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Important links for info on the Ferguson grand jury

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I haven’t blogged about Ferguson here. I’m choosing instead to just boost black activists on Twitter and Tumblr, and post the occasional tweet. For while I feel white people have a responsibility to educate each other about racism, this is a moment in history where black voices need to be heard and listened to above everyone else’s. I would highly recommend following these activists and journalists on Twitter for a more important perspective than anything I could ever share with you:

This is obviously not an exhaustive list, but a good place to start.

There was something I wanted to share, however. I posted this to my personal Facebook account, but I felt like it could be more useful shared here. So, consider this a cross-post of a cross-post of a cross-post:

Okay, here’s the thing: whether you believe Mike Brown was a “thug,” whether you believe that it’s “not about race,” or you don’t agree with the protests, there was a failure on the part of our justice system when the grand jury refused to indict Wilson. You can not argue that away with your thoughts on the “thug life” or your belief that it’s Brown on the surveillance footage from the store. You might believe the protests are an overreaction or bad behavior. Fine, that’s your opinion. But your opinion does not trump the fact that conflicting statements were made the grand jury. The National Bar Association, numerous legal experts, and even Nancy Grace, a former prosecutor who always hysterically sides with law enforcement and the justice system on her HLN program, have publicly questioned the proceedings.

I don’t generally cross-post from my Tumblr, but I think it’s important to note that mainstream sources, as well as the grand jury testimony, all have pointed out the failures on the part of prosecutor McCulloch, investigators, and someone has thoughtfully catalogued these, with sources. Step away from your feelings about the protest, about Michael Brown, and about Darren Wilson, and please read about the errors made by the justice system. If the law is reason free from passion, drop your passion and just look.*

A grand jury doesn’t deliver a criminal verdict. They only decide whether or not to pursue a trial. If you support Darren Wilson, and you truly believe in his version of the events, fine. I won’t change your mind. But if you believe the evidence in the case would have exonerated him, why do you support him not facing a trial? If the evidence you have been presented has overwhelmingly convinced you, why do you doubt that it would convince a jury?

Admitting that the proceedings in St. Louis were rigged does not mean that you cannot support Wilson (although I personally question what your motives are in doing so and I won’t apologize for that), doesn’t mean you have to support the protests, and has nothing to do with your personal feelings on racial politics in America. You have to change nothing about your stance to accept that there was an obstruction of justice in the proceedings.

*you may need to resize your browser window because my tumblr theme sucks. Also, remember that Tumblr is not a news organization, but a blogging tool, so yes, the post does hold biased commentary, as would any news article’s comments section. The original post cites sources, and those sources often cite sources, so focus on that.

To the people out there protesting and calling for action, I salute you.

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32 Comments

  1. Thank you. I am so disheartened by the human race right now, every time someone puts together a calm, well-reasoned statement about this situation, it takes the edge off and gives me a little hope. Reblogging this, if you don’t mind.

    December 2, 2014
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  2. eq
    eq

    Its a tough, tough situation all the way around. I agree the people have a right to protest. I DO NOT agree with the people who are smashing things and setting businesses on fire. That is only hurting more people, innocent ones. I can’t help but think what someone like MLK would say about that.

    I know I will get blasted for this, but I believe (from the evidence I have heard and the autopsy result (non-private one)) that they made the right choice. I could very easily be wrong of course, I wasn’t there, and didn’t see all the evidence the grand jury did. Perhaps he should have gone to trial, though I believe he would not be charged.

    Either way, I feel really bad for Mike Browns parents. No matter the situation, or if he was in the right or wrong, it must be terrible to lose your son.

    December 2, 2014
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    • eq
      eq

      Just wanted to add that I too am trying to keep quiet about it. I was angry when Trayvon’s killer was not indicted, now I’m more on the other side of the fence and don’t want to get blasted too much like I did to some of Zimmerman’s supporters 🙁 Live and learn…

      December 2, 2014
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    • JennyTrout
      JennyTrout

      Well, as someone smarter than me said on Twitter, we don’t know what MLK would say. He protested peacefully and white people still shot him.

