanks.

  • caseloweraz

    Drewvogel: In this case, the grand jury did the trial jury’s job, and that is not appropriate.

    The more I learn today, the truer this becomes. AIUI, the panel consisted of nine whites and three blacks. Those three should have something to say.

  • http://www.facebook.com/drew.vogel2 drewvogel

    hoku @28

    The way this was conducted was simply a way to prevent an open trial wile pretending to do something. If you don’t think that’s the case, answer one question: why were so many leaks, all of which favored the defendant, coming out of a proceeding with only the prosecution?

    I do think that is the case.

    Raging Bee @29

    The Ferguson case clearly proves you wrong: the defendant was let off the hook in a closed-door procedure, with ZERO input from any other interested party; and as a result, the legitimacy of the entire system has now been legitimately called into question. A jury trial, with witnesses being publicly questioned and cross-examined, would have got far better results — for the community and for justice if not for Wilson himself — than the fiasco we just witnessed.

    No, what this case shows is that the grand jury is not genuinely independent from the state, as it’s meant to be, but is in fact simply an extension of the prosecution. The prosecutor can manipulate the process in any way he wants to get the verdict he wants. As it stands now, the grand jury doesn’t serve any useful purpose. It just rubber-stamps whatever the state decides to do.

    What I’m suggesting is a truly independent grand jury, so as to act as a genuine check on prosecutorial discretion. The prosecutor should have to convince a skeptical jury that, yes, prosecuting this person for this alleged crime really is what we want our government to be doing on our behalf. That’s the whole point. The grand jury is supposed to represent the people, not the government, but our criminal justice system has forgotten that distinction.

  • hoku

    What is the point of the system you describe? What differentiates it from a trial?

  • busterggi

    I’ll point out that whites can also be wrongfully arrested & prosecuted as long as the political establishment finds them inconvenient. Not nearly as much as minorities and you do have to have some politicians pissed at you but it does happen. The system is fully rigged.

  • raven

    I can see this is a bit heated. Understandable. I actually felt sick to my stomach last night when I heard the news. I’ve seen this movie dozens of times since the 1960’s. Nevertheless:

    1. Ferguson is 68% black. Virtually all the city elected officials and employees are white.

    How can this be? It shouldn’t even be possible.

    2. Vote dammit!!! Yeah, I know about voter suppression. They can make it difficult for you. It’s even happened to me as a college kid. But they can’t make it impossible. At some point voter suppression turns into violations of civil rights and goes from a tactic to a crime.

    The principle here is simple. Don’t get mad. Get even.

    3. In times past, the black leadership would send in community organizers. The NAACP, CORE, Black Panthers, SNCC, ACORN, and more that I’m forgetting. These days they seem to have disappeared.

  • wscott

    One other comment on grand juries, speaking as someone who’s been in front of one. The fact that grand juries nearly always return indictments is partly because a half-decent prosecutor won’t normally take a case to grand jury unless they’re confident they can get an indictment. For that matter, most good prosecutors won’t seek an indictment unless the believe they have at least a reasonable shot at getting a jury to convict – why waste everyone’s time & money if you know you’re just going to lose at trial? So most really weak cases get weeded out before they even get that far.

    But in this case, the prosecutor clearly didn’t have a choice and had to bring the case to grand jury for political reasons (right or wrong). I haven’t had a chance to examine all the evidence they’ve released – and I’m glad they’re making it public, for all the good it’ll do – but if* the evidence is as clear as the prosecutor claims, it would normally never have made it to the grand jury in the first place. So in that scenario, the fact that the grand jury didn’t indict is actually not that surprising.

    * I did say if.

  • http://www.facebook.com/drew.vogel2 drewvogel

    hoku @37 asks “What is the point of the system you describe? What differentiates it from a trial?”, and it’s a good question. The simple answer is that it produces indictments, not convictions. But when we set our minds to the problem of how to create a system where the grand jury is truly independent, we’ll come up with something very unlike a jury trial. For one thing, it shouldn’t be adversarial, at least not in the same way. Rather than having the prosectuor face a defense attorney, with each side presenting their own evidence, all the evidence would be presented, and both the prosecutor and some sort of defense advocate (an employee of the court) would highlight pertinent details for the grand jury’s consideration.

