A Grand Jury decision is imminent in the Michael Brown shooting case in Ferguson, Missouri. For the past couple of weeks the media has been full of reports of how police departments in the St. Louis area are preparing for what they predict will be violent protests.
The general assumption is that Ferguson police officer, who killed Brown at about noon on August 9, will not be charged. The simple truth is that white police officer who kill black people are rarely charged and almost never convicted. Furthermore, the LA Times reports that law enforcement officers who kill citizens in Missouri are given “wide latitude.”
Missouri law provides wide latitude for police to use deadly force, particularly if the officer believes it’s necessary to protect his or her safety or the safety of others.
But that law might not shield Wilson. “If Michael Brown was trying to surrender at the time, that makes this defense not applicable,” Washington University law professor Peter Joy said. “So the question is: Was Michael Brown clearly trying to surrender at the time that the fatal gunshots were fired?”
Several witnesses who saw the shooting reported that Brown’s hands were in the air when Darren Wilson shot and killed him, but, as far as I can tell, most media sources recently have changed the narrative to the police version–not based on direct observation–in which Wilson supposedly feared for his life because the unarmed Brown “charged” at him after being hit with at least two bullets.
There is another investigation by the Justice Department into whether Darren Wilson violated Michael Brown’s civil rights, but
Joy said a federal indictment seemed unlikely, at least according to the publicly reported accounts of the shooting thus far.
“That would require that Officer Wilson intentionally planned or intentionally meant to violate the civil rights — that is, take the life of — Michael Brown because of his race,” Joy said.
The media narrative has gradually been revised since August, when we saw what were essentially police riots in which Ferguson and St. Louis police used military surplus equipment to control peaceful protesters and reporters and photographers who were covering events on the ground. Now we’re repeatedly being told that Brown was the aggressor, with the unwritten implication that he deserved to die. Back in August, some law enforcement officers threatened to kill protesters and even arrested numerous members of the media who were simply doing their jobs. But that’s all forgotten now. Now the corporate media appears to be fully behind the Ferguson and St. Louis police; and both the police and the media are preparing for what they expect–and apparently hope–will be violent and dangerous riots.
Since the Grand Jury decision may come very soon, I thought I’d gather the latest updates on this important story for today’s post. I’ll admit up front that I’m not an nonpartisan observer in this case.
First, the LA Times article I linked to above has a good summary of the two sides to the story of the shooting, Back Story: What happened in Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson, Mo.?
Also from the LA Times, a report of Missouri Governor Jay Nixon’s recent announcement about government preparations for what he apparently assumes will be riots, National Guard on call if Ferguson grand jury decision triggers violence.
The National Guard will be ready to assist law enforcement in Missouri if unrest erupts after a grand jury announces whether to indict a white police officer who fatally shot an unarmed black man in Ferguson, Gov. Jay Nixon announced Tuesday.
“Violence will not be tolerated,” Nixon said at a news conference with officials from the Missouri State Highway Patrol, St. Louis County police and St. Louis Metropolitan police. The governor said the agencies would form a unified command to deal with protests. “Residents and businesses of this region will be protected,” Nixon said….
Nixon said that the rights of peaceful protesters would be respected but that officials would have no tolerance for violent agitation. “Our dual pillars here are safety and speech,” Nixon said in the televised news conference from St. Louis. The National Guard, he said, would be available “when we determine it is necessary to support local law enforcement.”
Nixon added: “The world is watching.”
Nixon did not say whether there have been any efforts to diffuse anger on the part of local police officers or prevent more police overreactions to peaceful protests.
The story also quoted St. Louis police chief Jon Belmar.
“The community is on edge. … There is a large sense of anxiety out there. This is a little unprecedented,” St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar told reporters in a televised news conference. Belmar added: “If you talk to chiefs around the country [as I have], they’re concerned and prepared for this to perhaps lap into their communities also.”
Gee, I wonder why? Could it be because police shootings of unarmed black men are so common in this country? Belmar also defended the use of military equipment to control protests.