      December 2, 2014
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    • Hth
      Hth

      As a matter of fact, we don’t have to wonder. We can reflect on what MLK actually *did* say in 1968 at a speech given at Grosse Point High School.

      “It is not enough for me to stand before you tonight and condemn riots. It would be morally irresponsible for me to do that without, at the same time, condemning the contingent, intolerable conditions that exist in our society. These conditions are the things that cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention. And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard.”

      As usual, he was pretty on point.

      December 3, 2014
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  3. Candy Apple
    Candy Apple

    Thanks for the links, Jenny.

    December 2, 2014
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  4. Lindsay
    Lindsay

    I have mostly kept quiet about this subject because it has aroused a lot of passions (justifiably so), and has given rise to a lot of conversations. At the end of the day though, my main interest has been what can we do to make this less likely to happen in the future?

    My background is in law, and I am currently working for a judge. You mentioned in your post that there was an obstruction of justice in the proceedings, and that law is supposed to be reason free from passion. Well, that’s kind of true.

    I think it’s the judge’s job to try as hard as she/he can to create just results by providing a fair trial. However, the judge does not really have as much power in a jury trial as I think people want to think they have. I will admit that I am not really proficient in criminal law and procedure, but from my understanding, the problem in this case was the prosecution. Many of the things in this case were truly messed up – and that is nearly 100% because of the prosecution. Unlike judges, most attorneys don’t really stand for the “justice is blind” principle. In the end, they are advocates.

    For prosecutors, that means getting criminal convictions. But what happens when a police officer comes under investigation? Prosecutors and police officers often work very closely together (for obvious reasons), and the prosecutor may not feel as inclined to pursue an action against one of the officers they work with as vigilantly as they normally would.

    But the question is – what’s the solution? As with most attorneys, prosecutors get a lot of discretion in choosing how they want to prosecute their case. I am not saying there isn’t a solution, but I would really like to see more conversations that are focused on the aspects of honing in police officer and prosecutor behavior with more oversight and regulation.

    If you are interested in the legal side, here are some good articles that I think discuss the problems well –

    http://www.bloombergview.com/articles/2014-11-25/fergusons-grand-jury-problem

    http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/11/26/things-we-still-don-t-know-about-ferguson.html (especially scrolling down the the “third question.”

    December 2, 2014
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      • JennyTrout
        JennyTrout

        I was really thinking that these would solve the problem, but then that 12yro was shot. Officers’ accounts don’t match the video that’s been publicly released, yet people are still believing the officers, which boggles my mind.

        I do think body cameras should be mandatory, but I’m not sure it would make a difference in the outcome. At this point, I think the police don’t care if they’re being recorded, since they know they can get away with anything.

        December 2, 2014
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        • Amanda
          Amanda

          Oh, there are plenty of police families watching this travesty of a non-indictment with incredulity as well (we’re just keeping our mouths shut because as you said, it isn’t our voices that matter right now, and “not all police!” sounds a lot like “not all men!” to me, no matter how tempting a self-defensive battle cry it is). I’ve seen guys fired for “conduct unbecoming a police officer” (inc. conduct that was off-duty and legal for civilians), which makes it all the more flabbergasting that *this* kind of case gets dropped??

          I’m keen to see what the FBI investigation turns up, and whether they go ahead with their plans for bias reduction training programs and the like. There aren’t many departments that will self-apply improvements without a local crisis bringing government down on their heads (and not many city governments that will approve the budget necessary to do so without same-said crisis). :/

          December 3, 2014
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          • Tired
            Tired

            As someone who every day is more afraid for my husband and nephew, let me tell you what I believe. You’re voice most certainly matters. I ‘d like to see more police and police families standup and sound the alarm on bad cops. I know it’s hard. I KNOW IT IS. The blue wall is damn near diamond grade and if you cross it your life can go to hell in a handbasket faster than you can blink.

            You don’t have to say you’re not all bad, rationally most of us know this, but long gone are the days when cops have relationships in the neighborhoods they patrol to refute that. Until more good cops stand up and DO SOMETHING it’s going to be assumed most of them are of the same ilk and this cycle will continue, because that blue wall is strong.