    But take a step back and ask your question about the current system. What is the point of the system we have now? How can you differentiate the grand jury as it currently exists from the discretion of the prosecutor? As you said, the purpose of this farrago was to legitimize the decision not to prosecute, thus spreading the blame beyond the state and implicating we, the people as well. Darren Wilson was not indicted because someone made a conscious choice not to prosecute him. The grand jury system as it exists now is just there to muddy the waters, to make it look like “the rule of law” rather than prosecutorial discretion. If the grand jury is not a check on the prosecutor’s discretion, then what it is for?

  • eric

    Bee:

    What other picture did Wilson allow us to use?

    Given that the media pulled Brown’s HS photo, they could’ve done the same for Smith. Or used photos of each in street clothes. Do you honestly see no bias whatsoever in the picture selection I describe? When a source of information does that, do you honestly not question whether they may be giving you objective information?

    The Ferguson case clearly proves you wrong: the defendant was let off the hook in a closed-door procedure, with ZERO input from any other interested party; and as a result, the legitimacy of the entire system has now been legitimately called into question

    That may be so, but if the problem here is that the prosecutor bent over backwards to represent the defendant in the best possible light, I don’t see how you can blame the grand jury for their decision. To make an analogy, you’ve just told me there is a GIGO problem with the machine and your fix is to take the machine apart and rewire it until garbage data in gives the result you think is correct. That’s a terrible idea. If the problem is the prosecutor’s conduct, then the best solution is to assign another prosecutor, redo it, and sanction/prosecute the first prosecutor for misrepresenting his client (the State, and by extension, the people). The best solution is NOT to demand that grand juries ignore the evidence and data they’ve been given and instead decide based on gut feel, media reports, or other such stuff. Sure, if they did that here, then justice and minority rights might be better supported. But the long-term result of the sort of behavior you’re endorsing is likely to be a lot more injustice and a lot more black men having to go to court to defend themselves (and be forced to make a deal because they can’t afford good representation), even though the prosecutor has no case to speak of. Because you’re basically demanding that the grand juries find against what the presented evidence says whenever they feel like it.

  • hoku

    The point of the current system is to prevent unscrupulous prosecutors from bringing a case to trial that has no business being there. As wscott said, it’s mainly a deterrent to stop the prosecutor from even trying. The goal is simply to make sure there is enough evidence to begin, not to find facts.

    You still haven’t answered why your system should exist. So the prosecution has to prove its case twice? What does that add to the system?

  • http://motherwell.livejournal.com/ Raging Bee

    Jesus fucking Christ, eric, you’re still obsessed over PHOTOGRAPHS? That’s the most small-minded and downright babyish way to approach this case. If you want to complain about the misuse of images, check out some choice quotes from Wilson, describing what he “saw” in his victim:

    “He looked up at me and had the most aggressive face,” he said to the grand jury. “The only way I can describe it, it looks like a demon, that’s how angry he looked.”

    I then looked at him and told him to get back and he was just staring at me, almost like to intimidate me or to overpower me. The intense face he had was just not what I had expected from any of this…

    And when I grabbed him, the only way I can describe it is I felt like a five-year-old holding onto Hulk Hogan.” (This from a guy who was only a few inches shorter, and a few pounds lighter, than his opponent.)

    “At this point it looked like he was almost bulking up to run through the shots. Like it was making him mad that I’m shooting at him. And the face he had was looking straight through me, like I wasn’t even there, I wasn’t even anything in his way.”

    If you want to complain about biased images, at least look at the images that actually influenced a grand jury. And stop pretending the cop who shot an unarmed civilian and got away with it was the victim.