Belmar defended the agency’s response by saying that such gear was necessary for his officers’ protection and pointed out that no protesters lost their lives during August’s demonstrations, which were occasionally marred by looting and gunshots. “My goodness, could we be that fortunate moving forward?” Belmar said of the absence of fatalities.
The St. Louis County Police Department has spent about $120,000 to replenish equipment such as shields, batons, tear gas and flex handcuffs after weeks of unrest in the aftermath of the shooting depleted supplies and damaged equipment.
Here are some recent examples of white policemen shooting unarmed black men:
The New Republic, A Dash Cam Didn’t Stop This White Officer From Shooting an Unarmed Black Man (fortunately, this officer was arrested and charged. Whether he’ll be convicted or not, we don’t know yet)
Mother Jones, August 13, 2014, 4 Unarmed Black Men Have Been Killed By Police in the Last Month.
Here’s piece on this subject by Washington Post columnist Jonathan Capehart, The terrifying police shootings of unarmed black men.
One of the burdens of being a black male is carrying the heavy weight of other people’s suspicions. One minute you’re going about your life, the next you could be pleading for it, if you’re lucky. That’s what happened to Trayvon Martin in February 2012 and Michael Brown last month. And two other recent shootings add further proof that no standard of conduct, it seems, is too good or too mundane to protect a black man’s life particularly from a police officer’s bullet.
John Crawford III was talking on his cell phone in the Beavercreek, Ohio, Wal-Mart and carrying an unloaded BB air rifle he picked up in the superstore on Aug. 5. “There is a gentleman walking around with a gun in the store,” Ronald Ritchie told the 911 operator. “Yeah, he’s, like, pointing at people….He’s looking around, waving it, waving it back and forth….He looked like he was trying to load it. I don’t know.” Fair warning: As the graphic video shows, Crawford was shot and killed by police. Ritchie has since changed his account of what happened.
You can watch the video at the link. Capehart also discusses the Brown case and the case in South Carolina (story linked above).
Levar Jones was pulled over for a seat-belt violation by now-former South Carolina state trooper Sean Groubert on Sept. 4. Thanks to the startling and graphic dashcam video we get to see every African American’s worst nightmare unfold in seconds….
Groubert asks Jones, “Can I see your license, please?” Jones, who was standing outside his car at the gas station convenience store, turned and reached inside to retrieve it. “Get out of the car! Get out of the car!” Groubert shouts before opening fire on Jones at point-blank range. After being hit in the hip, Jones can be seen moving backwards away from his car with his hands in the air as two more shots ring out.
Instead of using these recent cases to highlight and deal with the problem of police shootings of unarmed people, it seems that local and state governments like those in Missouri are simply doubling down on the people who protest them. I’m really concerned that all the talk of “riots” being inevitable in Ferguson is going to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Caitlin Dickson of The Daily Beast reports that at least one expert agrees with me: Riot Prep Could Fuel Ferguson Violence.
Despite a concerted police effort to quell demonstrations, protesters have carried on consistently and, for the most part, calmly since Brown’s death at the hands of police officer Darren Wilson this past August. But the impending grand jury decision on whether Wilson will be indicted in Brown’s death—and leaks of evidence suggesting he won’t—has law enforcement, residents, and business owners preparing for violence on the streets.
In addition to Missouri Governor Jay Nixon’s announcement on Tuesday that the Missouri State Highway Patrol, the St. Louis Metropolitan police, and the St. Louis County police will join forces (with the National Guard on standby) in handling demonstrations following the grand jury decision, almost every national news organization—from CNN to The New York Times, the Associated Press and Reuters—has reported that Ferguson residents and business owners have been taking matters into their own hands. Gun sales are up, local gun-shop owners told reporters. People like Dan McMullen, whose insurance agency is located near a spot where the few instances of vandalism and looting took place following Brown’s death, was quoted by both the New York Times and CNN as saying he’s stocking up on guns in case of a riot….
Despite Governor Nixon’s declarations that “violence will not be tolerated” and “residents and businesses of this region will be protected,” some experts wonder whether all the emphasis on preparedness—from the $120,000 spent by the St. Louis County Police on riot gear to the sudden demand for guns—may do more harm than good.