            A bit off topic but something that I heard recently. You know how you hear a song over and over and before you know it you’re singing this song non-stop? At some point it’s been ingrained in your consciousness. Black people in America have for so long been the topic of that song. We’re bad. We’re lazy. We’re shiftless. We’re ingrates (because slavery treated us so well). We don’t want to work. We’re aggressive. We have extra muscle (I kid you not a friend actually said this once) so we’re naturally stronger. We’re all thugs. That song has played so long and so strong, and has been passed down through the generations so seamlessly that people don’t even realize they internalized it and act on it.

            I’m tired. I really just want to isolate myself from everything because my heart hurts. I keep being shown my life isn’t valued. It just hurts.

            December 3, 2014
          • Amanda
            Amanda

            [Supposed to be a response to Tired, but no reply link under the comment!]

            I wholeheartedly agree that change happens from within (it’s the older officers teaching the younger officers, after all), and the only way to achieve lasting change is by getting and retaining better officers who don’t fall into the trap of the old boys network. Part of that is about changing the image of a department– why even apply if you think your local department is full of douchebags?

            I do see change on a local level (mental health clinicians accompanying police to health calls, making crime report racial stats available to the public to invite policy updates), so I didn’t mean to imply everybody is sitting tight and not questioning their comrades and department policies. Compared to the national stage, though, local improvements feel like drops in a bucket. We need national training standards, and apparently Internal Affairs isn’t cutting it in a lot of cities, so special prosecutors as well.

            And it’s true: these guys are constantly taught stats about officer injuries and deaths, the periodic murder-ambushes that happen every year, etc. I see how easy it is to become paranoid and start seeing threats everywhere. Add racism (blatant or internalized) and what “looks like a threat” suddenly starts following a trend.

            December 5, 2014
        • Lindsay
          Lindsay

          I don’t think any one thing can solve the problem. There are a myriad of problems, not the least of which being prosecuting attorneys.* However, I do adamantly believe that these video recordings can be extremely helpful. The problem isn’t merely “he said she said.” I would not be surprised that if, in a lot of situations, the police officer or victim isn’t even lying, not in the real sense of actively trying to cover up the truth.

          There is already a lot of evidence out there that eyewitness accounts are often very unhelpful, because the brain has this nasty habit of mis-remembering things. And a lot of those studies have been in cases of neutral, or mostly neutral, bystanders. Imagine how much a brain can mis-remember when you are actually part of the fray.

          The advantage of video cameras is that it takes the subjectivity and problems of memory out. It provides an account of what happened exactly as it happened. That won’t help with faulty prosecutions, or juries that hold certain biases, or any of the other issues, but I adamantly believe that it would have a significant impact. I believe *any* impact is a good thing – as that article points out, if the police forces can afford all these fancy gadgets so that police officers can do even more damage, then there should certainly be some investment in technology that provides more monitoring of them.

          * I want to note that I do not think that all, or even most, prosecutors are villains. I have met and seen a number of them in action, most are good people trying to do their jobs. But I think they are in a very difficult position when they have to prosecute a police officer, both personally and in terms of their career. I don’t think this is an excuse, but I do think it explains why they behave like they do. I think more regulations in how prosecutors are allowed to handle their case would help greatly. It would help get more indictments/convictions, and help protect their careers.

          December 4, 2014
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    • A. Noyd
      A. Noyd

      How about automatically appointing a special prosecutor. Or at least making it possible for victims’ families and communities to get one brought in. And prosecutors who use the authority of their office to spread cop-exonerating narratives on national television like McCulloch did in the preamble to the GJ announcement should be fucking fired.

      December 2, 2014
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      • A. Noyd
        A. Noyd

        D’oh, this was supposed to be a reply to Lindsay.

