FERGUSON SHOOTING: A “FEDERAL” CASE?
Attorney General Eric Holder speaks with
Captain Ron Johnson of the Missouri State Highway Patrol
the operational commander on the ground in
TAGS: AG HOLDER IN FERGUSON, DOJ CIVIL RIGHTS INVESTIGATION,
DOES PO DARREN WILSON HAVE ANY CIVIL RIGHTS?
OFFICER WILSON ALREADY CONVICTED BY THE PEOPLE OF FERGUSON,
HE HAS A STORY TO BE TOLD AS WELL,
MSHP CAPTAIN RON JOHNSON, DA BOB McCULLOUGH,
ST. LOUIS COUNTY GRAND JURY, FBI CONDUCTING PARALLEL INVESTIGATION,
FEDERAL INTRUSION INTO A MUNICIPAL LEGAL MATTER
(Thursday August 21, 2014 St. Louis, MO) By now we are all familiar with the basics; anyone who has been paying even the most cursory attention to current events knows the competing narratives surrounding the shooting death of an unarmed 18 year old Black man, Michael Brown shot by Police Officer Darren Wilson on August 9th. Last night was the first night since August 9th that the small town of Ferguson, a northern suburb of St. Louis, was not wracked by civil disobedience, groups of angry protestors taunting members of the various Law Enforcement Agencies (LEA) on the ground and sporadic outbursts of violence, looting and aggressive disorder. There are many ways to access and analyze what has been transpiring between the community and Law Enforcement over these last 12 days and nights, but that is another topic for a later time.
The most significant development, itself raising some controversy in some quarters, was yesterday’s visit by the Attorney General (AG) of the United States, the top ranking Law Enforcement Official in the country, Eric Holder. That this event has garnered so much attention that the AG actually inserted himself and all the powers vested in him into a local investigation without an invitation, has the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division in a somewhat precarious position as well as setting a potentially dangerous precedent that will influence cases across the country in the future.
As virtually all of the media and federal attention Mr. Brown’s death has received, the one key participant that unfortunate shooting is the Officer, Darren Wilson. PO Wilson is a four year and decorated member of the Ferguson Police Department who has an exemplary record and, also happens to be White. For the sake of discussion let’s concede some of the facts; yes, African Americans in Ferguson and across the country perceive Law Enforcement Officers as an enemy presence in their neighborhoods who run roughshod over their constitution and civil rights, treat them with disrespect, and treat them very differently than they do White citizens. We’ll also agree that in some jurisdictions Blacks are arrested in a disproportional ratio to their White peers and are much more likely to be stopped, frisked, hassled, harassed, criminally charged, jailed and imprisoned. That said, the stunning differences in experience and perspectives lay bare some uncomfortable realities; realities that as painful as they may be, cannot be glossed over by waves of statistics or swept away by the gusts of hot air emanating from all the self-appointed “Black Activists” who thrive and enrich themselves as they exploit every situation they can.
CIVIL RIGHTS NOT EQUALLY AFFORDED
The incessant chorus demanding justice because they assert that PO Wilson violated Mr. Brown’s civil rights are as misguided as they are misinformed. “Federalizing” this case before it has even gone through the local process is not possible. For that usurpation of local authority to be relinquished, the AG would have to relieve the local Prosecutor, Bob McCullough, if it is determined in a strict legal sense that prosecutor McCullough is “incapable or unable” to conduct an objective, fact driven process. Typically a federal civil rights violation suit follows a legal trial and, while so many of the angriest protesters in Ferguson are demanding “justice” for Michael Brown, a federal civil action may not be a viable remedy. Presently a Grand Jury here is being presented with the first shards of evidence in a process that could last well into November. Grand Juries function under a different set of evidentiary rules as compared to a trial by jury in that the County Prosecutor presents witnesses and evidence to the panel and the defendant is not represented during these proceedings. Such evidence can and does include “hearsay” which is inadmissible in a court of law. Their only purpose is to determine if there are sufficient grounds to indict the defendant, in this case, Officer Wilson, based on the strength and viability of the case as assembled by the County Prosecutor.
One of the most troubling variables in this equation is that of rights of Police Officer Wilson; those very same “Civil Rights” the Black community is so vehemently and vocally “demanding” for the victim, Mr. Brown. Before a St. Louis County Grand Jury had even been empaneled, the “court of public opinion” in the majority African American population in Ferguson has been calling for a “rigorous prosecution” of Officer Wilson. The Governor of Missouri actually uttered those exact words in a press conference earlier this week vowing to “vigorously prosecute” Officer Wilson. Such statements by Governor Jay Nixon, a Democrat, serve only to muddy the legal waters and impede the regular machinations of our criminal justice system. They also stand as de facto proof that, at least Governor Nixon is siding with the protestors. It is a sad day for jurisprudence when a Governor cannot maintain some degree of public decorum let alone speak objectively and afford Officer Wilson the same “benefit of the doubt” he has voiced in support of Mr. Brown’s legal team.
The question remains regarding the availability of “due process under the law” and what exactly are the civil rights afforded to PO Wilson. In the broadest sense of the questions regarding the rights and privileges that should or could apply to LEO’s engaged in the performance of their sworn and authorized duties, are they in fact on equal footing as a perpetrator they shot in self-defense or to protect innocent lives from being taken? Yes, as they perform the duties of their office they are “agents” of the state”, the state in this case a municipal agency, but are their civil rights suspended or otherwise curtailed while on duty?
