1408390089660_Image_galleryImage_Officer_DARREN_WILSON_picstlouis13n-14-webThe Grand Jury in Missouri appears to have rendered its decision in the shooting investigation Michael Brown. It is expected to be announced shortly. Below is my column in USA Today.

In anticipation of the decision on whether to indict officer Darren Wilson for the killing of Michael Brown, the town of Ferguson, Mo., is a virtual armed camp. Schools are closed. The National Guard was called out when the governor declared a state of emergency. The emergency? A grand jury announcement.

While most protesters have engaged in legitimate and lawful speech, others used the shooting of the black teenager by a white police officer as justification to loot the town. State and federal forces are assembling in Ferguson in expectation that some protesters will riot unless there is a criminal charge. Those who insist that “justice” can be found only in jail for Wilson are speaking not of real justice but mob justice.

After the fatal encounter on Canfield Drive, there was good reason for many to question the shooting of Brown. The 18-year-old was unarmed, and police say he had committed a minor theft before being stopped by Wilson. Given the continuing cases of the profiling and shooting of black males by police, there was ample reason for suspicion. However, there was also ample reason for caution before declaring Wilson was a murderer.

Dueling stories

Within hours of the shooting, two clear and equally plausible narratives emerged. From the police account, Brown attacked Wilson after the officer confronted him for blocking the street. In the ensuing struggle in the patrol car, Brown was shot when he grabbed for the officer’s gun and then shot repeatedly outside of the vehicle. From the account of Brown’s friend (and others), Wilson gunned down Brown after the stop without provocation, including shooting him when he had his hands in the air. Each account has one of the men acting in an unprovoked and violent manner. If either account is true, it will be determined through investigations, not demonstrations.

Rioters, who somehow rationalized looting as acts of moral outrage, weren’t willing to wait for evidence. What is surprising is that national and local leaders showed the same impatience.

220px-Jay_Nixon_cropSoon after the shooting, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon referred to Brown as the “victim” despite Wilson’s insistence that Brown attacked him. Nixon denounced the police for releasing video that they say shows Brown robbing a store and threatening the clerk as besmirching the victim. Nixon also called for the pursuit of “a vigorous prosecution” for the shooting. A governor’s foremost responsibility is to demand not prosecution but the truth from an unbiased investigation.

Premature federal role

holderericAttorney General Eric Holder was also criticized for his reaction. Holder said he shared the same experience of profiling and abuse at the hands of police. As he did in the Trayvon Martin case, Holder sent in federal civil rights investigators before the initial investigation ended. Such federal investigations are ideally launched after state trials or, at a minimum, after an investigation is complete. When the federal government steps in, it can make the process look political and ultimately fuel discontent when it too rejects charges. Even before the grand jury has rendered its decision, The Washington Post reports that Holder’s investigators failed to uncover evidence to support civil rights charges.

That’s because the evidence in this case gives Wilson a strong defense. Brown allegedly was coming from the commission of a crime where he appeared to threaten a store clerk. The forensic evidence appears to contradict those who insist that Brown was not shot in a struggle but with his hands in the air. There is evidence that Wilson was injured in a struggle, the gun was discharged in the car and Brown was shot at close quarters leaving blood on the gun. Finally, more than a half-dozen black witnesses reportedly gave testimony supporting Wilson. Other scenarios could explain the evidence, and there is still the question of why so many shots were fired. But those questions might never be answered, a reality of some criminal cases.

The law requires us to deal with facts, and when those facts do not support a criminal charge, prosecution is barred regardless of popular demand.

In the end, it rings hollow to cry “no justice, no peace” when you are rioting or looting. There can be no justice if it is merely the result of demonstrations rather than demonstrated facts. Otherwise, the scales of justice become just one more object to throw through the window of an appliance store.

Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University and a member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributors, has represented both protesters and police officers.

November 24, 2014


  1. Another problem was the timing of the release of the grand jury finding. It seemed it was around 8:30 in the evening or night. That was foolish if not reckless. There was considerable pent up anger around when large crowds were presently in full force, some of those bent on anger, not all but too many. Making the announcement then only served to instigate a flashpoint.

    A better course of action would have been to wait until 6:30 the next morning when the crowds were mostly dispersed and the information would trickle down from the media to individuals at differing rates easing the information in without the giant feedback loop that happens in crowds.

  2. I’ve been paying attention most of this night because … Detroit. I am grateful for the citizens of arguably the most African American of cities have not erupted, at least not as of this hour. Our weather (34 degrees with 50+ mph winds) may have dampened some ardor, however, I know the city and its people, and the vast majority of them have had enough destruction and violence, starting way back in 1967….on up to and through the Malice Green case (1992), where charges sent a friend of mine to prison for several years. He has recently died of incurable cancer. He was an officer who seldom reached for his gun, even losing control of it, to an angry husband demanding his wife be returned to him, like chattel, in one incident outside of an abused women’s shelter, surviving only because his partner shot the guy who had him on the ground, with his gun in the assailant’s hand. That officer if anything was flawed by being too laid back, though tough enough, he relied on that toughness once too often. And paid for it in prison.

