Ferguson police officer not indicted on Michael Brown killing

Darren Wilson will not face charges over shooting death of unarmed black teenager

Protesters took to the streets in major cities across the US to demonstrate at the decision of a grand jury not to bring charges against a white Missouri police officer over the shooting dead of a unarmed black teenager Michael Brown during the summer.

The protests turned violent in Ferguson after prosecutor Robert McCulloch said that the jury had exhaustively examined forensic and eyewitness evidence and decided that policeman Darren Wilson (28) should not face any charges over the August 9th shooting.

Ferguson had been bracing itself for further unrest ahead of the grand jury announcement. The killing of Brown (18) triggered weeks of violence and civil unrest, including clashes between police and protestors, and sparked a national debate about racial bias in policing, particularly the use of excessive force by white officers on black men.

Appeal for calm


Mr Brown’s family said they were “profoundly disappointed that the killer of our child will not face the consequence of his actions.” They asked protestors to remain peaceful, telling them: “Answering violence with violence is not the appropriate reaction.”

Demonstrators outside the Ferguson police department began throwing missiles shortly after the grand jury’s decision was announced before 9pm (3am Irish time).

Police cars have been vandalised and several gunshots have reportedly been heard on the streets of Ferguson since the decision.

Police said they had arrested 29 people in the area.

About 15 minutes after it emerged that Office Wilson would not be indicted, county police used a bullhorn to tell crowds outside the Ferguson Police Department to disperse, saying it had become an unlawful assembly.

Protesters hugged a barricade and taunted police, sometimes with expletives. Some chanted “murderer”. Some in the crowd reportedly tried to stop others from taking part in vandalism and other violent reactions.

Obama reacts

US president Barack Obama appealed for calm in a televised address from the White House shortly after 10pm. He urged protestors to remain peaceful and police to show restraint.

“We are a nation built on the rule of law, so we have to accept this decision was the grand jury’s to make,” he said. “I join Michael’s parents in asking anyone who protests this decision to do peacefully. Michael Brown’s parents have lost more than anyone. We should honour their decision.”

Mr Obama asked police to show “care and restraint” in responding to the demonstrations, telling them: “They need to work with the community, not against the community.”

He urged police to distinguish between “the handful of people who may use the grand jury’s decision as an excuse for violence” and the “vast majority who just want their voices heard around legitimate issues in terms of how communities and lawful enforcement interact.”

In a nine-minute address, Mr Obama said Ferguson highlighted the broader challenges facing the country. He acknowledged the “enormous progress” made in race relations but said there were still problems and “communities of colour aren’t just making these problems up.” “The fact is, in too many parts of this country, a deep distrust exists between law enforcement and communities of colour,” he said.

The appeal fell on deaf ears as violence in Ferguson intensified soon after he spoke. Police attempted to disperse the crowd with smoke and tear gas but the violence escalated and looters pillaged local businesses.

A patrol car was set on fire and gunshots were heard. Protests in response to the grand jury decision spread to New York City, Philadelphia, Chicago, Los Angeles, Seattle and Washington DC.

Fake blood

In Times Square in New York City, police chief Bill Bratton was splattered with fake blood, photos posted on social media showed.

At his lengthy evening news conference, Mr McCulloch, a St Louis prosecutor, said there was no question Mr Wilson was responsible for Mr Brown’s death but that the jury concluded that “no probable cause exists” to file charges against him.

The decision by the jury of nine white and three black jurors, of seven men and five women, deliberated over two days.

Mr McCulloch walked reporters step by step through the events of the August 9th shooting and the large amount of evidence presented to the jury. He pointed to the inconsistent statements of eye witnesses, some of whom said that Mr Brown had his hands up when he was shot.

Referring to the tragic nature of the killing, he said: “No young man should ever die. This is a loss of a life and it’s a tragic loss regardless of the circumstances. But it’s opened old wounds and it’s given us an opportunity now to address those wounds.”

Afterwards, evidence examined by jurors was released, including photographs of Mr Wilson showing swelling and redness on his face. Officer Wilson made the unusual decision of testifying before the jury when he gave evidence for four hours during an afternoon in September and convinced the jury that his life was in danger.

Grand jury

In 24 volumes of grand jury testimony released by the prosecutor, the police officer painted Mr Brown as the aggressor, testifying that the teenager ran at Mr Wilson and failed to respond to his commands.

The police officer told jurors that Mr Brown punched him in the face when he identified him as a possible suspect in a shop theft and tried to get out of his police cruiser to apprehend him.

Mr Wilson said that when he grabbed Mr Brown while trying to get out of his vehicle, “the only way I can describe it is I felt like a five-year-old holding onto Hulk Hogan.”

The teenager grabbed hold of his gun and turned it toward him, Mr Wilson said, before the officer managed to fire a few shots to get Mr Brown away from him. The teenager charged at the police officer even after he had shot him a number of times before Mr Wilson shot him in the head and he fell. US attorney general Eric Holder said in a statement issued around 11.30pm that the Department of Justice’s civil rights investigation into the Ferguson police killing “remains ongoing.”

Echoing the president’s comments, the country’s most senior law enforcement officer said that there needed to be “a national conversation about the need to ensure confidence between law enforcement and the communities they protect and serve.”

A grand jury of nine white people and three blacks had been meeting weekly since August 20th to consider evidence. At least nine votes would have been required to indict Mr Wilson. The grand jury met in secret, as is standard for such proceedings.

Debate reignited

Mr Brown’s killing reignited a debate over how police treat young African-American men five decades after the civil rights movement of the 1960s and focused attention on long-simmering racial tensions in Ferguson and around the US.

Mr McCulloch stressed the grand jurors were “the only people who heard every witness ... and every piece of evidence”.

He said many witnesses presented conflicting statements that ultimately were inconsistent with the physical evidence.

“These grand jurors poured their hearts and soul into this process,” he said.

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell is News Editor of The Irish Times