Mistakes and tragedies in Ferguson, Missouri

 

People stand near a burning AutoZone store on West Florissant Avenue following the St. Louis County grand jury decision in Ferguson, Mo.

People stand near a burning AutoZone store on West Florissant Avenue following the St. Louis County grand jury decision in Ferguson, Mo.

Some thoughts on the events of last night in Ferguson, Missouri:

1. Announcing the grand jury’s decision after 8 p.m. local time was a huge mistake. This seemed obvious beforehand to everyone –except, apparently, the district attorney who scheduled the announcement. The simple element of daylight would have made it easier for law enforcement to maintain order and for those who wanted to protest peacefully to prevail over those who were spoiling for a fight. If, as I saw some people speculate, the DA wanted to make his address in prime time to maximize the number of viewers, that was a small gain at a large cost.

2. The conventional wisdom about the confrontation between Michael Brown and officer Darren Wilson on Aug. 9 was factually incorrect in significant ways. Let me preface this by saying the grand-jury evidence that has been made public comprises 78 documents, some of which contain scores and even hundreds of pages, and I have not reviewed them all. At this hour, I would be skeptical of anyone who claims he has, if he wasn’t privy to them before last night. But based on what the prosecutor, Robert McCulloch, said during his remarks last night, this much seems clear: The grand jurors did not believe the initial reports from witnesses who said Brown was in the process of surrendering, with his hands raised, when he was gunned down. McCulloch indicated that some of the witnesses who made these or similar claims in Brown’s favor didn’t even stick with their stories once they were presented with physical evidence from the scene. And even when witnesses did stick with their stories, their stories came across to the grand jurors as not credible in the face of physical evidence. Exactly which pieces of physical evidence weighed most heavily in their minds, we may never know; McCulloch indicated that it would be against Missouri law for them to tell us. But some of the things he seemed to emphasize include the presence of gunshot residue and Brown’s blood and DNA both outside and inside the patrol car, as well as the presence of gunshot wounds on the top of Brown’s head and in other places consistent with his being bent over head-first, not standing upright. Also, as McCulloch related the facts, it seems Brown’s appearance and clothing were consistent with that of a suspect in a theft that had just occurred nearby.

3. This does not mean shooting Brown was the best decision Wilson could have made. Only Wilson, who was the person sitting in the patrol car at the time, could judge the threat he faced. But it also seems clear from McCulloch’s narrative that Brown was not lethally wounded by the shots Wilson fired inside his car. The “charging” motion that at least one witness described Brown making toward Wilson came after both men had moved away from the patrol car. So it is an open question whether Wilson needed to exit the car and pursue Brown, or whether Brown might still be alive — albeit probably in jail for assaulting an officer — had he stayed in the car and waited for his backup, which arrived within a minute (not that he could have known that would happen).

4. Nor does this mean “black lives don’t matter.” The fact that a grand jury didn’t find probable cause to indict Wilson in light of the evidence does not mean Brown’s death isn’t tragic, couldn’t have been avoided and shouldn’t be the impetus for efforts — not mere “dialogue” or a “national conversation” — to improve relations between law enforcement and minority communities. It means the law gives the benefit of the doubt to police officers involved in deadly altercations. While there certainly could be some fine-tuning of that law — maybe the best idea to come out of this episode is for officers to wear body cameras — I don’t think we want law enforcement officers who are afraid to do their jobs. That would probably lead to less policing in the kind of poor areas where, as President Obama put it last night, good policing may be most needed.

5. Speaking of Obama, his remarks were right on target. He might have undermined his point just a bit by belaboring it, but he was exactly right to note both that some Americans have good historical reasons not to trust the police, and that no one will change that by breaking car windows. It was unfortunate for him that the timing of his remarks led to the incredible spectacle of cable-news outlets showing split screens with him on one side, and burning cars and tear gas on the other. (Personally, I put that on McCulloch for timing his announcement as he did.) Maybe the president should go to Ferguson and give a speech. No, seriously.

