On Monday evening 11/24/2014, St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert P. McCulloch announced that a grand jury decided not to indict Ferguson, Missouri, police officer Darren Wilson for the August 9 shooting death of unarmed teenager Michael Brown.
Law professor Franklin E. Zimring, who directs the criminal justice research program at the University of California, Berkeley’s Earl Warren Legal Institute, said “It has to be a really horrendous outlier before you can expect the criminal process to to convict a police officer”. One impediment is the burden of proof, which requires prosecutors to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that an officer acted improperly. That burden “has special force when you have police officers” on trial, Zimring said.
McCulloch said the grand jury had to weigh testimony that conflicted with physical evidence and conflicting statements by witnesses as it decided whether Wilson should face charges.
“Many witnesses to the shooting of Michael Brown made statements inconsistent with other statements they made and also conflicting with the physical evidence. Some were completely refuted by the physical evidence,” McCulloch said.
The day after the verdict. protests arose in more than 170 U.S. cities. Some demonstrations blocked bridges, tunnels and major highways. But unlike the violence that erupted in Ferguson on Monday night, the protests across the country Tuesday night were largely peaceful.
American society is comfortable with violence as an effective way to provide safety in threatening situations. We enact “stand-your-ground” and concealed carry laws that make guns ubiquitous in many parts of the country, and we respond to the killing of innocents at an elementary school with serious discussions in Congress about the benefit of armed guards among kindergartners.
Shortly after the Ferguson shooting, The Economist reported that police in England and Wales fired their weapons a total of four times during the past two years. Four times —meaning in two years they discharged fewer bullets policing 57 million people than were discharged into Michael Brown’s body on one afternoon.
The Ferguson tragedy is an allegory of what is not working in the American system. America has really changed after 9/11 and the work against discrimination has lost its momentum. It is becoming more and more fashionable to discriminate against the poor, the immigrants, and people of color. What really needs to change is our culture’s relationship to guns and deadly violence.