    The road a block north of me goes in to the heart of the city’s run down west side, passing the location (roughly 23rd street and Warren Avenue) where the Malice Green incident occurred in front of well known (even to me) dope house was located … and where there are many buildings never rebuilt after 1967….let alone after 1992. Several businesses established after 1967, all black owned, have wilted and gone away. There are still ordinary black families living there, as well as a few white families, and I pass fathers and/or mothers walking their kids to school when I travel across town.

    Yes, I have been watching the eastern sky near me, hoping I’d not see that orange glow I’d witnessed and been on the peripheries of in 1967….and drove through to go to work in the day time. As I remarked earlier, post 1967, less than a year, the death of Martin Luther King in 1968 did not incite another riot, surprising many of us attending a university in the city core. Quite simply, I think, the residents, black and white, were trying to save what they had left, in a severely damaged city, still evident to this day.

    Can someone explain to me why the death of Michael Brown is even remotely comparable, in terms of riot and unrest, to that of Martin Luther KIng? All lives have value, however, motivation was far greater in 1968 here than any legitimate motivation in Ferguson MO in 2014. The images shown on CNN, Fox,and Al Jeezera (the stations I watched) looked very much like Detroit 1967, even if a smaller scale.

    There simply is no excuse for the Ferguson mess, other than obvious instigation by outsiders, provocation by government officials’ remarks, both Missouri and Federal, and a frenzy of media presence. It makes me sick to realize that even today we are still insane in some of our localities. G-d willing my town will not join them.

    Mind you that at present my daughter lives in the newly, still in process, revitalized central city core (Grand River Rd. & Woodward Ave.) near her office, which she can and does walk to daily. Thus I have a powerful motivation to see my city once again show the restraint of 1968. And I believe it will.

  3. @Darren Smith

    Well, when they start burning white folks’ houses, they (society) will tolerate it. IMO, that is what you are calling out the military for, so that the government can stay in control of the situation.

    Squeeky Fromm
    Girl Reporter

  4. @PaulCS

    I just heard some head guy with the cops meely mouthing around about how they were trying to treat this like an after-game exuberance thing. Frigging clueless individuals. Other talking heads are still wondering why they can’t talk sense to, and reason with, a mob. Then the big wig cop brags about how the cops didn’t fire a shot all night, and didn’t kill any citizens, or lose any cops. In the background the buildings are burning. Oh well, if the violence continues, somebody somewhere will figure it out that they aren’t dealing with reasonable people.

    Squeeky Fromm
    Girl Reporter

    1. squeeky – who ever had the buildings that were burned down will not rebuild. Those business are gone, those jobs are gone. They will be smoldering hulks for a while, then they will clear the mess and they will be an empty lot.

      1. Paul Schulte – in regards to your ocd comment about Michael Brown being on the ground for hours not being the fault of the Darren Wilson Shooting, I don’t believe that was my point. But if you want to make it my point because of language, go ahead. I always take literary license and you should know that by now being a Language professor.

        Inga Annie – Don’t even get me started where my split begins on this whole thing. Of course I think there should be a trial, just as rafflaw does – look let me make sure I spelled his name right. Don’t want to upset him.

  5. For those who are commenting regarding the usage of deadly force during riots, the fact that a riot is occurring does not change whether deadly force may be used or not. The standard for such does not change.

    Some states have laws authorizing police to have the power to use deadly force to suppress a riot, that is essentially a blue law because society will no longer tolerate such wanton use of this form of means. The courts are certainly that way as well.

    I can only comment about my state in the short amount of time I wish to dedicate to this individual comment but the proper response in my view are enhancements to sentencing during states of emergency.



    1. Darren – Katrina is a perfect example of what happens when you arrest looters instead of shooting them. Of course, half the NOLA police force are criminals to begin with, so you have that.

  6. Larry,

    I dislike the grand jury system also, fortunately Washington’s Constitution prohibits them unless called by a panel of Superior Court judges which, in that case, is generally only used during corruption cases and the likes. I haven’t heard of one ever being convened.

    The problem, as I believe you are mentioning also, is that grand juries are only tasked with deciding the issue of probable cause. That in a sense is what a prosecutor or law enforcement officer presents under oath to a judge who at that stage only needs to establish what the crimes were, the identity of the individual charged, jurisdiction, and if the acts or omissions alleged by the defendant met the statutory element(s) required to assert probable cause.

    A LEO generally has the power to make a charging decision based upon probable cause (unless excepted by misdemeanor presence requirements) But in that case evidence known to the officer is often considered. However, some affirmative defenses are required to be brought up by the defendant during a trial. That fact is controversial. I disagree with that for the most part as I believe it should be admissible during an omnibus or other pretrial hearing or a pre-trial motion.

    Anecdotally, I have had occasions where there were affirmative defenses, exigency usually, clearly are in the defendant’s favor and I would not charge the defendant but would write the matter if future reference was needed. I felt there was no need to waste anyone’s time going all the way to trial when it was clear the defendant would never be convicted.