“I don’t think this is the way we should be thinking about what might happen,” American University professor Cathy Schneider told The Daily Beast. Instead, Schneider, who is an expert on social movements and racial tensions, argues that what we should be thinking about is, ‘how do we convince a community that the police will act to serve them, that the justice system will defend their interests, and that the verdict will be just?” [….]
“If one side is buying guns and preparing, what do you think the other people are doing, who think those guns are going to be used against them?” Schneider asked. Instead of acknowledging that Ferguson’s black community “is in pain and wondering whether justice will be done,” Schneider said, such intense preparation sends the message that “we think your community is dangerous and we’re armed and prepared to kill you.”
It also doesn’t help that Ferguson police chief Tom Jackson–who should have been fired by now–has announced that Darren Wilson, the man who killed Michael Brown, will be welcomed back to the local force if he isn’t indicted by the Grand Jury.
Here’s an excellent op-ed by Mary Sanchez of the Kansas City Star: The fire next time … may engulf Ferguson, Mo.
By every indication — from both the street and civic offices — Ferguson, Missouri is expected to blow.
The grand jury decision on whether a white police officer will be charged in the shooting death of an unarmed 18-year-old black man could come any day. Many are expecting no indictment of the officer, no criminal charges alleging that he went too far the day Michael Brown died.
If that’s the outcome, God help us all. Keeping the lid on the public reaction will be a gargantuan task.
Of course local leaders fed the outrage from the very beginning by trying to protect Darren Wilson and by leaving Michael Brown’s body lying exposed in the street for four hours.
Sanchez refers back to the riots in Los Angeles in 1965 as well as those in 1992 after the failure to indict police who beat Rodney King within an inch of his life. Why don’t government leaders deal with the root problems at work in these cases?
In Watts nearly 50 years ago the name was Marquette Frye, not Michael Brown. Frye, 21, was pulled over in a traffic stop, suspected of being drunk. When other family members arrived, a fight broke out with police. Word spread, alleging police had over-reacted.
For six days people rioted. There were 34 deaths, more than 1,000 people injured, $40 million in property damage and more than 1,000 buildings were destroyed.
In 1992, the person at the center was Rodney King. He’d led police on a high-speed car chase, fleeing after fearing that his probation would be revoked from a robbery conviction. When he finally was stopped, what happened next shocked the nation. The video of the officers assaulting King without mercy when they could have simply handcuffed him was played over and over on television.
When those officers weren’t indicted, the city erupted again. This time, 53 people died, more than 2,000 were injured, the property damage was pegged at $1 billion and another 1,000 buildings were destroyed.
In both cases, commissions were formed and good people went to work unraveling how one incident could ignite such violence. The underlying causes were found to be similar despite the nearly 30 years that had passed: the burdens of poor education, lack of jobs, poverty, racial tensions, and inferior housing and transportation.
Sanchez goes on to recommend changes that local and state governments will most likely either ignore or respond to with lip service.
We’ve seen over the past several years that virulent racism is alive and well in this country, and we simply are not dealing with it.
This nation was founded on the enslavement of black people, and despite the civil rights struggles of the 1960s, efforts to desegregate schools, and affirmative action, black people are still treated as second class citizens by many Americans. A number of states have even instituted voter ID laws that essentially act as poll taxes did in the Jim Crow era to keep black people from voting, and the Supreme Court has affirmed the right of states to do this.
We are now on the verge of another flashpoint in the history of race conflicts in our country–the possibility of violence following a failure to punish Darren Wilson for essentially ignoring the humanity of black teenager Michael Brown.
When will it end?
A few more reads to check out if you’re interested:
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Protesters prepare for the worst in Ferguson.
Fellowship of Reconciliation, Ferguson Under Indictment.
Juan Williams at Fox News, Are liberal news outlets begging for a race riot in Ferguson?
Michael Martinez at CNN, Ferguson case raises question: Where’s the data on officer-involved killings?
Christian Science Monitor, Ferguson verdict: Why St. Louis schools will know first.
AP via Boston Globe, Churches prepare for possible Ferguson unrest
What stories are you following today? Please post your thoughts and links in the comment thread, and have a great weekend.