        December 2, 2014
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      • Lindsay
        Lindsay

        Yes, I think bringing in a special prosecutor is an excellent idea. It seems like McCulloch messed up even worse than a lot of prosecutors would in other similar cases, but in *any* case involving a police officer, a prosecutor is put in a very difficult position. By having a special prosecutor brought in, that allows the normal prosecutor to have their career protected – i.e., they don’t have to worry about repercussions for going after the police officer with all their normal muster. In fact, I think it should be automatic. I think a prosecutor might suffer repercussions for not fighting *to* represent the officer (or they might want to, because that’s their colleague in a lot of ways), because the police force and prosecutors’ office might feel “well, that officer would have gotten off if you had represented him, you should have tried harder to be able to stay on the case.”

        December 4, 2014
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  5. M
    M

    I strongly suggest people read The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander and The Divide by Matt Taibbi. Riots may not be the answer, but when you see the kind of pressure people have been under due to an undeniably racist and classist justice system, you may find yourself surprised by how few riots we have.

    December 2, 2014
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  6. Excellently put as always, and a nice round up of links. Thank you!

    December 2, 2014
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  7. I’m so re-posting your thing you posted to facebook. And then the link to that post on tumblr. Because they are so important. Now to get my family to stop being a bunch of racist douchebags who think Wilson did nothing wrong…………..

    Also, I 100000% agree with you here:
    “For while I feel white people have a responsibility to educate each other about racism, this is a moment in history where black voices need to be heard and listened to above everyone else’s.”

    Yes we have that responsibility of educating each other but we also have the responsibility to shut the fuck up and actually listen to the words that black people are saying and to signal boost the hell out of their voices instead of us re-saying what they’re saying and then getting the credit for their words.

    December 2, 2014
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  8. xebi
    xebi

    I’ve never lived in the US so forgive me if I’m being ignorant, but seriously, I don’t see the point in using a grand jury for cases where someone has actually died. If they’re going to stop stupid petty cases from wasting court time, sure. But dudes. Someone died, FFS.

    December 3, 2014
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    • goddesstio
      goddesstio

      I honestly don’t understand the logic in what you’re saying, and I’ve read it over like 5 times trying to understand what you mean, so I think at this point you’ve got both of us confused.

      December 3, 2014
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      • Hth
        Hth

        I think the poster is saying that it would make sense to send homicide cases directly to jury trial rather than through the filter of the grand jury in order to decide whether or not a jury trial is warranted. That seems intuitively sensible to me, but I don’t have the legal expertise to fully understand all the ramifications, I’m sure.

        December 3, 2014
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        • goddesstio
          goddesstio

          Well, homicide cases do go to jury trial; what the grand jury was there to determine was if there was enough evidence to bring homicide charges or not to begin with. They decided there wasn’t enough evidence to call it a homicide to begin with, which is kind of what they’re for. At least, the non-rigged ones.

          they are also in charge of conducting their own internal investigations of government agencies, which is why they get called in on a lot of police-related incidents in which charges may or may not be brought.

          Disclaimer: I am not a law major or professional.

          December 3, 2014
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    • Anonymous
      Anonymous

      It’s a bit confusing, to be honest. A Grand Jury isn’t meant to replace a trial by jury, but is more of a preliminary thing in the case of criminal preceding to see if a trial should ever take place to begin with.

      Like, let’s take a hypothetical murder case that the police have two, maybe three suspects. After they narrow it down to one likely suspect, they’ll give the prosecutors the evidence and let them form a case around it; when that’s done, the prosecutors then go to the Grand Jury and ask them if there’s reasonable grounds for a trial. Sometimes the jury’ll say no, sometimes they’ll say yes and give the go-ahead for a trial (and arrest of the suspect, if they hadn’t been arrested by that point – arresting and charging can get very complicated here, too), and sometimes they’ll go “eh… maybe. There’s [this], [this], and [this] evidence that’s lacking that leaves horrible gaps in your case and/or shows you have the wrong person. If you can find evidence to fill that, then it’ll be clear you have the right suspect and the trial against them can go ahead.”

