The much-anticipated Ferguson decision

photo (11)

I was thinking this morning that, while all Monday-morning papers tend to be light on news, today was a particularly slow one.

I thought that because both The New York Times and The Washington Post were leading their iPad apps with a story that hadn’t happened yet. Which, in the strict definition of What Constitutes A Lede that I was taught, is something you don’t do. News is, at the least, something that has happened. Advancer stories have their value, but they don’t lead the paper, in the normal course of things.

Anyway, I share that as a way of having a post already up and ready in case y’all would like to comment when the Ferguson grand jury does report, which I see it is expected to do at 8 p.m.

photo (12)


50 thoughts on “The much-anticipated Ferguson decision

  1. Barry

    Seems everyone knows what happened in this case. I am someone that doesn’t know – and can’t guess because I have no basis for it.

    Meanwhile in Chicago……. (There won’t be any protests)

    Eight people were fatally shot throughout Chicago last week.

    Three of the murders happened over the weekend, when 11 other people were wounded by gunfire.

    The most recent killing happened when 23-year-old Ladarius Edwards was shot on a sidewalk in the 8000 block of South Fairfield Avenue about 2:50 a.m. Saturday, authorities said.

    1. Kathryn Fenner

      So, we should not be upset when it seems that a prosecutor could not, as is commonly proposed, indict a ham sandwich?
      A grand jury only sees the prosecution’s evidence. I find it very hard to imagine how a halfway decent prosecutor could not indict based on what we know.

      If some black thugs killed a cute white child, under the same set of evidence, and were not indicted, perhaps whites woud not riot in the street, because we have not had the experiences of powerlessness the black community has, but would you be equally sanguine?

      1. Mike Cakora

        While it’s commonly observed that a prosecutor can indict a ham sandwich (or a sitting governor for lawfully exercising his line-item veto as is the case with almost former Governor of Texas, Rick Perry), why on earth would one want to conceal evidence in a case where capital charges are possible? A fully decent prosecutor, as Bob McCulloch appears to be, would certainly want all facts and testimony to be presented to the grand jury for justice to be truly served.

        From McCulloch’s preliminary remarks last night it appears that the grand jury members re-called some witnesses to reconcile different accounts and compare forensic evidence with the accounts.

        While the specter of race clouds the issue, would it not have been racist for the prosecutor or his assistants to withhold exculpatory evidence?

        1. Kathryn Fenner

          I think they have an ethical responsibility to present exculpatory evidence. No one gets to cross-examine the prosecution’s evidence, and the prosecution gets to present the exculpatory evidence as they see it. The deck is stacked in favor of indictment in a proper situation. One hopes no one is trying to indict someone whom they believe not to be guilty, and indeed, the prosecution has an ethical duty not to try to indict someone whom they believe to be innocent. The logical conclusion of all this sure looks like the prosecution’s “heart” wasn’t in it. They were politically required to try to indict the cop, but…
          This just seems like an… unusual result, given what we know.

      2. Brad Warthen Post author

        I have a terrible time deciding whether I am sanguine or phlegmatic on a given subject. Seems to me they have characteristics in common. I’d use the words more if I understood the distinction better. Both are cool, calm, unruffled. I suppose the difference is that the sanguine person is that way because he thinks everything is hunky-dory; the phlegmatic person is simply unmoved.

        But I digress.

        It’s just a no-win situation. If indeed a grand jury lacks sufficient evidence to indict, then it must not indict, however much turmoil that causes in the streets. And it was inevitably going to cause such turmoil. There was no avoiding it.

        Just a lousy, lousy situation — for everyone, including the cop, who can’t walk the streets of his town, perhaps ever again…

        1. John

          I’m not a lawyer and don’t like playing dress-up lawyer, so am glad to leave legal discussions to others. But there is one thing that really bothers me here about this case – your comment about walking the streets of his town is wrong. According to the NY times he lives in Crestwood, not Ferguson. That’s ~ 20 miles different by street and very different by several social metrics. I would like to see people examine the issue of whether or not municipal employees should be required to live in the districts they serve. That seems like one of the cleaner strategies for making sure the government offices mirror the people being served.

            1. Barry

              That’s a good point. However – not speaking about the police – but

              The Columbia mayor doesn’t live anywhere near downtown- an area he is really charged with promoting as a place to live and play.

              Washington DC is full of politicians from both parties that live in Washington DC 10-11 months out of the year- and represent places “back home.”

      3. Mike Cakora

        This is a very sad situation, this Ferguson shooting was certainly emotionally charged and, based on what I heard and read last night and this morning, it seems to have been resolved in an unemotional, rational manner with the conclusion that the cop used justifiable force.

        That the usual suspects have been trying to take political advantage of the situation by feeding the rage over three months is, unfortunately, to be expected, but why do they succeed, and why do folks trash their own neighborhoods?