6. The people who didn’t heed Obama’s — or the Brown family’s — call for nonviolent protest are only ensuring this vicious cycle lasts longer than it must. Community doesn’t trust police, erupts when police kill member of community. Police don’t trust community, crack down when members of community (or interlopers who care nothing for it) react violently and destroy property. Lather, rinse, repeat. At some point, one of the cogs in this wheel has to say enough is enough and not play out its expected role. Waiting for someone else to do that only means the wheel spends round and round again, harming too many people along the way. Enough really is enough.

7. It’s unfortunate that the underlying issues of distrust only surface in these situations, which invariably bring complications to the broader, seemingly straight-forward question of “justice.” The facts of Brown’s death make some people hesitant to give real grievances their due, and those grievances make it hard for some people to accept the facts.  And round and round we go again.

8. Many of my brethren in the media did not help matters. McCulloch was slammed on Twitter, by journalists and pundits, for laying some of the blame on the 24-hour news cycle and social media. But you know what? He wasn’t that far off-base. Too many reporters in Ferguson’s streets appeared to be playing Arnett-Holliman-and-Shaw-in-Baghdad. If that seems unfair, consider many of the images broadcast last night appeared to show police officers and camera crews outnumbering everyone else. I doubt that was true across the entirety of Ferguson, but it speaks to the reality-show nature that infected much of the blanket coverage of this event, chiefly by cable news. (This is another ill effect of the after-dark timing of the announcement.) This was true, it must be said, chiefly of CNN, whose live broadcast from Ferguson pretty much all of Monday gave one the impression the network was pining for a riot. It was reminiscent of the network’s coverage of that stranded cruise ship last year, and it reeked of a once-serious news outlet that is being run by a former entertainment executive. If you mock Fox News but give CNN a pass these days, you are revealing yourself as the partisan in this equation. Certainly, some journalists have done excellent work on this story. But any serious media ethics class at any serious journalism school, for years to come, should include an examination of news coverage of Ferguson, from Aug. 9 onward.

Reader Comments 0

162 comments
MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

We are all - of this age - part of the continuing evolution of making America into the "more perfect union" which our Founders envisioned for this nation, even if their era in history did not provide for their easily living out that vision personally. Hence, why Jefferson was forced remove his condemnation of slavery from the Declaration of Independence by those delegates from Georgia and South Carolina.


From slavery, through Jim Crow, through the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s (of which I was a part), the evolution for a more perfect union continues.  America has been 40 years in a spiritual wilderness of her own making in seeking mainly the "now," materialism, and greed for money, for oneself and for one's own primarily. It is rewarding to me - in that I have always seen people of all creeds and colors as the same, inherently - to see the young of today embrace a more socially aware consciousness, again, and to take action to make America more as she was created to become.  Our President is leading the way in forging a vision that has always been a part of his understanding of what he wanted to accomplish in terms of spiritual equality, not only for all Americans but for all people throughout this planet.
All major political and spiritual movements have a starting point, usually in some small area of the planet or nation, such as in Montgomery, Alabama.  When those of the power structure in Ferguson, Missouri demonstrated insensitivity in understanding the black experiences as have evolved since the Civil War, those people of conscience observed that many whites still do not fully comprehend.  These people of conscience, and especially the young of today, finally said inside, "Enough is enough; we must become committed to social change in a meaningful way, again, in our nation, as happened through the movement of a civil rights' change in collective consciousness and conscience throughout the 1960s in America.

Jack_®
Jack_®

Blame your parents if you born into squalor. Blame your teachers if you were not educated. Blame employers if you can't find a job. Blame the system if you must riot, burn and rape. Never blame yourself for your shortcomings, it's always someone else's fault. Burn another police car or retail store; loot to your heart's content: It's always someone else's fault.

Jefferson1776
Jefferson1776

Happy Thanksgiving, we should all be thankful compared to some.

JKLtwo
JKLtwo

Kyle- the Brown family’s — call for nonviolent protest


Does that include the stepdad who said to burn the place down?

GMFA
GMFA

I can't help but recall that incident in downtown Atlanta about 60-90 days ago where a PO asked a man to move and the man ran towards a GSU officer with a knife and began stabbing him and the Atlanta PO shot the suspect one time in the arm. One time and that was it and the incident was over.