There is some news coming out of Steubenville, Ohio in the buildup to the the grand jury investigation, which begins hearing from witnesses on Tuesday.
From The Columbus Dispatch: School, other sites searched in wider Steubenville rape probe
Police officers and investigators yesterday were searching the eastern Ohio high school attended by two football players who raped a 16-year-old girl after an alcohol-fueled party last summer, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said.
Searches also took place at Vestige Ltd., a digital-evidence company in northeastern Ohio, and the offices of the Steubenville school board in addition to Steubenville High School, DeWine said. The searches are part of an attempt to learn whether other laws were broken in connection with the rape.
“What I hope people will believe when we’re done is that we did everything we could to find the truth and that justice was done,” DeWine said in an interview. “What you’re seeing today is just part of that effort.”
Using warrants, police officers and investigators began the searches about 2 p.m. and possibly would work into the night, DeWine said. There was no immediate word on what the searches turned up…
Judges sealed investigators’ requests for the search warrants at the request of the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation, ruling that disclosing them “would be detrimental to the ongoing criminal investigation,” according to the judges’ orders.
The Atlantic Wire asks: What Is Steubenville Still Hiding?
Toward the end of the school day Thursday, more than eight months after a Steubenville Big Red pre-season game turned into a serious of house parties and a series of attacks on a 16-year-old girl, local police and investigators showed up — as if out of nowhere — at Steubenville High. They stayed on campus into the night, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine told the Associated Press, executing search warrants that were either new or unheard of — and certainly fascinating. “Steubenville Police assisted the Attorney General in the search warrants,” said William McCafferty, the local police chief who “begged” for evidence when the initial crime was reported. Officials for Steubenville city schools, who have been publicly silent (save for one brief statement) since that fateful August night that brought a social media and judicial storm upon the Ohio town, confirmed the search in a a statement released Friday reading in part that “we have been from the beginning and are continuing to fully cooperate with the authorities in this investigation.”
But this is a new investigation, and this week’s search appears to have an urgency of its own, as DeWine’s grand jury prepares to convene on Tuesday. The attorney general said the searches at Steubenville city schools were “just part of that effort” — an effort he announced after two Steubenville High students and football players, Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond, were found guilty of rape. “We cannot bring finality to this matter without the convening of a grand jury,” DeWine said at the time. “I anticipate numerous witnesses will be called. The grand jury, quite frankly, could meet for a number of days.”
Grand juries, by their nature, are conducted in secret, and the warrants executed on Thursday remain sealed — and so it remains unclear whether investigators were searching computers, paperwork, or physical evidence. DeWine has said the grand jury will be looking for, among other things, at the crimes of failure to report a felony, tampering with evidence. DeWine explained that “indictments could be returned and additional charges could be filed” in light of the jury, the nine members of which were seated last week but will begin hearing testimony and reviewing evidence on April 30. He alsocalled the grand jury “a very good investigative tool as well as a very deliberative body,” which makes the timing of the school search all the more interesting.
It sounds like this could get interesting. Personally, I’m hoping Coach Reno Saccoccia gets his comeuppance.
Yesterday, Democrats in Congress once again allowed Republicans to treat them like doormats when they voted to ease sequestration “pain” for the mostly wealthy frequent flyers.
Good Evening! The big news today is that Minkoff Minx is back home and resting after her surgery. She even managed to send off an e-mail to the rest of the administrators, so she might even be reading this–if so, hi there, Minx!
I have several updates on the Trayvon Martin case. The city of Sanford is preparing for the aftermath of the special prosecutor Angela Corey’s decision on whether or not she will order the arrest of George Zimmerman.
Sanford Mayor Jeff Triplett said on Thursday that the city’s emergency management team has met regularly with the U.S Department of Justice to construct a plan. Officials said extra police officers and fire department officials are on standby. Neighboring agencies have also been asked to assist, if needed.
“You always prepare for the worst and hope for the best,” Triplett said. “We’re planning for the ‘what-if’ case scenario, and that would be to make sure that all of our citizens get the protection they pay their taxes for.”
The grand jury ordered by Governor Rick Scott is scheduled for next Tuesday, April 10, so Corey is expected to decide soon.
