On November 24th, a St. Louis County grand jury of twelve came to the decision that white Police Officer Darren Wilson acted lawfully. He was on trial for shooting unarmed black teen Michael Brown six times, ending his life on August 9th 2014.
Only 11 days after the death of Brown, the St. Louis grand jury organized and set out to determine whether Officer Wilson would be charged with a crime due to his actions. However, in the case of Ferguson there were many narratives of what did or did not occur. “The duty of the grand jury [was] to separate fact from fiction,” St. Lois County’s prosecuting attorney, Bob McCullouch, stated before announcing the verdict. The jury, comprised of nine whites and three blacks, was as immersed in the media coverage of Michael Brown’s death, the subsequent riots, and the evolving story.
Ferguson, lacking a history of demographic concentration, is today very ethnically stratified. Yet, despite the dense black population of Ferguson, the Police force is predominantly white. Only 4 out of the 53 members of the Ferguson Police Force are not white. Although this race polarization in police power may seem like a recipe for violent racial crime, the opposite is true. The fact that Ferguson is the location of this shooting is in many ways a surprise. Relative to surrounding areas, Ferguson has not accounted for a large share of violent crimes. Regardless of Ferguson’s track record for racial violence, the community has a strong sense of animosity toward the predominantly white police force.
Many came forward to testify that either Brown was shot from behind while fleeing, shot repeatedly in the chest while lying on the ground, or shot in the back while in an act of surrender. However, when an autopsy was done, no bullet wounds were found in the locations expected for the aforementioned positions.
It was these inconsistencies that lead the grand jury to believe the sequence of events as told by Officer Darren Wilson, who testified before them, a very unorthodox occurrence in a grand jury case. According to Officer Wilson’s testimony, other witness testimony, and the physical evidence, the following was believed to have occured:
- Michael is shown on a surveillance video stealing cigarillos at Ferguson Market and Liquors at 11: 54 a.m. He and Dorian Johnson leave soon after.
- On route home, heading north on West Florissant Avenue, they both turn on Canfield Drive walking in the middle of the road.
- Officer Wilson arrives at 12:01 p.m. and, from the window of his police car, instructs the two men to move to the sidewalk.
- A disagreement then follows between Brown and Officer Wilson, Wilson remaining in the police car the entire time. The conflict becomes physical and, according to forensic evidence, two shots are fired in the car, one hitting Brown in the arm and the other missing him completely.
- Brown runs away, and Officer Wilson gets out of his car and pursues him on foot, continuing to fire.
- The private autopsy shows Brown was shot six times with one of the bullets entering the top of Mr. Brown’s skull. This suggests that his head was bent forward when shot, ultimately causing a fatal wound.
Despite the disputed details, the grand jury did not indict Officer Wilson on any of the five charges brought forth. However, many have begun to riot due to this controversial ruling. Some argue that Brown’s friend Dorian Johnson, who was there at the time of the conflict, testified that Wilson was the primary aggressor and tried to threaten Brown with his gun, for which Brown never reached. Some argue that the wound on top of Brown’s head shows that he was in the process of surrendering and that this was a race-related murder. However, the laws dictating a policemen’s lawful right to use fatal force in self-defense, the proof of Brown’s previous criminal activity, and inconsistencies in witness testimony persuaded the St. Louis grand jury to rule in favor of Officer Darren Wilson.
Featured image source: David Gold/AP Photos, 11/24/2014