  • http://motherwell.livejournal.com/ Raging Bee

    That may be so, but if the problem here is that the prosecutor bent over backwards to represent the defendant in the best possible light, I don’t see how you can blame the grand jury for their decision.

    Where the fuck did I blame the grand jury? You’re really having a bad reading-for-comprehension day, aren’t you?

  • gwangung

    “The simple answer is that it produces indictments, not convictions.”

    Yes. THAT’S THE POINT OF A GRAND JURY IN A JUSTICE SYSTEM.

    The state can and MUST have interests. Why should they not? You are trying to make a grand jury function as a jury, which is NOT what it should be functioning as.

  • http://www.facebook.com/drew.vogel2 drewvogel

    But it doesn’t prevent unscrupulous prosecutors from bringing cases to trial that have no business being there. How could it? How do you take a dozen laypeople in off the street who have no experience or expertise, subject them to a completely one-sided presentation put on by the prosecutor without rebuttal, and expect them to act as a check on the prosecutor? It’s not the job of the grand jury to detect unscrupulous prosecutors. That job should be done by the District Attorney and the state Attorney General.

    What is an unscrupulous prosecutor anyway? Is it a prosecutor who brings a case without sufficient evidence? First of all, that’s a judgment call, not necessarily misconduct. Second of all, it is literally impossible for a grand jury to know when this has happened if the prosecutor has the sole privilege of presenting the evidence.

    Suppose I’m a prosecutor, and I’ve got a tiny little binder labeled “Prosecution Evidence” and a huge binder labeled “Exculpatory Evidence”. Suppose that it’s clear from the exculpatory evidence that someone other than the defendant in custody is guilty of this crime, and yet I walk in to the grand jury with only the little binder. How are they supposed to know that I’m unscrupulously ignoring exculpatory evidence if they don’t know it exists? It’s impossible for the grand jury under the current system to do the job you think it’s supposed to do.

    The job it should do is to review the prosecutor’s decision to proceed. The grand jurors should put themselves in the position of the prosecutor, and with all the evidence that the prosecutor has, they should decide for themselves whether a prosecution is a) warranted by the totality of the evidence (which is a pretty low bar), and b) in the interests of justice and c) in the public interest. These are exactly the same decisions the prosecutor makes. The role of the grand jury is supervisory. The grand jury says “We, the representatives of the people, authorize you, the prosecutor, to bring this prosecution on behalf of the people.” That authorization can only be legitimate if the jurors granting it are fully informed.

  • hoku

    The reason for a Grand Jury is simply to make sure that that first binder exists, nothing more. After that, its the defense attorney’s job to point to the second binder.

  • http://motherwell.livejournal.com/ Raging Bee

    And here’s a good example of the deep-rooted institutional incompetence and indifference the Ferguson cops are trying to keep out of the limelight:

    http://www.salon.com/2014/11/25/thats_my_momma_ferguson_cops_fire_tear_gas_at_group_carrying_unconscious_woman/

    Firing tear-gas at people carrying an incapacitated person? Now we know why Wilson’s fellow cops were so eager to defend him, instead of just firing him for incompetence.

  • http://www.facebook.com/drew.vogel2 drewvogel

    hoku, you’re not understanding what you call “my system”. Under “my system”, the prosecutor does not have to prove his case twice, and the grand jury does not find facts. Loosely speaking, it’s more akin to a Motion for Summary Judgment. If the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could convict, then an indictment is appropriate. That was the case with Darren Wilson. There were conflicting eyewitness reports, and several highly pertinent facts in dispute. When there are pertinent facts in dispute, that dispute needs to be resolved, and that’s what the trial jury does. But suppose the evidence in the Michael Brown shooting wasn’t ambiguous at all. Suppose there were no conflicting reports, and all of the evidence consistently indicated a lawful shooting. In that case, the grand jury still couldn’t pronounce on what happened, because that is not it’s role. But it could say, “No, Mr. Prosecutor, don’t pursue this one any further.”

