Photo by St. Louis American–Photo Caption: Police move in on the crowd of protesters Monday night in Ferguson
SPECIAL TO THE NNPA
By Rebecca Rivas Of The St. Louis American
After three months of hearing testimony and viewing evidence, a St. Louis County grand jury chose not to indict Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson in the fatal shooting of unarmed black teen Michael Brown Jr. St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert M. McCulloch announced their decision Monday, November 24 in a courtroom in Clayton, the county seat.
The grand jury reviewed a 1,077-page St. Louis County police report and heard testimony from both Wilson and Canfield Green residents who witnessed the shooting on August 9. Police officials have said that Brown and Wilson had an altercation inside the police car, before the teen reached for Wilson’s weapon. However, according to some eyewitnesses, the teen had surrendered – with his hands up in the air – at the time of the fatal shooting, regardless of whatever altercation preceded it.
McCulloch said many of the witnesses most familiar to the public gave testimony that conflicted with the physical evidence or changed their testimony, whereas witnesses whose testimony was found more credible by the grand jurors have never been interviewed by the media.
Brown’s parents, Lesley McSpadden and Michael Brown Sr., were given a phone call on Monday briefly alerting them to the grand jury’s announcement, according to an MSNBC report. “While we understand that many others share our pain, we ask that you channel your frustration in ways that will make a positive change,” the Brown family said in a statement.
President Barack Obama quoted their statement in remarks from the White House after the decision was announced, but the crowd in Ferguson had already started setting fires and trying to destroy police cars as Obama spoke.
This month, Brown’s parents were part of a delegation of human rights advocates and organizations who presented a 13-page brief on police violence at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland.
“The killing of Mike Brown and the abandonment of his body in the middle of a neighborhood street is but an example of the utter lack of regard for, and indeed dehumanization of, black lives by law enforcement personnel,” the brief stated.
Anticipating an announcement from the grand jury this week, many schools near Ferguson cancelled classes, and the police established barriers in downtown Ferguson and Clayton to control protests. Many businesses in Ferguson and Clayton are boarded up as if preparing for an imminent natural disaster.
For months, protest leaders and area elected officials have tried to work with police to establish common ground rules – especially after law enforcement made international headlines for their aggressive use of force and military equipment during August protests.
St. Louis City Mayor Francis Slay said that the Unified Command – which includes the St. Louis County Police, St. Louis Metropolitan Police and Missouri Highway Patrol – agreed to 11 of 19 “rules of engagement” established by the Don’t Shoot Coalition. The command agreed to avoid use of excessive force and to communicate with protest organizers to de-escalate the situation. But they did not agree to refrain from entering churches deemed as “safe houses” for protestors or avoiding the use of tear gas, riot gear or armed vehicles.
Wilson is white, and Brown was black. The Ferguson protest movement is diverse, but it focuses on a national pattern of white police officers shooting and killing black males who are unarmed (or where there is controversy over whether they were armed). The group that has rallied around the accused police shooters is virtually all-white.
This made the racial composition of the grand jury an issue of concern. The grand jury who heard the testimony in the Michael Brown Jr. case consists of nine white and three black members. Seven are men and five are women. Nine of the 12 jurors had to agree on charges to hand down an indictment. Those charges could have included murder in the first degree or second degree, or voluntary or involuntary manslaughter.
Throughout the protest movement, the chant, “Black lives matter,” has been a dominant thread. The movement has united “fair-minded citizens who want a society that guarantees the human and civil rights for all, not just those with the right skin color or the resources to pay for it,” said Jamala Rogers, a longtime activist and a leader with the group Coalition Against Police Crimes and Repression.
“On the other side are those who feel like the status quo that upholds white rights must be protected at all costs,” she said.
Since August, the diehard faces on the protest frontlines have largely been African Americans in their 20s – many who have taken a break from college or work to lead the movement fulltime. And longtime activists like Rogers – who have been fighting for an end to police brutality their entire lives – have provided a strong web of support, resources and leadership.
Aside from leading the chants on the streets, the young leaders have also driven the movement on Twitter and social media. Every day, 20-year-old Ferguson resident Alexis Templeton posts on Twitter, “I hope no one kills you for being black today.”
And she frequently voices another statement that has been shared among African Americans – from residents to Missouri Highway Patrol Captain Ron Johnson – since Brown’s death.
“It’s not only problematic that you aren’t paying attention,” she states, “but it becomes more problematic when I don’t bring it to your attention.”
Capt. Johnson said he feels has been quiet on issues of discrimination for too long, in a recent interview with The St. Louis American. In public forums with the Department of Justice, many Ferguson residents said for too long they have been quiet about corrupt and discriminatory practices among their local police officers.
Longtime Ferguson resident Kimberly Hoskin and her mother Loistine said they were not surprised to hear about Brown’s death and the unrest that followed.
“Ten years ago, we could have told you that they are going to kill someone and there’s going to be a problem because Ferguson does what they want,” Hoskin said at a September public meeting with DOJ representatives.
Brown’s death has brought these issues of oppression to a boiling point, she said, and what you see now are the people finally speaking out.