        What’s also really annoying is that neither the president and nor his AG could muster some hifalutin shout-out to all Americans. Holder simply proved that he’s a mindless apparatchik by saying that the DoJ civil rights investigation continues, and I’m still not too sure what the president meant. But nobody peaked the soaring rhetoric meter last night.

        Let’s not let the media off the hook either. Who’s being biased here?

        Fox News: Breaking News: Grand Jury does not indict officer in Ferguson Case
        CNN: No indictment for Darren Wilson, the white police officer who fatally shot Michael Brown, an unarmed black teen.

        Great moments in news, not!

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          I see what you’re saying, but that’s accurate. He IS the officer who fatally shot him, and he WAS unarmed. I don’t think the grand jury found anything different from that. They just didn’t find him indictable…

          The shorthand for who Darren Wilson is is “the guy who shot Michael Brown.” There’s no more neutral way to describe him than that. I infer your objection to the “unarmed” part, but it’s factual, and it very economically explains why the shooting was controversial, and why we’re hearing about it.

          I don’t see anything in that to object to…

          1. Barry

            “Unarmed black teen” is accurate- but it also doesn’t explain the situation and it’ written in the headline to elicit an emotional response.

            That’s why I keep hearing talking heads repeat over and over that the teen was unarmed- like having a gun was be all and end all and nothing else matters.

            No one ever accused him of being armed, or carrying a fake pistol.

            People kill each other all the time with their hands- especially strong men.

      4. Barry

        No- not if the prosecutor didn’t feel like the evidence backed up a conviction.

        It wasn’t as if the prosecutor was going to get away with not bringing it- at a minimum- to a grand jury.

  2. Mike Cakora

    I thought St. Louis County prosecutor Bob McCulloch gave a well-structured, comprehensive description of the grand jury process, evidence, conflicts in testimony, physical evidence, etc. Some of the questioners in the court room were obviously disappointed that no indictment whatsoever was rendered.

    One commenter, a lawyer, said that he was surprised that the grand jury did not find something to indict Wilson before because of the politics of the situation. Thank goodness the citizens on the grand jury did not cave in to political urges.

    Cool! FoxNews is showing a gal then a guy trying unsuccessfully to break a window at McDonald’s with a baseball bat. No success, so the crowd moves to the liquor store next door and succeed in liberating booze and mixer.

    1. Mike Cakora

      Ooops! They did break the window at McDonald’s. This is all rather silly. Of course, I thought it was rather silly in 1968 too.

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        I saw that clip, and I had trouble understanding what was happening. The woman was so tentatively tapping at the window with a bat, and I was thinking, “Why don’t you give it a good SWING?” And then I saw why — the window was breaking, and breaking into gigantic, guillotine-like shards, which I suppose would make anyone tentative.

        If one must break such a window, why on Earth not stand back and heave a brick or something?

        But what puzzled me most was the motive…

        Who breaks into a McDonald’s? What is there in a McDonald’s that one is so anxious to get to? A Quarter-Pounder?

        Or is the destruction of the window the point? And if so, I still don’t get it. Oh, I get the idea of a futile gesture by a completely alienated person: Take THAT, America! Here’s what I think of your McDonald’s, your Coca-Cola! But I’m not sure that was the statement being made. The connection to the events that precipitated the activity seems thin.

        I found myself wanting to make up an alternative backstory for the woman: She works at McDonald’s. Earlier in the day, she had an argument with her boss, and impulsively decided to quit. She left a letter of resignation on his desk.

        She later decided she needed the job too much, and wanted to get the letter back. So, she uses the rioting in the streets as a cover for breaking the window, and going in and getting the letter.

        I like an explanation that makes sense…

        1. Mike Cakora

          The liquor store / market, Mickey D’s, an AutoZone. Jade Nails, and a bunch of other businesses no longer have employees. The former employees will certainly qualify for unemployment. The store owners may get minor relief from insurance, and will have to decide whether to rebuild or not, with many unwilling (or financially unable) to rebuild. Lenders and insurers will think twice before doing business in that area for a long time.

        2. Kathryn Fenner

          Dunno. It’s a thing at some universities for students to drag couches into the streets and set them aflame after football games. I sure wouldn’t want to be around those fumes.

          People in mobs do really stupid, senseless stuff. Atavistic.

          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            Yes, they do. And it IS atavistic, I suppose. But what is it a throwback TO? Why would such a trait have evolved in us?

            Burning couches? Breaking windows? I fail to see how those are good strategies for passing on genes…

            1. Kathryn Fenner

              Dunno, but lots of “lower” animals have a mob mentality. Certainly dogs do. I can handle most any single dog, or even two, but get a bunch together, and you don’t know what’s going to happen.