  • Drew

    Gregory @20

    Keep in mind the racial profile of this grand jury: according to the BBC, the jury consisted of six white men, three white women, one black man and two black women.

    This is actually roughly the gender and racial mix of the county in which the jury was convened (approximately 70% white, 23.3% black, 2.5% hispanic, 3% asian, .2% native american, .03% pacific islander, etc, though there should likely have been one more woman and one fewer man) and it is done this way by design, the goal is for the grand jury to adequately represent a cross section of the population at large of the area it serves. Though you could argue that township of Ferguson has a different racial make-up, the grand jury is empaneled by the county, not Ferguson. Additionally, the jury was empaneled prior to the shooting so it’s not as though the jurors were picked specifically for this case.

    In addition, the prosecutor has his own axe to grind: his white father was a police officer killed in the line of duty by a black perp, and civil rights groups had been trying to get him replaced as the person whose job it was to convince the grand jury to indict. That means there is absolutely zero chance that he will bring the case to trial without an indictment, which a prosecutor can do.

    This whole process was designed from the very beginning never to result in any kind of justice.

    Well I don’t know if he’s got an axe to grind or not but he definitely skews pro-cop, It could easily be argued that the proceedings were set up in such a way as to skew the grand jury into no true billing (rightly so IMO).

    IANAL but I think the best thing to do would have been to get the indictment and then air all of the evidence in the (relative) open during the trial.

  • chrisintx

    “You still haven’t answered why your system should exist. So the prosecution has to prove its case twice? What does that add to the system?”

    National Widgets Inc. is a major player in the design, development & production of widgets. They’ve recently created a new concept-widget they think might be a big seller. Before investing the time & resources required to mass produce it, they contract focus group firms to come in & evaluate the marketing & actual performance of this concept widget. At the conclusion of the trial period, they analyze the results & feedback coming out of the focus groups & decide whether they foretell the success or failure of the concept widget. In this case, the company decided their new widget wouldn’t be worth moving forward with based on the feedback they received.

    Not apples to apples, mind you, but I think it’s an apt analogy in this case. It was in the company’s best interest to gauge their widget’s potential success or failure before investing heavily in what would’ve probably been a loser.

  • Crimson Clupeidae

    I think someone is confused. The vigilante part of our ‘justice’ system is routinely used….by the fucking police!

    A grand jury indictment, is not vigilante justice, by any remotely sane sense of the word.

  • hoku

    Drewvogel

    Interesting comparison to a motion for summary judgement. In a MSJ, if there’s even a sliver of doubt, the motion is dismissed and the case proceeds.

  • colnago80

    I don’t know what the law is in Missouri but in many states, instead of a grand jury indictment, there is something called a preliminary hearing before a judge in which witnesses are called by the prosecutor (and can even be called by the defense, although this is rare) and are subject to cross examination. It’s actually a mini-trial where indictments are based on preponderance of the evidence.

    Those who were paying attention 20 years ago might recall the preliminary hearing in the case of O. J. Simpson.

    As a matter of fact, the prosecutor is not required to disclose all the evidence he/she has either before a grand jury or in a preliminary hearing. In particular, he/she is not required to disclose exculpatory evidence in such proceedings. Of course, he/she is required to disclose any exculpatory evidence to the defense prior to a trial.

  • Michael Heath

    I remain bitter about the Trayvon Martin decision. This decision just amplifies that bitterness exponentially.

    I watched the prosecutor’s entire presentation last evening. What a horribly constructed argument. He spent loads of time whining about social media and other issues having nothing to with the merits of indicting Officer Harris, or not. But not once did the prosecutor rationalize the shooting of Michael Brown from 100+ ft. away, nor did he spend anytime going over the regulations that allow deadly force by a police officer. Yet that same prosecutor spent ample time on the struggle in the car, in spite of the fact that was not the key period that’s created this controversy.

    And then the prosecutor has the gall to claim the decision was based on facts and evidence. I wouldn’t be surprised to find he’s a creationist and a AGW denialist.