OPTICS AND SOUNDBITES
When the similarly painted but smaller version of Air Force One landed here yesterday morning carrying the AG Holder and some of his key aides, it was an impressive sight. The Boeing 707 with the white top and eggshell blue underbelly is a sign of American power and prestige all over the world. While not as large or opulent as one the president flies in, it is no less eye catching. Holder’s presence here yesterday, ostensibly to meet and speak with Missouri state and local officials, students, “activists”, members of the clergy and “community organizers” seemed to be nothing more than a series of photo ops and well-intended sound bites meant to pacify the situation in Ferguson. In that regard Holder’s trip and the few hours he spent mingling and meeting with the various groups, was a success. But, we should be clear here; this was an extraordinary gesture imbued with a measure of gravitas primarily because the Attorney General is African American. Admittedly it did appear that by the time holder flew back to Washington, DC some of the venom had been removed from the demonstrators and that fact alone was welcomed.
While visiting folks in Drake’s Diner in on the main drag in Ferguson, Holder met up with what has been the public face of the Law Enforcement Command Structure, Captain Ron Johnson of the Missouri State Highway Patrol (MSHP) who was appointed to his current post after the first few nights of unrestrained disorder, violence, looting and arson. Captain Johnson who, as a good Cop, followed the orders he was given by the Governor. That he is an African American, a “Black father with a Black son” is not a coincidence. Watching Captain Johnson as he has walked with and among various groups of protestors, his facial expressions and body language reveal his occasional awkwardness with some of the people he encounters and engages in conversation. He may be a Black man but he is a long serving Law Enforcement Officer and he cannot always hide his disdain as he is forced to listen while on camera to the litany of abuses, stories of racial bias and police misconduct from many of the young men he has spoken to. Clearly there is some advantage to be had during this time of crisis to have Black LEO’s out on the frontlines, so to speak but, after the media packs up and goes away, Captain Johnson will return to his usual posting at the MSHP.
Yesterday all the rights words were spoken, all the rights video news clips broadcast and recorded, and all the right images portrayed. If these happenings are truly the beginning of a new day in Ferguson than all of the civil unrest of the last 12 days will have been worth it. History, our recent history tells us that that is not a likely outcome. After the acquittal of the four White Police Officers captured on video tape delivering a serious beating to a Black man on the ground, Los Angeles and the South Central neighborhood specifically erupted in days of very violent protests, widespread arson, looting, and all manner of crime. Then presidential candidate Bill Clinton went to speak before an African American congregation and said all the right words and was very likely to have expressed his truest feelings and beliefs since he had grown up in the segregated South in 1950’s Arkansas. But, as time has proven our society has changed very little, if at all, in the 22 years since that seminal trial verdict in LA.
WHAT WILL IT TAKE?
We can all at least acknowledge that some small scintilla of all that ails today’s African Americans is partially the hangover of 400 years of slavery and the deep seated prejudice that persisted until the landmark Civil Rights and Voters Rights Acts of 1964 and 1965 respectively. The mass exodus of southern Blacks seeking jobs and escape from the Jim Crow laws into northern urban centers from the 1930’s until the early 1970’s created inner city ghettos from Detroit to Camden, Chicago to Baltimore and many, many cities in between. Social ills such as endemic poverty, poor education and high unemployment in the African American community have always been a blight. But, after decades of “Affirmative Action”, rigorous anti-segregation legislation and all forms of social engineering and urban renewal, the African American community of today varies little from the African American community of 1992 or 1962.
In President Obama’s first inaugural address he declared that “there is no White America or Black America, only the United States of America” and, at least in theory that is so. But reality shows us every day that there are at least two Americas; separate and unequal and this divide is more along the economic fault lines than those of race. The only way Black America can achieve the changes they need and assimilate more broadly is by their own actions and design. There are plenty of African American “scholars” and professors who enrich themselves writing books about all that ails the community they claim as “ours”. There are any number of African American organizations from the NAACP to the host of legal and advocacy groups who need to step forward in their communities, assert their influence and identify the methods and means with which Blacks can make better lives for themselves.
Frankly, there are many dinner time and barroom discussions ongoing today among White Americans who have been an audience for the happenings in Ferguson. For many Whites what they are witnessing in Ferguson only serves to further prove their pre-existing beliefs about Black people. There is little sympathy because the White segment of the population from approximately 50 years old and older grew up during the Civil Rights Era, recalls the introduction of affirmative action initiatives and quotas as common hiring practices as directed by federal mandate. Actually, among some of that generation there are those who have experienced “reverse discrimination” when they were denied a job or position because of the body of laws and federal regulations that was spawned by Affirmative Action. For all the discussion and dissection of the omnipresent Black anger that rages through the veins of young black men, there is also an increasing amount of White anger who are disturbed by the current events, race relations, and believe that if young Black men do not want to be perceived as dangerous thugs they should pull their pants up, stop having children out of wedlock, and not adopt purposely an intimidating demeanor that so many of them choose to don in public and especially around White people. Perception is a two way street and the messages sent and received between Whites and Blacks are often wildly out of sync but they are messages nonetheless.
The aggrieved people of Ferguson are clamoring for justice and “transparency”; they want to know details that may not even have yet to be established by the investigators, forensic pathologists and other forensic and ballistic specialists. Like it or not all Grand Jury proceedings are conducted behind closed doors and, since such bodies typically meet once a week, it may be sometime before much more is known about the moments when Mr. Brown and Officer Wilson crossed paths on that fateful Saturday afternoon.
Instead of calls for immediate justice without due process for Officer Wilson, rather than demand transparency in the investigative and legal process, perhaps the people of Ferguson, their clergy members, community activists and leaders can demonstrate some responsible restraint and ask for patience. The legal process is simply not constructed for expediency particularly in a case such as this. This will be a protracted process so patience is what is needed and by exercising patience the people of Ferguson will also be seen as respecting the laws of the land. The truth will be determined; there should be no doubt about that. It just won’t be forthcoming tomorrow, next week or perhaps not even next month.
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