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“Making A Just Outcome More Likely”: The Prosecutor In The Michael Brown Case Must Go

Lots of people in and around Ferguson, Missouri, don’t trust Robert McCulloch, the prosecutor who is presenting the facts about Michael Brown’s killing to a local Grand Jury. In fact, more than 70,000 of them have reportedly signed an online petition calling for the appointment of a new, special prosecutor to replace him.

These critics have their reasons. They think McCulloch’s record suggests that he is unlikely to construct an aggressive case against Darren Wilson, the white police officer who shot and killed Brown, who is black. And without a serious effort at prosecution, these people say, a Grand Jury is more likely to conclude the case is too weak to pursue.

I don’t know if that assessment of McCulloch and his motives is correct. I also don’t think it matters. McCulloch should step aside.

I don’t say this because I’m sure that Wilson is guilty or deserves indictment. On the contrary, the precise circumstances of Brown’s death still seem murky. Pretty much everybody seems to agree on how the incident began twelve days agowith Wilson stopping Brown in the street, an altercation ensuing, and then Wilson firing at Brown as he gave chase to him. But the witness accounts that have become public so far diverge on a few key points, including what Brown was doing when he eventually stopped and turned. At that moment, when one of Wilson’s bullets delivered a fatal blow to Brown’s head, was the 18-year-old trying to surrender? Or was he charging at Wilson? The angle of the shot has gotten a lot of attention, because it suggests that Brown, who was six-foot-four, had lowered his head before getting hit. But that could actually be consistent with either of the theories.

The twelve-member Grand Jury will eventually get to see more evidence. It will get the results of ballistic tests, for example, and it will hear a much fuller range of witness testimony than anybody in the public has heard so far. But more evidence won’t necessarily clarify what happenedor whether Wilson should face criminal charges. Not everybody will remember the event the same way. Tests can be inconclusive or contradict one another. The Grand Jury will ultimately have to decide whether there is “probable cause,” but that’s a pretty fuzzy standard and open to interpretation. Inevitably, a lot will depend on what kind of case the prosecutor decides to present.

The issue with McCulloch isn’t whether he’s capable of mastering and presenting the material. It’s whether he’ll do so in an impartial way. Prosecutors are always close to police, because they work closely on investigations. But McCulloch seems to have particularly strong feelingsstrong enough that, when Governor Jay Nixon called in the state highway patrol to take over security in Ferguson a week ago, McCulloch criticized Nixon strongly and publicly. “It’s shameful what he did today, he had no legal authority to do that,” McCulloch said. “To denigrate the men and women of the county police department is shameful.”

One reason McCulloch may feel so strongly about cops is that several relatives have served on the force. (One of them, McCulloch’s father, died in the line of duty when he was shot by an African-American.) Critics have also taken note of a 2001 statement McCulloch made, in a controversial case of police shooting two unarmed men. McCulloch called the victims “bums.” McCulloch presented that case to a Grand Jury. It declined to indict.

“Nobody thinks Michael Brown can get a fair shake from this guy,” Antonio French, a St. Louis alderman, told the New York Times“There is very little faith, especially in the black community, that there would ever be a fair trial.” McCulloch has bristled at such criticism and pledged to see the case through. “I have absolutely no intention of walking away from the duties and responsibilities entrusted to me by the people in this community,” McCulloch said in a radio interview. “I have done it for 24 years, and I’ve done, if I do say so myself, a very good job.”

It’s entirely possible that a fair-minded Grand Jury will conclude the evidence doesn’t justify an indictment, let alone a conviction, at least according to the legal standards of Missouri. As my colleague Yishai Schwartz has written, the state’s laws make it unusually difficult to convict a police officer who claims that he fired in self-defense. But the difficulty of the case is precisely why McCulloch shouldn’t be the one presenting it. It needs a prosecutor whose intentions and motives are not in doubt. Otherwise, people will assume a decision not to indict reflects lack of prosecutorial effort, rather than the facts of the case.