              Analogizing to dogs, again, which is what I know best: why would separation anxiety lead a dog to tear up stuff? I suspect the same impulse is why erstwhile powerless people, when rendered powerful by virtue of numbers, tear up stuff.

        3. Mike Cakora

          Wow, way to go fellow citizens! Natalie Dubose’s business, Natalie’s Cakes and More, will rise from the ruins. Her story got the attention of a bunch of people (go to the link for details) who have committed over $100K to get her back in the kitchen!

          Details here.

    2. Barry

      Some of the media people in that room were not hiding their conclusions on the issue. I didn’t think some were professional.

      And reality is that only 12-25 people know the actual evidence.

  3. Barry


    The Post and Times put that on their front page because of the same reasons the “journalists” on cable news have riled up tension on this issue for months when none of them had even 10% of the evidence.

    The media has helped create some of this mess.

  4. Harry Harris

    I will assume that the grand jury did their job. Seems strange that the prosecutor did such a profound job defending a decision that went against the case for which he was the chief advocate.
    Regardless, the statements that Officer Wilson followed his training is troubling. Do law enforcement officers receive training to empty their magazines against a lone, unarmed suspect? 12 shots. If this were the only such case, perhaps the use of excessive deadly force would not seem so blatantly apparent. Officers face grave danger, but the killing and shooting of numerous non-armed suspects raises alarm to many of us, hitting as close to home as Columbia and Eutawville.

    1. Barry

      12 shots doesn’t surprise me. Training doesn’t prepare anyone to fire a pistol at a living person. Wilson, per the statements, had never fired his weapon on the job in his 6 years as an officer.

      It also didn’t surprise me to see the prosecutor take time to explain what happened. With so many people in the country with their minds made up and 100% confident that they know exactly what happened, I would have taken great pains to explain everything -good and bad -too.

      1. Mike Cakora

        Agree. Clear the area when a cop opens fire. Most cops don’t spend much time at the range and don’t shoot much. When the adrenalin rush comes on, they focus on stopping what’s hurt or is going to hurt them. Looks like both conditions applied in Ferguson.

        1. Barry

          Well, I guess it applied. I have never made up my mind. I simply don’t know.

          I do get tired of the refrain that Brown was unarmed. While that is certainly important to know, people on tv are using that fact alone to suggest the shooting was unjustified. That is rubbish.

          The fact he was unarmed is important, but it by itself in no way suggests the the shooting was unjustified. Mr. Brown was much larger than the officer. IF IF IF he was indeed rushing the officer after he was told to stop, after a physical confrontation with the officer at the patrol car, the fact he was unarmed isn’t the determinant factor in the situation. The fact some talking heads on tv keep repeating it as if it is the determinant factor is a red herring.

  5. Karen Pearson

    If I understand what happened correctly, and the law (as it has repeatedly been explained) correctly, then the grand jury had no choice but to find as they did. The whole situation is sad. All too often blacks are perceived as being more of a threat than whites. I know I’m guilty of that; if I’m walking down the street at night and a man is coming up behind me, I’m more nervous if the person is black than if he’s white. It’s not good and it’s not fair, but it’s a perception that will not go away easily. Added to that is the fact that the laws are written to allow the police a lot of leeway. Otherwise we might have a lot of dead cops. That wouldn’t be good either. It seems to me that we need to start with better training for our police, and more carefully written laws. We also badly need to talk to each other honestly. Given the abuses which many young black men frequently have had to endure, I have no doubt that they feel the a lot of distrust for the police and for the system, and with good reason. That perception will not go away easily either. But if we don’t work to change perceptions on both sides we will continue to have lives lost and angry riots.

    1. Barry

      When I am walking at night and I notice someone behind me, I don’t care who they are- I am often nervous if I perceive them to be walking with no real purpose or destination.

      Jesse Jackson once admitted to being more nervous seeing young black men walking together on the street than white men.

      For me personally, it really doesn’t matter their skin color when I am alone and see a group walking behind me or toward me.

  6. Mike Cakora

    Claudia Anderson, Managing Editor of the Weekly Standard writes about her recent stint on a District of Columbia grand jury.

    I’ve served on city, county, and federal trial juries, never on a grand jury, but I echo her remarks about the courtesy all involved show to the jurors. They know the citizens don’t do jury stuff for a living, are away from our jobs, and are otherwise inconvenienced.

  7. Lynn Teague

    I find Darren Wilson’s comment that Michael Brown looked like a “demon” very disturbing. It doesn’t seem likely that Brown actually looked like anyone’s idea of a “demon”, which means that the image was in Wilson’s mind, not in front of his eyes. Whatever the legal outcome, this is so very sad, and indicates beyond a shadow of a doubt that Wilson should never have been in a line of work that involved carrying a gun.

    1. Barry

      I’ve seen what he is talking about. I heard other officers on tv saying the same thing.