    What about those journalists who had access to ask questions of the prosecutor after his presentation? I think you’d find a smarter, more tuned-in bunch at a Sarah Palin campaign rally. Why weren’t they exposing the fact the prosecutor avoided addressing the very issues that caused people to rightfully speak-out almost immediately after Officer Harris killed Michael Brown? Not one asked him to explain how these key moments played-out in terms of distance. It’s the distance between the killer and his victim which exposes how ludicrous it is to not indict Officer Harris.

  • http://www.facebook.com/drew.vogel2 drewvogel

    That’s right, hoku. That’s why I said the evidentiary bar was quite low. As wscott points out @40, part of the reason for the high success rate with grand juries is that most prosecutors only bring legitimately strong cases, and I wouldn’t expect that to change under “my system”. But it would be a little bit harder because prosecutors wouldn’t have the opportunity of presenting, framing, and excluding evidence as they choose to get the result they want.

    In other words, “my system” wouldn’t make it very much harder for prosecutors to bring legitimate cases, but it would make it harder for prosecutors to bury legitimate cases, and I think that’s exactly the kind of reform we should be looking for in the wake of this travesty.

  • http://motherwell.livejournal.com/ Raging Bee

    I don’t know what the law is in Missouri but in many states, instead of a grand jury indictment, there is something called a preliminary hearing before a judge in which witnesses are called by the prosecutor (and can even be called by the defense, although this is rare) and are subject to cross examination. It’s actually a mini-trial where indictments are based on preponderance of the evidence.

    I heard MO has both, as does VA; and prosecutors have a certain amount of leeway in deciding which path to choose. Generally, preliminary hearings are for people who have already been arrested and charged (i.e., low-class suspects arrested by cops, as opposed to corrupt officials or white-collar criminals whom ordinary cops normally can’t touch), and they serve as the first (but not the only) opportunity to vet the evidence, rule out inadmissible evidence, and get an idea how strong the state’s case really is.

    When I was busted for weed possession, I had a preliminary hearing, where my lawyer started asking questions about the state’s interpretation of certain “evidence” they were making noises about. Without admitting any mistakes, the STATE attorney (not mine) asked for all charges to be dropped. My lawyer later told me the state might go to a grand jury to get me re-indicted on the same charges. (Fortunately, they didn’t; or they tried and the grand jury laughed it off.)

  • http://motherwell.livejournal.com/ Raging Bee

    Heath: I totally share your bitterness — I’m sure even a Vulcan would agree that this is the logical response to such blatant injustice and impunity. This grand-jury dance was clearly intended NOT to address any question larger than a cop killing a suspect. Is anyone EVER going to address the question of how that cop (Wilson, not Harris, BTW) acted after the shooting? Or how his colleagues acted?

  • EnlightenmentLiberal

    @John Pieret says

    Whether the grand jury was right in this case would take considerable study of the mounds of evidence they examined and which the prosecutor has released.

    In my world, when someone shoots someone else who is unarmed, barring extreme evidence against it, that sounds like probable cause for trial to me. Sadly my world is not the real world.

    I will say that based on my limited knowledge of the facts to date, charges of some sort (manslaughter in some degree) probably could … maybe should … have been brought. On the other hand, I am not convinced by mere shouting that the grand jury was part of any racist plot.

    Ok Mr. Hyperskeptic. What would convince you that some shenanigans are afoot? PS: No one is seriously putting forth the idea of a conspiracy of the grand jury jurors btw. That’s a strawman.

    And admitting ignorance is the most rational thing to do when all you have is second-hand accounts.

    Ok Mr. Hyperskeptic.

    PS: I’m agreeing with Raging Bee. I feel dirty.

    @Michael Heath

    I remain bitter about the Trayvon Martin decision. This decision just amplifies that bitterness exponentially.

    Hell. At least that went to trial.

  • D. C. Sessions

    Whether the grand jury was right in this case would take considerable study of the mounds of evidence they examined and which the prosecutor has released.