      Even in cases where the murderer is apparent, prosecutors still have to try their evidence against the Grand Jury to see if it’s strong enough go to a trial. Typically (UNLIKE this case), the prosecutors won’t present every evidence and the Grand Jury won’t interview EVERY witness and related person to the case, since that’s understood to be something that would happen at the trial by peers (if it occurs), though the Grand Jury can ask to interview witnesses if necessary; presenting every bit of evidence and witness testimony in front of the Grand Jury is really, REALLY like having a closed-door, secret “trial” to determine guilt or innocence (which goes against everything the judicial system here stands for, since most – if not all – non-juvenile court proceedings are open records by necessity and law).

      December 3, 2014
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      • Anonymous
        Anonymous

        (Er – with the last part of my comment: I know that the Ferguson jury’s decision doesn’t say whether or not Wilson is guilty, but it feels too much like McCulloch decided he was judge, prosecutor, and jury in this case to bring about the decision he wanted…)

        But basically, Grand Juries exist to make sure that there’s enough evidence against a criminal to make sure they’re punished to the extent that they should be for their crimes. A lack of evidence or hastily put together things can lead to reduced crimes and/or a verdict of not guilty. Since there’s laws against double jeopardy here (meaning you can’t be tried twice for the same crime), cops and prosecutors both tend to want to make their cases against criminals as air-tight as possible. And often DO, since Grand Juries tend to give the go-ahead the vast majority of the time (sometimes after a few rounds of “maybes,” admittedly), except in the cases where it’s a crime/murder committed by a cop…

        December 3, 2014
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  9. Meghan
    Meghan

    I hate to play the I’m-a-lawyer card, but, well, I’m a lawyer, and I have to correct some statements people are making.
    What people seem to be missing here is that a grand jury indictment is 1) not a verdict of guilty in a criminal trial and 2) based on a MUCH lower standard than a criminal trial (in which guilt must be found beyond a reasonable doubt). And there’s this old saying that a prosecutor can indict a ham sandwich. All they have to show is probable cause to bring charges. That’s it. Prosecutors pretty much always get indictments (http://reason.com/blog/2014/11/25/grand-juries-almost-never-fail-to-indict), and the way this prosecutor presented the evidence convinces me that he intentionally tanked his case. It appears it’s not the first time he’s done it. (http://www.stltoday.com/news/local/metro/st-louis-prosecutor-has-faced-controversy-for-decades/article_cdd4c104-6086-506e-9ee8-aa957a31fee5.html and http://www.stltoday.com/news/local/crime-and-courts/sign-petitions-seeking-special-prosecutor-in-michael-brown-shooting/article_d0cc6e7f-8b32-5153-8ab4-86ebdc4659ca.html)
    Darren Wilson should have been indicted. There was more than sufficient evidence. He would have gotten a trial before a jury with all the constitution protections due to him. An indictment is not a finding of guilt; that isn’t what grand juries do. But there should have been a public trial where all the evidence was presented. That’s how the system is supposed to work.
    And, just to clear up something someone said above, George Zimmerman wasn’t indicted, because under Florida law a grand jury wasn’t required. But he was charged and tried in a criminal proceeding before a jury.
    Sorry to get all pedantic, but all this incorrect legal talk is making me a little nuts.

    December 3, 2014
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    • BC
      BC

      YES, THANK YOU. I’m a lawyer too (and I’m totally with you on the hesitancy to play that card because I deal with that too, but in this situation, I agree that clarifications are necessary). The fact that Wilson was not indicted is maddening. The more I read about the grand jury proceedings, the more astounded I am. I could go on and on about this, but I’d be up all night typing.

      A little bit of a tangent, but I’m going to play the lawyer card one more time and STRONGLY encourage everyone to learn their 4th Amendment rights! It’s so important, more than people realize! Don’t ever trust the cops to cut you a break.

      December 3, 2014
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  10. Alicia
    Alicia

    Jesse Williams from Grey’s Anatomy is a good follow too. He’s very smart.
    Great post as always.

    December 3, 2014
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  11. A. Noyd
    A. Noyd

    A grand jury in NY has decided Daniel Pantaleo, the cop who choked Eric Garner to death, will also not be facing charges.

    December 3, 2014
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