      If you have ever been around a group of guys when ones becomes exteremely angry, you would likely characterize it in a very similar manner.

    1. Mike Cakora

      The author of the New Yorker piece you linked to calls McCulloch’s decision to turn Wilson’s case over to the grand jury a “rarity itself, and then used the investigation as a document dump, an approach that is virtually without precedent in the law of Missouri or anywhere else.”

      That’s not quite the case according to an attorney over at National Review who writes:

      …in publicly controversial cases, such as police shootings, where the prosecutor doesn’t want to be seen as the sole decider of the case. In those circumstances, prosecutors will often send a case to the grand jury, but not as an advocate for the indictment but rather as a conduit for all known evidence in the case — essentially punting their own prosecutorial discretion to the grand jurors.

      So a prosecutor confronted with an outsized controversy but no case or a weak one will let the grand jury decide based on all available evidence.

      1. Kathryn Fenner

        I read both as saying the same: the prosecutor bunted the case to the grand jury for political reasons.

        1. Brad Warthen

          But… Wouldn’t the POLITICAL thing to do be to do your best to get an indictment. To take it to grand jury and NOT get an indictment makes him look like he can’t do his job.

          Seems like the safe political thing would be to get and indictment. Than you’ve done your job, and then the decision is up to a trial court — out of your hands.

          But maybe I’m not fully understanding how this plays among white people. Which may sound ironic, but when white people are acting like white people QUA white people, they lose me — as happens with any sort of Identity Politics…

          1. Mike Cakora

            Brad –

            You write: Seems like the safe political thing would be to get and indictment. Than you’ve done your job, and then the decision is up to a trial court — out of your hands.

            McCulloch’s the prosecutor, it stays in his hands. With an indictment, he takes the case to trial. If the evidence is weak or contradictory, or if there’s a good defense, he runs the risk of losing. How does a losing prosecutor look come election time.

            Earlier today on CNN (I think) Rudy Giuliani said that were he the prosecutor he’d have not pressed charges because there was no evidence of probable cause and no chance that a prosecutor could secure a conviction.

            “As a prosecutor, you couldn’t possibly have won that case,” Giuliani said. “They would’ve been destroyed at trial by a halfway competent defense lawyer, because of all the inconsistencies.”

            He added: “If you can’t prove probable cause, how are you going to prove it beyond a reasonable doubt when the witnesses are contradicting themselves?”

            He added that there was a lot of perjury and it took time for the grand jury to get to the truth. That would kill the prosecution at trial where the standard is reasonable doubt.

        2. Barry

          Taking it to a jury and losing would have been just as bad.- or worse. That is what the prosecutor did in the Martin case in Florida and she was ripped to shreds in the media for it.

          He did the only thing he could in the situation where he didn’t believe he could win at trial.

  8. Jeff Morrell

    I wish you folks would quit referring to the burning of couches. My Mrs. from WV is quite offended.

      1. Mike Cakora

        Thanks! Bear in mind that I spared you sensitive folks on Brad’s blog the alternative response, referencing former Speaker Pelosi’s declaration regarding ObamaCare, that “We have to pass it to see what’s in it.” The same applies to a stool sample…

        1. Kathryn Fenner

          Actually, as my dogs can attest, no, you don’t, but it’s a lot less comfortable the other way…

  9. M. Prince

    One that occurs to me: If Wilson had had a partner in the car with him, which was once standard practice (until we became focused on cost-cutting), then Brown (assuming he acted in the way Wilson described) probably could have been subdued without need for deadly force and there likely wouldn’t have been an incident or violence or … well, anything.

    1. Barry

      I think some cities still have cops with partners. At least they do on Law & Order – so it has to be close to true.

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        I’ve always had the impression that we didn’t go for two cops in a car down South because cars are cheaper than people.

        Maybe we see them on TV because cops in New York and L.A. (and how often do we see cop shows and films set anywhere else?) have strong unions.

        Also, think about how much more boring it would be to watch a cop by himself in a car. Who would want to watch THAT on TV?

        A movie like “End of Watch” would have been pointless. You need a partner there to care about the protagonist — so that you’ll care about him, too….

        1. M.Prince

          An uncle of mine served with the Greenville Police Department for some 30 years. As far as I know, he always had a partner while out on patrol — except maybe very early on when he walked a foot-patrol beat downtown. And back then (we’re talking 1960s here), there was a small police sub-station (a large booth on the sidewalk just off Main Street) with 2-3 other policemen on duty. So nobody was ever entirely alone.

        2. Kathryn Fenner

          I think we see pairs on TV because it is a lot easier to have conversations with two in a car.
          The Netflix TV show Traffic Light based on an Israeli one, gets around that by having the characters talk on the hands-free option in their cars to other characters.

Comments are closed.