    My clue as to the prosecutor’s intentions was that he told the GJ that the law in Missouri is that an officer is justified in shooting a fleeing suspect without regard to the risk that the suspect poses to the officer or others. Which was struck down by the SCOTUS thirty years ago although never revised in Missouri statutes.

    That was reinforced by the fact that the prosecutor never asked to GJ to bring in a bill on any of the possible charges.

  • http://motherwell.livejournal.com/ Raging Bee

    Whether the grand jury was right in this case would take considerable study of the mounds of evidence they examined and which the prosecutor has released.

    That’s what trials are for. And most of the time, they do a pretty decent job of it, even when they don’t reach the right verdict. Better than this poorly-guided grand jury did, at least. That’s partly because a trial has TWO actors, each working to paint a coherent picture for their side, instead of one actor pretending to work for both sides.

  • http://motherwell.livejournal.com/ Raging Bee

    Sadly my world is not the real world.

    Actually, it’s the nicer part of the real world. At least you’re admitting there’s other parts that aren’t as nice. That’s half the battle in cases like this.

  • Michael Heath

    caseloweraz writes:

    . . . all the evidence indicates that Brown attacked Wilson through the window of his police car, putting him at a disadvantage. Wilson couldn’t reach his baton. He should have been better trained, should have had a less lethal means of defending himself, but from what I’ve heard I think the grand jury was right not to indict him because he wasn’t and didn’t.

    From the moment this became national news, people objecting to Officer Harris’ behavior didn’t focus on the struggle at the car but instead the final shots that both killed Mr. Brown and were taken some distance from him. Here you totally avoid addressing the very reason this became a national conflagration.

    And I in no way concede what Officer Harris did in the car was justified. I’m not sufficiently informed about that event. I’m just pointing out that the events that led to this outrage and the primary reason to indict is totally ignored by you, and yet here you are making a conclusion without first considering it.

  • EnlightenmentLiberal

    At least you’re admitting there’s other parts that aren’t as nice.

    Of course. This is flagrantly ridiculous. I’ve done my homework, and there is no “smoking gun” level of exonerating evidence, which means this should have gone to trial. If you shoot someone who is unarmed, barring extreme evidence for self defense, you should go to trial. Doesn’t matter if you are a cop.

  • http://motherwell.livejournal.com/ Raging Bee

    . . . all the evidence indicates that Brown attacked Wilson through the window of his police car, putting him at a disadvantage. Wilson couldn’t reach his baton. He should have been better trained, should have had a less lethal means of defending himself, but from what I’ve heard I think the grand jury was right not to indict him because he wasn’t and didn’t.

    If Brown was leaning in through a car window to attack a cop inside the car, then Brown was at a considerable DISadvantage, because putting half of his body into that hole would have left him with considerably less mobility. I’m no expert, but I suspect that even I could have done Brown a good bit of harm had I been in Wilson’s position: most of his vitals and sensitive bits would have been well within my reach, and I probably could have caused him, at least, enough pain to make him pull out. So that doesn’t really cut it as an excuse either.

  • http://motherwell.livejournal.com/ Raging Bee

    PS: I’m agreeing with Raging Bee. I feel dirty.

    Reality is dirty. You don’t have to wallow in it, but there’s no shame in admitting you got some on you.

  • EnlightenmentLiberal

    @Raging Bee

    Let’s not. I think you’re batshit crazy and/or flagrantly dishonest. You think the same of me. I don’t see any reason to bring that up here again.

  • gwangung

    Whether the grand jury was right in this case would take considerable study of the mounds of evidence they examined and which the prosecutor has released.

    Generally, they call this a trial. That’s their purpose. Would have been a good thing here.

    all the evidence indicates that Brown attacked Wilson through the window of his police car, putting him at a disadvantage.

    Hm. All available evidence actually indicates something else. All injuries (such as they were) were to Wilson’s right side. Now consider the geometries of this.

    I’ll wait while you come up with a plausible placement of bodies.

