Politics & Policy

The Stubborn Facts in Ferguson

Ferguson, Missouri, October 22, 2014 (Scott Olson/Getty)
The perpetual protesters are outraged that grand-jury leaks appear to back Officer Wilson’s account.

Can you hear it? Listen closely: It’s the sound of a narrative shifting.

To be honest, I loathe the use of the word “narrative” as it’s employed in this sense, as a thing that shifts or is made to shift so as to flow with the prevailing political winds. It’s one of those annoying terms one hears on the chat shows, like “boots on the ground,” that cloaks the speaker with a false sense of authority. But my opinions on language notwithstanding, there is definitely a narrative in Ferguson, Mo., and it is definitely shifting.

It is growing increasingly unlikely that Darren Wilson, the police officer who on August 9 shot and killed Michael Brown, will be convicted of a crime. My suspicion is that he will not even be charged when the St. Louis County grand jury announces its decision on the matter sometime in the coming weeks.

This should not come as a surprise to anyone who followed the antecedents to Michael Brown’s case: the matter of Travon Martin and George Zimmerman, and that of the Duke lacrosse team and their ill-fated run-in with a “dancer.” In each of these, the initial story, so arduously peddled by the media, was one of an unfortunate, law-abiding black person suffering at the hands of racist whites. But, as the saying goes, facts are stubborn things, and in each of these cases the facts refused to buttress the preferred storyline. Trayvon Martin was proved to be the aggressor in his fatal encounter with George Zimmerman; and Crystal Mangum, the woman at the center of the Duke lacrosse case, was proved to be a liar. And while the Duke case occupied so much of the media’s attention in 2006 and 2007, how many people know that today Mangum sits in a North Carolina prison after being convicted last year of second-degree murder?

We turn now to the matter of Michael Brown, whose reputation as a “gentle giant” was short-lived. Officer Wilson’s version of the events that led to Brown’s death has been shrouded in secrecy until lately, when reporters began to cover a series of leaks from law-enforcement sources. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch has obtained a copy of the official autopsy conducted on Michael Brown’s body, and it has also reported on what Officer Wilson told investigators about the shooting.

According to the source cited in the Post-Dispatch, Officer Wilson told of struggling with Brown inside the Chevrolet Tahoe that Wilson was driving, and of firing two shots from his pistol. One of those shots struck Brown in the arm. Brown then ran a short distance from the SUV but then turned around and advanced on Officer Wilson, who had begun to give chase. Fearing that Brown would overpower him and take his weapon, Wilson fired more shots, killing Brown.

There is nothing in the autopsy that refutes any of this. Furthermore, Brown’s blood was reportedly found inside the Tahoe and on Officer Wilson’s handgun. And, contrary to some accounts reported in the media, Brown was not shot in the back, and not one of his wounds indicates that his hands were up when he was shot.

But even before these leaks were reported, there were reasons to believe Officer Wilson was on solid legal ground in shooting Brown. He volunteered to appear before the grand jury, and even without knowing what he said, the mere fact that he testified is telling. He was under no compulsion to do so; indeed, targets of criminal investigations seldom do. Most often they have little to gain from testifying, given the advantages enjoyed by prosecutors in grand-jury proceedings. Grand-jury witnesses, even those facing potential charges, are not represented by defense counsel. That Wilson nonetheless volunteered to testify, and that his attorney didn’t oppose his doing so, suggests a high degree of confidence that the evidence will vindicate the officer.

There are other, more oblique hints that the case against Officer Wilson is weak. Robert McCulloch is the prosecuting attorney for St. Louis County, and he is leading the grand-jury investigation into the Michael Brown shooting. Early on in the case, there were calls for his removal from the matter over concerns that he wouldn’t be sufficiently objective. When McCulloch was twelve years old, his father, a police officer, was shot and killed by a black man, an emotional trauma that, according to McCulloch’s detractors, would cloud his judgment. And McCulloch has other relatives who have served as police officers as well. Yet Missouri governor Jay Nixon has not called for McCulloch to step aside, though McCulloch released a statement offering to do so if the governor asked.

And why hasn’t the governor asked? Because he knows the case is a loser, that’s why. If Governor Nixon were to ask McCulloch to relinquish the case, no matter who adopted it later, the governor’s fingerprints would be on it. No, better to allow McCulloch to see it all the way through and bear the blame for what is becoming more and more likely every day: Officer Wilson’s exculpation.

And that will not be taken well in some quarters. Ferguson has become the latest nesting zone for America’s itinerant protesters. Unburdened by jobs or other responsibilities, these people are free to drift from city to city and cause to cause, occupying Wall Street and decrying capitalism in New York City one day, lamenting global warming in Chicago on another day, and now marching against police brutality in St. Louis today. These people’s raison d’être is to march and express their outrage; the target of that outrage is whatever is most convenient at the time.

How else to explain a bizarre confrontation between protesters and a news team from CNN? On October 20, CNN reporter Sarah Snider was doing a live report from the streets of Ferguson when she was interrupted by a group of hecklers. Her report had to be cut short, and soon she and her team abandoned the location in the knowledge that they would never be allowed to proceed. Mediaite has posted the video of the short segment that aired on CNN as well as the video of what happened afterward (warning: abundant coarse language). If you watch it, you’ll see that the man whose voice is loudest in the video has nothing at all to say about Michael Brown. Instead, he blasts CNN for its perceived ties to . . . the Jews! Yes, hang around any group of left-wingers long enough — and it usually doesn’t take long at all — and you’ll hear Israel and the Jews blamed for all that ails the world. If Officer Wilson had been Jewish, all of St. Louis would by now be ashes and rubble.

The people you see and hear in that video, and their many fellow travelers now encamped in Ferguson, can sense this shift in the narrative, but they will not be appeased by anything less than Officer Wilson’s imprisonment. They will soon be disappointed, and they will vent that disappointment violently. They will be violent not out of devotion to Michael Brown or any legitimate cause that might have arisen from his death, but because they enjoy it and because they believe they can get away with it. May they learn otherwise.

— Jack Dunphy is the nom de cyber of a police officer in Southern California.


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