Nick_Danger
Nick_Danger

Mr. Wingfield, thank you for a thoughtful article that leaves little to disagree with.

straker
straker

Ivg - "trying to encourage rioting by Blacks"


Are you condoning Black rioting?


It is OK for them to riot if they read something in the AJC they don't like?

BuckeyeGa
BuckeyeGa

As more and more lawyers go through the grand jury transcripts, there are more questions being raised to how the DA handled the case.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

Good morning, everyone. I'm starting my Thanksgiving holiday a bit early today, and while I would like to be able to turn moderation off for a few days, I won't be in a position even to check on the comment thread. Given the tension over the events in Ferguson, turning off moderation when I can't even check in every now and then doesn't seem like a good idea. So I'm afraid comments won't be published here until at least Friday.

My Thursday column on being thankful will publish tomorrow morning, but otherwise, take this as a chance to step away from the keyboard for a while. I know that's always a good thing for me.


Happy Thanksgiving!

lvg
lvg

Excellent editorial and analysis by Kyle. Very well written and approriate.


However what moron at AJC decided to publish again that racist piece of trash by Carol Anderson?

I cannot believe Emory pays someone whose attitudes are so warped and biased. Was AJC trying to encourage rioting by Blacks?

Showing white students parading around with a Confederate Flag in Athens is supposed to show  White Rage??And this from the city that prides itself on civil disobedience and racial harmony?

MichaelHannigan
MichaelHannigan

I wish someone who had a chance to, could ask M. Brown's mother this question:


"Did you ever teach this son of yours to steal from convenience stores and push the owners aside like they are small children getting in your way?"

AND:

Ask the Governor why he didn't use the National Guard to station themselves in front of businesses to try and protect them from the burning and looting?

AND

Ask the "attorney" for the Brown family if he is proud of the unbelievable crude, filthy behavior and filthy language the stepfather used and did it on camera for extra exposure.

MarkVV
MarkVV

Fact according to Captain-Obvious – 3 hours ago: “FIVE increasingly serious charges were given to the grand jury to consider; something that is done every day in every state in the union, and the grand jury did what grand juries do in 90+% of the time - refuse to indict due to insufficient evidence.”

Evidence?


Real fact:

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. attorneys prosecuted 162,000 federal cases in 2010, the most recent year for which we have data. Grand juries declined to return an indictment in 11 of them.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-fix/wp/2014/11/24/the-rarity-of-a-federal-grand-jury-not-indicting-visualized/

RafeHollister
RafeHollister

Tragic situation for all involved, especially Brown's parents and Officer Wilson.  One thing that the Wilson defenders ask for is a trial for Wilson.  Wilson has rights as well.  It is not Constitutional to try people who have committed no crime.  The framers set up preliminary hearings, grand jury proceedings, and coroners inquests to determine, who has a reasonable chance of being found guilty of violating a statute.  The procedures were followed and there was no reason presented to bring an indictment of Wilson.


Wilson's side has been ignored in all of this.  Those who say, well lets have a trial so there can be cross examination, forget the cost involved for Brown and the City and County.  This man would be held in more suspense and in jeopardy of being jailed.  There has to be a limit to what you put an apparent innocent man through.  This poor man will never be able to sleep soundly again, or to go out in public and for what, doing his job.   He didn't ask to be confronted with an irrational lawbreaker that refused to follow his commands, he dealt with the hand he was given.  Had Brown surrendered or followed the instructions given to him by this officer, Brown would be alive today.


Refusal to accept the facts presented and the grand jury's decision is just irrational and unacceptable.

MarkVV
MarkVV

As is his custom, Captain Obvious invents "facts" that suit his purpose. Who were the witnesses he mentioned? Were they subjected to cross-examination, to confirm the veracity of their testimonies? According to Captain-Obvious, we really do not need regular, open courts. We just need a secret session, where the prosecutor introduces whatever he wants, without any opposing side, and gets a verdict.

Except- that is not what our justice system is based on.

IReportYouWhine
IReportYouWhine

Four people, including a 17-year-old boy, were killed and 35 people were wounded in weekend shootings across Chicago.


And where would the national outrage be?

FIGMO2
FIGMO2

There's no way to turn off the malformed content editor?

I'm getting malformed content messages with my own text, no links.