If she finds probable cause, Corey could direct-file the charges anytime or present evidence to a Seminole County grand jury, which was tentatively scheduled to meet on Tuesday. The grand jury could indict, ask to hear more evidence, or decline to indict.
Since the Stand Your Ground Law has been invoked by Zimmerman, even if charges are filed, a judge could review the case and grant immunity, thus dismissing the charges.
Corey previously stated that she may not need the grand jury. I’ll be honest: I just have a gut feeling that she will decline to charge Zimmerman. I hope I’m wrong, but Corey is known for charging juvenile offenders very harshly and trying them as adults. Last year, she charged a 12-year-old boy with first degree murder and ordered him tried as an adult in the death of his two-year-old brother. HuffPo reports that Corey
is known for her tough tactics aimed at locking up criminals for long sentences and making it difficult to negotiate light plea bargains.
Furthermore, 57-year-old Angela Corey has handled hundreds of homicide cases involving the justifiable use of deadly force – experience that could prove invaluable.
On the other hand, they also report that Corey is exceedingly close to the Sheriff’s office and police. One colleague told HuffPo that she is “too close” to them.
George Zimmerman has a new attorney who is a former police officer, now a criminal defense attorney, who has experience with the media. But that experience did not serve him well today when he suggested in a TV interview that Zimmerman may have suffered from “shaken baby syndrome” after Trayvon Martin supposedly bashed his head on the sidewalk. Except that the new attorney is now claiming his client’s head was bashed into the “ground.” (Just a side note: neither of Zimmerman’s attorneys has actually met him in person yet. They’ve only talked with him on the phone.)
Hal Uhrig, a lawyer and former Gainesville, Florida, police officer who recently joined Zimmerman’s defense team, cited in a TV interview the brain damage that can seriously injure or kill an infant.
His point, which has been made before, was that Zimmerman contends he shot Martin in self defense and feared for his life after the 17-year-old attacked him and began pounding his head into the concrete pavement of a gated community on a rainy evening in Sanford on February 26.
But Uhrig’s choice of words, and use of a recognized sign of child abuse to defend a 28-year-old man who killed a kid, seemed likely to raise more than just a few eyebrows.
“We’re familiar with the Shaken Baby Syndrome,” said Uhrig on the CBS This Morning program. “You shake a baby, the brain shakes around inside the skull. You can die when someone’s pounding your head into the ground.”
Shaken baby syndrome can occur in very young infants because their skulls are still soft, they aren’t yet in control of their neck and limbs, and their heads are very large in proportion to their bodies. Adults can obviously suffer serious head trauma leading to internal bleeding and death, but if EMT’s believed that had happened to Zimmerman they would have insisted he be transported to a hospital.
One of Uhrig’s first actions after taking the job was to get rid of Zimmerman’s “friend” Joe Oliver (now being called a “media adviser”), who made innumerable embarrassing media appearances in which presented a number of inconsistent explanations of what supposedly happened the night of the shooting.
A group of about 40 Florida college students have organized a 3-day march from Daytona Beach to Sanford (41 miles), Florida to demand racial equality in honor of Trayvon Martin. The march is “modeled after the historic 1965 civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Ala.”
They call themselves the Dream Defenders. The march began earlier today.
The campaign began at Daisy Stocking Park and will conclude on April 9 at Sanford City Hall. During the march, students will be stopping every two hours and receiving training. They will also work on developing a strategy to launch a larger youth movement to address racial inequalities. Their first stop is the Volusia Regional Juvenile Detention Center for a prayer vigil and speakout. You can track the group as they march on their website.
The Volusia County Sheriff’s Office and police officers in Daytona Beach, DeLand and Orange City are coordinating and will be helping with traffic control to make sure the students are safe while crossing busy highways.
Vanessa Baden, a 2007 alumna of Florida State, flew in from Los Angeles to attend the march on behalf of Dream Defenders. She said the purpose of the march is to call for the arrest of George Zimmerman and the investigation of the process of law enforcement following the shooting of Trayvon Martin.