  7. I watched the Fox News and the CNN News coverage of the arson and gunfire after the McCullough announcement. The authorities let the thugs burn the stores on West Florissant. I believe that Jay Nixon has no political future now. It had been said he would go on to run for a Senate seat or House seat. No way. They could have protected those stores but chose not to. Disgrace.

    McCullough did a good speech and answered questions very well. The Grand Jury did the right thing.

    All of America will re-think positions on race, race baiting and exploitation and a new type of intolerance will emerge. The intolerance will be toward the AL Sharptongue and Jessie Jacksons of the world who exploit things to no end. Attitudes toward welfare and food stamp lifestyles will harden. Hands Up! Don’t Shoot. I just wanna Loot! That phrase will resonate. The RepubliCon Party will exploit this reaction. Democrats need to condemn the Jessies and ALs of the world or they will be gone. Nuff said.

    Ferguson! Coming to a town near you.

    1. Barkin Dog – you made pappies happy again – . Hands Up! Don’t Shoot. I just wanna Loot! anything to make the Al Sharptongue go away πŸ™‚

    2. barkin dog to comment made on Monday night “Al Sharptongue indeed” lol

      Can’t let that one go. πŸ™‚

  8. Happypappies, I am sorry you are not feeling happy right now, neither am I. I feel suffocated when I see people looting and burning properties in the name of “protest”. I can see your side of looking at things, but you may also want to see the other side as well. The other side is, if he attacked the cop while the cop was in the car (as reported and confirmed by the gun powder/blood stains), then he has provided the cop a reason to fire. Yes I wish he had not shot him dead , but, you see what I am saying..?

    1. Observer say whatever you want to say. He was shot in cold blood 6 times after a struggle where there was some confusion and left on the street. His buddy lied for him. No big deal. His Mama cried for him please get him off the street and they ignored her for hours which was the original fuel for the rage. Holder and Obama turned it into a Circus with their Weatherman style politics and St Louis County knew from the start they were not going to indict this man. Say what you want. This is a Closed white task force that has been corrupt since the 60s over a largely black community that is not going to give over it’s power to a Liberal president. There was no justice served. That is why the people are enraged because it’s such a lie. It was not done in the open in court. There was probable cause for sure and it was ignored.

      1. happypappies – how long he was on the street has nothing to do with the charges against Wilson.

  9. @happypappies

    You don’t have anything to apologize to me about. You might want to check out a few of those music links I put on this thread. I have been downloading for several hours. I got several Joni Mitichell albums, and a bunch of blues and jazz.

    Squeeky Fromm
    Girl Reporter

    1. Squeeky – “Sickness Unto Death” has a public existential influence on emotion”. “Soren Kierkegaards” The difference between me and Observer is Observer is judging also. I don’t have a side. I am just sick because I see it from all sides. I have always been that way. I saw it from Turleys’s side this morning and said so. I also Agreed with Aridog without saying because I was alive then.

      What sickens me more than anything is this could have been prevented in the 1960s if they would have done something about that corrupt machine in St Louis County back then,- meaning Clayton where the County Seat is – it’s all boarded up now – but noo. They didn’t. As I have said repeatedly, Feguson was a Gem of a Town. It had the best School District when I was growing up, the Football team went to State, the Band went to State the Choir went to State and it’s burning down. Burn it down!!! I listened all last night to those Students in Clayton chanting Wall Street Wall Street. Crazy. But they were every race. Just like St.Louis. That Police Force is so corrupt. It needs to change so badly. I am sick unto death. Nixon voted himself an 8 percent raise and cut all the mental health programs in the state but he said he had mental health people available for the people that needed them tonight.

  10. Hey — Observer —- I don’t even want to understand —– what do you think of that — I am not even insulted. I would be insulted if I understood.

  11. that should say, so I do not think that is a big deal….guess we have typos in common….that maybe the only thing though πŸ™‚

  12. What kind of evidence does there have to be for probable cause when someone gets shot 6 times and left on the street for hours.

  13. Rafflaw, I wont say more as JT will delete my comment, but I do think that you cannot admit that you had misunderstood Nancy’s comment, and that to me just shows something,, dont worry I will not point this to u in the future as i do not want you to feel “insulted”. I can misunderstand things too , so I do not thing that is a big deal….

  14. @Rafflaw

    But I don’t think we have trials where the Prosecutor doesn’t really think there is enough evidence to convict, or thinks the alleged perp is innocent. Would that not be ethically suspect and an abuse of office to proceed under those circumstances???

    You are simply disputing the Prosecutors decision, which would be one thing if there was evidence enough to convict, but why are you disputing his decision where the evidence clearly isn’t sufficient? You have caught yourself in a circle all in the belief that a public trial of an innocent person is some sort of public good. But Prosecutors aren’t supposed to operate like that, are they???

    Squeeky Fromm
    Girl Reporter

    PS: I am downloading blues albums, and this one has Larry Cray’s Black Magic Woman on it at around 7:00, in case you like the blues:


    This is the best version of the song I have ever heard.

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