  • eric

    Bee:

    Jesus fucking Christ, eric, you’re still obsessed over PHOTOGRAPHS?

    I brought them up initially as an indication that the media coverage is biased and therefore untrustworthy. You’ve offered absolutely no defense of the media’s coverage or contradicted me on that substantive point, you’ve just complained about by example. And since that point, I have just been responding to your bitching about the subject. So if you don’t think the subject is worthy of conversation, stop commenting on it.

    CC @53:

    A grand jury indictment, is not vigilante justice, by any remotely sane sense of the word.

    Well not tautologically, no, because a grand jury is a part of the legal system. But in a more vernacular sense, I’m calling it vigilante justice if a grand jury doesn’t make their decision based on the data presented to them in the court setting, but rather goes with gut feeling or what they heard in the news or something like that. I will again make the analogy to a computer program and the GIGO problem: when you have a GIGO issue, that doesn’t necessarily mean there is anything wrong with your analytical engine. Noticing a GIGO issue and responding “hey, I need to rig the machine so it gives me the answer I think is right even when its fed garbage data in” is the absolutely wrong fix to try. In this case, Bee and others contend that the prosecutor basically tried to defend the accused in the grand jury rather than prosecute him. That’s a problem. It needs to be fixed. But its a ‘garbage data in’ problem, not a ‘grand jury not doing its job correctly’ problem. If, OTOH, the grand jury had taking this garbage data and converted it into a “hey, we want to indict this guy anyway” result, that would be pretty much viligantism in the vernacular sense. And personally, I think if grand juries started acting that way, then any good that might arise from this case would be quickly wiped out by such a system doing far more long-term harm to the poor and minorities – and the cause of equal justice. Let’s be blunt: if grand juries start basing their decisions on ‘extra-court’ factors, then for every Brown case where a cop is rightfully indicted in opposition to some prosecutor’s unfair bias, there’s going to be hundreds of poor black men indicted on flimsy non-evidence.

    EL @65:

    If you shoot someone who is unarmed, barring extreme evidence for self defense, you should go to trial. Doesn’t matter if you are a cop.

    I mostly agree with this. I disagree in that IMO it does matter if you are a cop: those cases should go to trial more often. The bar for what counts as ‘obviously self-defense’ should be higher for cops than with normal citizens…not lower, which is the way the system currently works. We entrust these people to use violence on us and our neighbors when necessary. To prevent abuse, the law should keep an extremely close eye on what counts as “when necessary” in that statement.

  • http://motherwell.livejournal.com/ Raging Bee

    I think you’re batshit crazy and/or flagrantly dishonest. You think the same of me. I don’t see any reason to bring that up here again.

    Then why did you just bring it up?

  • http://motherwell.livejournal.com/ Raging Bee

    I brought [photographs] up initially as an indication that the media coverage is biased and therefore untrustworthy.

    No, you brought them up as an excuse to avoid talking about more important aspects of the case. Also, “biased” does not always mean “untrustworthy” — unless of course you’re looking for an excuse to ignore a huge mass of information that’s staring you in the face. Salon and Al Jazeera America are clearly biased, yes — but they’ve still proven themselves more trustworthy than people like you who keep on supporting incompetent cops and bogus legal maneuvering regardless of the available evidence.

    You’ve offered absolutely no defense of the media’s coverage…

    I never intended to defend anything; I merely stated facts and reasoning that you had clearly missed.

    …or contradicted me on that substantive point…

    As I already said, your hand-waving about photographs was not a substantive point. It was an attempt to divert attention from substance.

    But in a more vernacular sense, I’m calling it vigilante justice if a grand jury doesn’t make their decision based on the data presented to them in the court setting, but rather goes with gut feeling or what they heard in the news or something like that.

    You’re still misusing the word “vigilante.” Words have specific meanings, and misusing them to mean something else is a form of lying.

    We entrust these people to use violence on us and our neighbors when necessary. To prevent abuse, the law should keep an extremely close eye on what counts as “when necessary” in that statement.