Weird!

Then there's that little "Feedback" tag on the right popping in and out. Have to wait for its exit before I can scroll. 

RantNRave
RantNRave

"I see tag lines on TV "thousands across US protest grand jury decision". Fine. What about the MILLIONS of people who RESPECT the process and the grand jury decision?"


DAWGDAD


THOUSANDS 


MILLIONS


LETS NOT PLAY WORD GAMES.   THIS AIN'T TIT FOR TAT !!!

RantNRave
RantNRave

"The prosecutor that announced Darren Wilson will not face charges for the murder of Michael Brown is a Democrat. "


WHINEY 


WE DON'T CARE WHAT HIS POLITICAL AFFILIATION IS..................


WHAT DOES THAT HAVE TO DO WITH THE PRICE OF TEA IN CHINA?


WRONG IS WRONG AND RIGHT IS RIGHT REGARDLESS OF WHO IS IN CHARGE



MichaelHannigan
MichaelHannigan

@RantNRave 

Well, uncouth one, the fact that the Governor is a Demokrat does not affect prices of tea in China or anywhere else but it does indicate that he is fearful of losing votes if he gets out of hand in his condemnations with an almost 95% Demokrat voting base.

IReportYouWhine
IReportYouWhine

@RantNRave It lends credence to the fact that the case brought before the grand jury was rock solid. Had there been even the slightest doubt, he would have had to exploit it or risk being ostracized, like everyone else who crosses harry or hillary.


Didn't happen in this case. 

IReportYouWhine
IReportYouWhine

 The prosecutor that announced Darren Wilson will not face charges for the murder of Michael Brown is a Democrat. From the 8th paragraph of a CBS report from the summer:


McCulloch, a Democrat who has been in office since 1991, referenced his father's death in his initial campaign. He survived a Democratic primary earlier this month and faces no Republican opposition in his re-election bid.


http://www.weeklystandard.com/blogs/prosecutor-democrat_819853.html


Does anybody else know why the democrats exacerbate such an obvious outcome? 






DawgDadII
DawgDadII

I see tag lines on TV "thousands across US protest grand jury decision". Fine. What about the MILLIONS of people who RESPECT the process and the grand jury decision?

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

Have a Great Thanksgiving Kyle and everyone.

In a side note I will soon be going back to school to get my Masters ( should have long ago )


So I wont be posting as often soon...I know that breaks some of your hearts.

Free time will be spent with a nose in a book.





MichaelHannigan
MichaelHannigan

@HeadleyLamar 

Headley...As one who would like to ring your neck due to your position on ideologies that conflict with mine, I nonetheless congratulate you on continuing your education and hang in there.  ALL voices need to be heard - yours and mine, even though there are some who disagree with both of us.

Get that degree, guy!

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

The same people backing Wilson are the same ones who backed Zimmerman


And we see what a nutcase he turned out to be.


If Brown had a gun different story. But the guy didn't even have a bruise on his face.


Something isnt right.

LilBarryBailout
LilBarryBailout

@HeadleyLamar

The doctor who actually examined Wilson says he did have contusions.

But you're not all that interested in facts, are ya?

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

@Tiberius-Constitutionus @HeadleyLamar Our law enforcement officers need room to do their job and there is nothing to suggest that Wilson acted with malice aforethought.


IM fine with that...But when confronted with an unarmed man who is being aggressive my first thought should not be.


Shoot to kill.  Especially with backup very close. 

Tiberius-Constitutionus
Tiberius-Constitutionus

@HeadleyLamar Generally you and I are on the same page but in this case the facts and public policy suggest the grand jury got this right.  Not saying Wilson isn't a racist; chances are he is.  Not saying Wilson couldn't have held back; maybe he could have.  But it's clear that Brown was fleeing a robbery and he engaged the police officer.  A tragedy that it ended the way it did, but Brown either knew - or should have known - better.  Our law enforcement officers need room to do their job and there is nothing to suggest that Wilson acted with malice aforethought.

concernedoldtimer
concernedoldtimer

Actually, just being shown on TV....with a ruler...some are really bad.

