Missouri, Compromised

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American political rhetoric is often like American politicians themselves: bland, oblivious, tone-deaf, and inimical to the cause of liberty. Whenever they say stupid things, we mock them for it, and justly so. But there’s another type of political rhetoric less entertaining but often far more harmful: the plain speech of the authority figure refusing to do anything which might in any way challenge the structure of which he is part. This is what we saw last night (Nov. 24) when St. Louis County prosecutor Robert McCulloch announced to the press that the grand jury convened by his office had decided there was no probable cause to pursue charges against police officer Darren Wilson for the fatal shooting of teenager Michael Brown.

Anyone tuning in could be forgiven for thinking that McCulloch was actually speaking for the defense. For more than 20 minutes, he laid out what he saw as the facts of the case, careful to promote the account he found believable—Wilson’s, of course—and to dismiss any others that conflicted with it, all prefaced by an attack on the “24-hour news cycle” that inconveniently demanded facts about a case where very few were made available to anyone outside the secret grand jury proceedings.

In theory, it’s the prosecutor’s job to convene such grand juries so that probable cause might be found, and the case proceed to trial. As Ben Casselman notes, the grand jury is a slam dunk for prosecutors — it is extremely rare for grand juries to refuse to find any reason not to go to trial, except in cases involving police shootings. So how then, in more than 20 years as prosecutor, has McCulloch never managed to successfully recommend charges against a single police officer? It’s not for lack of opportunity.

Anyone tuning in could be forgiven for thinking that McCulloch was actually speaking for the defense.

Potentially, it could have something to do with McCulloch’s father, mother, brother, uncle, and cousin all working for the St. Louis Police Department. Imagine if a case involving a company came before a judge whose entire family worked for that company: if the judge did not recuse himself, it would be grounds for his removal from the bench. Consider also that McCulloch is the present president of The BackStoppers, an organization that funds families of police officers killed or wounded in the line of duty. Of itself, this could be noble work—but McCulloch has been charged by the voters of St. Louis County with pursuing justice, and that means avoiding conflicts of interest or the appearance of partiality. Given his family history, his record of performance on the job, his daily work alongside officers, even his statement that he became a prosecutor because, having lost a leg to cancer as a child, he couldn’t become a cop—one can understand why there were questions raised about his sincerity in presenting this case to the grand jury. And it can definitely help explain why to many, including at least one former prosecutor, it looked like McCulloch had no interest in bringing a case at all.

But instead of recusing himself, McCulloch stayed on, up to the point of calling an inexplicably late press conference to mug for the cameras and urge for “calm” while the Ferguson PD rolled out all the military surplus gear they’ve acquired over the past decade: a troop carrier, sound cannons, riot armor, automatic rifles, and a seemingly endless supply of flashbang grenades and tear gas. (In more typically vapid rhetorical territory, President Obama took center stage soon after to say absolutely nothing whatsoever of substance, while scenes of gassed protestors played alongside him.)

One can entertain reasonable doubts about what happened in the meeting between Wilson and Brown. One could even believe, after considering the evidence as the grand jury supposedly did (in proceedings that cannot be disclosed, by a vote that they are legally obligated to conceal), that Officer Wilson was justified in shooting Michael Brown at least six times. But I struggle to imagine any circumstance under which one could find it appropriate that Robert McCulloch was wielding that authority and giving that speech last night. Because he was, we got the rare spectacle of an American public figure neither leaning on clichés nor bumbling his lines. No: he communicated, at length, exactly what he meant to say.



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Comments

Visitor

And the looting and the rioting, the screaming for violence, the mob's indifference to what happened, etc., are all kind of a...side issue?

Visitor

I read an article the other day listing all the reasons the cop had for shooting Brown.

In that article it said that the cop was responding to a medical emergency call when he came upon Brown & friend walking in the middle of the residential road.

He chose to stop and harass people for that when enroute to a medical emergency?

The article went on to list that Brown had marijuana in his blood.....SO? First the cop didn't know that at the time. Second the illegalization of marijuana is nothing more than an excuse to trash people's constitutional rights (the "war on" drugs) It's NOBODY'S BUSINESS if he was smoking marijuana. Most importantly, it is IRRELEVANT.

Then it went on to say that the cop saw cigarellos in Brown's hand and knew he had stolen them from a convenience store. THAT IS PURE BS.
Best as I can ascertain from alternative sources I trust, the cop responded to Brown's attack in an acceptable way according to "the law", but the BS whiny comments he made to the effect that he, a well trained bully cop, feared for his life because a guy who was not all that much bigger than he was, slammed his door shut on him and punched him in the face, is more obvious BS.....just as it is when cops claim to fear for their well being when they shoot family pets and crush paraketes in their bare hands.
And lets not forget history that certainly played a MAJOR role in this incident. Brown, as most black males in Amerika, had probably been harassed MANY times over the years by (mostly white) cops. It's likely that he was just plain fed up with it and when some bully cop harassed him for walking in the street he was inclined to curse in return, and when the cop escalated the incident to the next level, so did Brown. Is THAT so hard to understand?

Also....the cop had a history of police brutality either by virtue of coming from a small dept. that was disbanded due to public outcry of police brutality &/or charges against him personally for over the top violence against those he is supposed to by serving & whom pay his salary.
THE HISTORY explains the incident, and the cops are the guilty parties in this history of police brutality.

AND if it is true that not all the cops are guilty, then the good guys need to start standing up for what is right and stop protecting their gang thug counterparts.......until THAT happens they are guilty by association and by concealing evidence about those who have committed crimes against humanity.

BTW: I'm white....& I'm sick and tired of police thuggery and by and large I've never really been a victim of that, up to now.

Visitor

If I may, I'm sure Mr. Ferguson is well aware of what the public did and his article was only to critique the government's side -- a completely appropriate way to proceed. In fact, it is better to address the actions of various sides in an issue independently. What is right for us to do has nothing to do with what others do. Minorities, such as blacks, still do have some valid gripes.

I would like to see police start filming a lot more of their work than they do. The people they interact with should be welcome to record. Their reluctance to film their work is a bad sign.

RangerSG

This I agree with. Full body cameras for police, warning of recording by those they accost, right or wrong. Cameras all around make most everyone behave better, esp. when what's recorded can become evidence at a later date.

As far as the incident goes: I'm not going to say Wilson did everything right. He very well could have stayed in the cruiser, IDed the suspect, and arrested him with sufficient backup to subdue with lesser force later. That said, it's a split-second decision. And there are how many witnesses to Brown reaching for the gun? I'm sorry. You don't reach into an officer's car, or for his gun. Ever. That will not end well.

There's a middle ground to be found between presumption the police make no wrong, and the attempt to make a martyr of a man who glamorized shooting police, choked a clerk in the course of a strong-arm robbery, and then was too dumb or arrogant to believe someone would call the police.

Wilson probably didn't do everything right. Brown isn't a martyr. And a tragedy does not equal murder.

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