McCulloch has said that he will step aside if Nixon asks him to do so. Nixon (whose own motives are open to question) has declined to take that step, arguing that it would exceed his authority. It’s not clear exactly how far the governor’s power extends in cases like these. I’ve read and heard different accounts about what Missouri law allows. But nobody questions that McCulloch can decide to recuse himself, clearing the way for Nixon to name a special prosecutor.

McCulloch should seize the opportunity. It would demonstrate that he has the integrity some think he lacks. It would also make a just outcome more likely.

 

By: Jonathan Cohn, The New Republic, August 21, 2014

August 23, 2014 Posted by | Ferguson Missouri, Michael Brown | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Right To Peaceably Assemble”: Antonio French Said It Best, ‘Our Civil Rights Don’t Stop At 9PM’

When Antonio French, the St. Louis Alderman who has given us an incredible first-hand account of what is happening in Ferguson through his twitter feed, was released from jail this morning, he told the media, “Our civil rights don’t stop at 9PM.” After Antonio being arrested last night for “unlawful assembly,” I felt compelled to share these thoughts;

To the men and women who are responsible for firing tear gas canisters. To the ones who pull the trigger of the guns that shoot rubber bullets. To those who are the drivers of armored vehicles. To the operators of the machine that makes loud noises. To those arresting politicians and members of the press. To SWAT Teams. Tactical Teams. Riot Police. Mayors. Police Chiefs. City Council Members. State Assembly Men and Women. State Senators. Governors. And More. I urge you to re-read the United States Constitution. Specifically the First Amendment. In case you weren’t given that at your training or your elementary school education, here is how it reads:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Our forefathers, hundreds of years ago, decided to write this amendment and place it at the top of the Bill of Rights. They made a decision that this amendment, the First Amendment, would be the most important amendment to the foundation of our nation’s principles. Throughout history, we have fought wars, carried out secret missions, economically embargoed other countries to protect the rights of citizens around the world to enjoy the same basic freedoms we have here in America. Now, we are blatantly ignoring those rights of our very own.

Over the past five days in Ferguson, Missouri, after the tragic killing of unarmed teenager, Mike Brown, the police and local government have shown a lack of understanding of this protection. Your job is to PROTECT those who have grievances with our government. To give them space to protest and petition their local elected leaders. The only thing you have been good at protecting thus far is the name of the officer who leveled bullets into Mike Brown’s body (but anonymous may have beat you at that too).

An overwhelming majority of the protesters in Ferguson have been peaceful. Yes, they are angry. Yes, they are pissed off. Yes, they are frustrated. But, they have been peaceful. Of course I recognize that there have been a few who have not. A few who looted, burned and threatened violence. And I would never, ever condone that behavior. But, to all those who have been gathering at the police station everyday, and to all those who have been at the QT from dawn to dawn, why antagonize them? Why shoot upon them? Why tear gas them? Why arrest them?

To the public officials of Ferguson, it is your job to listen to those who ELECTED you. And many of those who put you in office are now protesting outside the buildings that hold your power. If you continue to attempt to silence their protest, their anger will only grow and this could get even worse. The demands of the protesters are simple. Read them. Yet, the demands of this nation are even simpler. Respect the First Amendment. The Constitution is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It never takes a holiday or vacation. It never takes a day off. Unless you order a curfew or invoke martial law, the citizens of Ferguson have every right to peaceably assemble and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances at ANY hour of the day.

As for us, we will continue to show our solidarity with the fight for justice for another unarmed, black teenager killed in America. Our prayers are constantly with the family and friends of Mike Brown, and our hearts are with those keeping their hands up and telling the police officers not to shoot.

 

By: Michael Skolnik, Editor-In-Chief of GlobalGrind.com; The Huffington Post Blog, August 14, 2014

August 15, 2014 Posted by | Bill of Rights, Constitution, Ferguson Missouri | , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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