“What we’re not trying to do is try Zimmerman in the court of public opinion. We get that there’s a process in this,” Baden said. “We’ll be patient with the process if they allow the process to begin.”
The group expects other college students to join the march along the way. Good for them. I know darn well if Martin Luther King were still alive, he would be there too.
Unfortunately, a group of “armed neo-Nazis” is already in Sanford, supposedly to help in riot control after Angela Corey makes her decision.
Neo-Nazis are currently conducting heavily armed patrols in and around Sanford, Florida and are “prepared” for violence in the case of a race riot. The patrols are to protect “white citizens in the area who are concerned for their safety” in the wake of the Trayvon Martin shooting last month, says Commander Jeff Schoep of the National Socialist Movement. “We are not advocating any type of violence or attacks on anybody, but we are prepared for it,” he says. “We are not the type of white people who are going to be walked all over.”
Because nothing diffuses racial tension like gun-toting racial separatists patrolling an already on-edge community.
Lots of audio “experts” are still analyzing Zimmerman’s initial 911 tape to see if he used word “coons” in a whispered utterance. CNN’s expert claims Zimmerman said “fucking cold.” Another expert says it was “fucking punks.”
In addition, I found this slowed down tape of the 911 call by a witness. It was posted by a self-described “audio person.” You can hear screams for help in the background, then a gunshot, and another sound after the shot. It sounded like a scream after the gunshot to me.
NBC has fired a producer who edited the Zimmerman 911 tape and played the edited version on the Today Show as if it were the original.
The person was fired on Thursday, according to two people with direct knowledge of the disciplinary action who declined to be identified discussing internal company matters. They also declined to name the fired producer. A spokeswoman for NBC News declined to comment.
The action came in the wake of an internal investigation by NBC News into the production of the segment, which strung together audio clips in such a way that made George Zimmerman’s shooting of Mr. Martin sound racially motivated. Ever since the Feb. 26 shooting, there has been a continuing debate about whether race was a factor in the incident.
The segment in question was shown on the “Today” show on March 27. It included audio of Mr. Zimmerman saying, “This guy looks like he’s up to no good. He looks black.”
But Mr. Zimmerman’s comments had been taken grossly out of context by NBC. On the phone with a 911 dispatcher, he actually said of Mr. Martin, “This guy looks like he’s up to no good. Or he’s on drugs or something. It’s raining and he’s just walking around, looking about.” Then the dispatcher asked, “O.K., and this guy — is he white, black or Hispanic?” Only then did Mr. Zimmerman say, “He looks black.”
Obviously, the editing was misleading, but I actually think the real 911 tape sounds worse and more racially biased. JMNSHO.
Family and friends of George Zimmerman are starting a website to raise funds for his defense and his living expenses. The reporter, Frances Robles says that Zimmerman has suffered “weeks of withering media coverage lambasting him and his supporters…” I’d say the lambasting of Trayvon Martin has been even more “withering,” but of course he no longer has “living expenses,” because George Zimmerman shot and killed him. But what do I know? Poor George….
Robles also notes that Zimmerman has attract some troubling supporters
such as white supremacists and the Rev. Terry Jones, the Gainesville pastor who announced last year plans to burn the Quran and now plans to hold a rally for Zimmerman. Gun ownership advocacy groups have also announced intentions to contribute $10,000 towards Zimmerman’s defense.
But one of Martin’s attorneys points out that
“It’s a PR strategy, a propaganda campaign,” said Natalie Jackson, an attorney for Trayvon’s parents. “His friends and family are doing him a big disservice by race-baiting. They are trying to divide a jury. Frank Taaffe, Joe Oliver, everybody gets up there and says, ‘George Zimmerman is not a racist.’ That’s not what we’re talking about.
“We’re talking about whether he was justified in taking Trayvon Martin’s life.”
I agree with Jackson that the racism issue is a red herring. It’s up to the FBI to decide whether this was a hate crime or not. But Zimmerman needs to be arrested and charged. Then he can plead his case for self-defense to a judge and jury instead of the media.
Feel free to discuss any topic on this thread. I decided to focus on the Martin case because there was so much news coming out today on it, and it has otherwise been a pretty slow news day because of the upcoming christian holiday.