Politics & Policy

Deep Ignorance in Ferguson

St. Louis County prosecutor Robert McCulloch
It was on display in some the questions the St. Louis Country fielded in last night’s press conference.

In its coverage of events in Ferguson, Mo., the liberal press has ranged from irresponsible to downright ridiculous. The latter was on display at last night’s press conference with St. Louis County prosecutor Robert McCulloch, who, after announcing that a grand jury had refused to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in the August death of Michael Brown, took several questions from the gathered paragons of journalistic virtue. A sampling, with commentary:

You’ve been accused by some of passing the buck, by simply standing back and putting all this evidence in front of the grand jury rather than taking a stand. Isn’t that what you were elected to do? Shouldn’t you have taken a stand in this case?

It is no surprise that it did not occur to the journalist in question that by taking the case to the grand jury, McCulloch did in fact “take a stand” — namely, a stand against the summary judgment that so many protesters were willing to make (“What do we want?” “Darren Wilson!” “How do we want him?” “Dead!”), and a stand in favor of community oversight through the mechanism of the grand jury. Prosecutors frequently decline even to take cases before grand juries, determining on their own that insufficient evidence exists to suggest a crime. McCulloch could have done the same. Instead, given the situation, he presented the evidence to an appropriate legal body to ensure greater accountability.

But more to the point, it reveals much about the questioner’s ethos that “putting all this evidence in front of the grand jury” and allowing an objective decision was the objectionable course.

You just explained that we need to work on issues so that this kind of thing won’t ever happen again. Can you explain what are some of those fixes that need to happen? Are any of them including whether or not police should shoot somebody whose hands are maybe at their stomach, maybe at their sides, or maybe up in the air, and they are unarmed?

In his testimony before the grand jury, Darren Wilson estimates that it took just one minute for his casual encounter with Michael Brown to turn into a lethal confrontation. But this reporter seems to think it possible to codify in precisely which circumstances an officer may be permitted to use deadly force. (“Armed?” Check. “Hands away from sides?” Check. Etc.) Hamstringing a law-enforcement officer’s use of force in a potentially deadly situation will likely put even more people in danger.

You’re somebody who has had his record questioned by many members of the community with cases that have happened in the past, so how do you feel announcing this decision? And what message do you think it sends to the community that says that they have had numerous members of their community, young predominantly black males killed by police with impunity — what kind of message do you think this kind of message this decision says to them?

It sends the message that young black males are not killed by police “with impunity” but that their cases are treated with the same care as those of other victims: The evidence is thoughtfully considered by the appropriate legal authority. All indications are that the St. Louis grand jury acted with nothing less than the utmost scrupulousness and diligence.

I think people looking at this from around the country are going to be struck by the fact that there is not a single law in the state of Missouri that protects and values the life of this young man who unquestionably was shot and killed dead, there’s no dispute about that by the police officer. What do you say do people who wonder, is there something wrong with the laws here that allows this to happen, that after this happens says, we just move on, essentially, and that this is justice? Is this really justice?

There is in fact a law in Missouri that “protects and values” not just Michael Brown’s life but every life — namely, statutes that punish homicide and manslaughter. A grand jury, weighing the evidence, determined that Darren Wilson did not transgress those laws. It may be that the people of Ferguson or the legislators of Missouri can make policy or statutory changes that would better protect the lives of citizens. But barring that, the evidence has been weighed against the law. As a body politic, perhaps Ferguson should not “move on,” but, legally, Darren Wilson is not a criminal according to the law of his home state, and to punish him as if he were one would be to dismiss the law as illegitimate. That serves no one.

Will you rest well tonight, sir?

One hopes McCulloch, and the grand jurors, did finally get some sleep. Now if only the arsonists and looters would take a rest as well.

— Ian Tuttle is a William F. Buckley Jr. Fellow at the National Review Institute.

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