    And that’s the problem here — the law did exactly the opposite of that in Ferguson. So why are you bending over backwards to excuse that gross injustice?

  • colnago80

    Re Raging Bee @ #58

    Generally, a prosecutor prefers to take a case to a Grand Jury rather then a preliminary hearing because the accused is not allowed to be present and witnesses can’t be cross examined. Also, hearsay testimony is permitted (i.e. police officers can testify as to what witnesses told them). As they say, a Grand Jury will indite a ham sandwich.

  • http://motherwell.livejournal.com/ Raging Bee

    Actually, I would not be surprised to see grand juries indicting ham sandwiches. As John Oliver said on “Last Week Tonight” some time back, law-enforcers really are LITERALLY filing criminal charges against inanimate objects.

  • http://www.facebook.com/drew.vogel2 drewvogel

    eric @70:

    Bee and others contend that the prosecutor basically tried to defend the accused in the grand jury rather than prosecute him. That’s a problem. It needs to be fixed. But its a ‘garbage data in’ problem, not a ‘grand jury not doing its job correctly’ problem.

    No, it’s not a “garbage in” problem. The problem is that the prosecutor refused to do his job, and the rest of the criminal justice system supported him. The information presented to the grand jury demanded an indictment. An indictment was the legally appropriate decision for the grand jury to make, and they would have made it if the prosecutor hadn’t deliberately manipulated them out of it.

    Forget all the politics and the media and protests and all of that. Just going strictly by the evidence, this case needed to go to trial, and the failure to indict is legally indefensible. This was not only a miscarriage of justice, but a deliberate miscarriage of justice that no one even bothered to try to hide.

  • caseloweraz

    Michael Heath (#64): From the moment this became national news, people objecting to Officer Harris’ behavior didn’t focus on the struggle at the car but instead the final shots that both killed Mr. Brown and were taken some distance from him. Here you totally avoid addressing the very reason this became a national conflagration.

    You make a good point. I don’t know much about that part of it — just that Brown was shot multiple times from the front. I don’t know the number of shots (I’ve heard between 6 and 12) or how far he was from Wilson. (This is why I mentioned the cursory investigation by the M.E.)

    I listened to NPR’s coverage of the press conference, but they cut away just as the prosecuter was describing the events around the killing (they’d come to the end of the half-hour.) I don’t have TV where I live now. I need to find a good timeline on the Web somewhere.

  • caseloweraz

    Raging Bee (#66): If Brown was leaning in through a car window to attack a cop inside the car, then Brown was at a considerable DISadvantage, because putting half of his body into that hole would have left him with considerably less mobility.

    I disagree, but I think it’s arguable. Depends on how far into the car Brown’s torso was, relative strength & weight of the two men, Wilson’s position, etc.

  • http://motherwell.livejournal.com/ Raging Bee

    I heard someone else say most of Wilson’s injuries were on his RIGHT side. But Brown would have been attacking him from the LEFT, if he really went through the driver’s-side window.

  • Pteryxx

    re Drew #51:

    IANAL but I think the best thing to do would have been to get the indictment and then air all of the evidence in the (relative) open during the trial.

    Since that’s what Mike Brown’s family, community, black leaders and protesters called for from the very day he was killed (August 9), it’d be nice if y’all who are just learning the details now that it’s too late, would have thought of that while there was still a chance of a trial happening. I suggest you keep the lesson in mind for the next time, such as the case of Eric Garner whose grand jury is still deliberating whether to charge his killer, or Akai Gurley who was shot in a stairwell last week, or whoever is the next unarmed black person to die at the hands of police. (HuffPo)

  • EnlightenmentLiberal

    @Pteryxx

    Not sure when you’re assigning blame to us. We’re not in a position to change anything really. Further, this has been our position – at least my position – from day one.

  • colnago80

    Re Raging Bee @ #58

    Ah gee, the Bee is a pothead. Naughty, naughty.