MichaelHannigan
MichaelHannigan

@HeadleyLamar

What if the "unarmed man outweighs you by well over 100 pounds and is demonstrably larger than you and tries to get into your can to take away your gun (most likely to add to his gun case and not use  it on the officer)...what would you do?

DebbieDoRight
DebbieDoRight

Wow Kyle!  I was avoiding reading your blog today, didn't want to hear any hackery or partisan crowing.  However, I'm happy to say that you surprised me.  This isn't a partisan or "ALL BLACKS ARE___________" issue with you, it's a really serious issue for you and I'm grateful for that.


Race issues in America are BAD and it's not getting any better, black president or no black president.  The infection of hatred, envy, lack of communication, fear and prejudice has permeated this country -- dragging it down to the level of Rwanda in the 90's if we aren't careful. 


Prejudice and hatred is the cancer that is eating away our society; and some on your blog are happy to take as many big bites of the poison that they can.  Sad, but true. 


Thanks again for the article.  I'm off your blog after this -- I have to go to work tomorrow and I don't want the taint of bigotry and hatred that some of your posters spew to infect me too.


God bless and have a nice holiday.

LilBarryBailout
LilBarryBailout

@HeadleyLamar @LilBarryBailout @DebbieDoRight

Republicans don't choose their voters.  Voters choose to be Republican because they want smaller government, lower taxes, a more vibrant and free economy, and a strong defense.  Anyone is willing to join in supporting those ideals.

LilBarryBailout
LilBarryBailout

@DebbieDoRight

The way to move beyond race is to move beyond race.

Conservatives don't give a darn about race.

Democrats are consumed with race and need to join us and move on.  But they won't, because that would make it too hard to win elections.

MichaelHannigan
MichaelHannigan

@HeadleyLamar 

H - That's sure to come as a surprise to the 17 (out of 51) members of a local organization (charitable, at that) I am a member of when I tell them that they are really white and should become Plantation Dwellers again so they could return to their "roots."

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

@DebbieDoRight Kyle is the exception....For example his problems with Obama are ideological


I wish that was the case with all of the Right but we just know it isn't. 

IReportYouWhine
IReportYouWhine

There's no way to turn off the malformed content editor?

IReportYouWhine
IReportYouWhine

HeadleyLamar2 hours ago



@IReportYouWhine @HeadleyLamar @Jefferson1776 @DownInAlbany An opportunity for what ? Violence. looting...

I doubt he said that.

Attorney General Eric Holder told a crowd at New York University that the nation has a “critical opportunity” to change its approach to policing in the wake of Michael Brown’s death and the protests that followed in Ferguson, Missouri.

http://observer.com/2014/09/eric-holder-talks-ferguson-reducing-arrests-at-nyu/#ixzz3K6wplpyi 

"Change it's approach to policing" how, by allowing people to assault law enforcement?

MarkVV
MarkVV

Captain-Obvious: “In the REAL world, had officer Wilson not shot Brown, Brown would have likely beaten Wilson, taken his gun and shot him dead.”

This is again the kind of unthinking, knee-jerk reaction, that blinds people to real justice – what according to Captain-Obvious (and others, apparently) would have happened, had officer Wilson not shot Brown. According to them, we do not need open courts, there was and is no need to examine and cross-examine witnesses, challenge Wilson’s version of the events.  They apparently did not need even the grand jury - they knew that Wilson was right to shoot Brown from the beginning.

Tiberius-Constitutionus
Tiberius-Constitutionus

@Captain-Obvious @MarkVV

Captain-O,


Would the Senate's nuclear option be capable of overriding the grand jury's non-indictment if a higher authority sees fit?  I know you raised the point once and am curious as to its application in the instant case.  Thanks in advance.

concernedoldtimer
concernedoldtimer

A grand jury only looks for probable cause......they must only deal with facts..

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

@Tiberius-Constitutionus @Captain-Obvious @MarkVV This is again the kind of unthinking, knee-jerk reaction, that blinds people to real justice – what according to Captain-Obvious


A captian obvious speciality.


I still wonder why a man with no injuries who was supposedly in a life and death struggle couldn't wait 60 seconds for backup he knew was coming ?


Remember the broken eye socket lie they were peddling. Something stinks here.