Politics & Policy

Justice in Ferguson

A Ferguson fireman surveys a building destroyed during Monday’s rioting. (Scott Olson/Getty)

A St. Louis County grand jury has chosen not to indict Ferguson, Mo., police officer Darren Wilson in the August shooting death of Michael Brown. From the evidence available, and the careful, long statement of St. Louis prosecutor Robert P. McCulloch, that seems to have been the proper decision.

By mid October the progressive narrative of Brown’s death — that he was murdered by a white police officer, yet another victim of the systemic racism that renders black Americans de facto second-class citizens — had collapsed. Forensic analysis, testimony from several (African-American) eyewitnesses, and testimony from Wilson himself suggested that the shooting was not the “execution” that Brown family attorney Benjamin Crump and Ferguson’s many protesters have claimed. The official court autopsy report found that Brown probably did not have his hands raised in the iconic “hands up, don’t shoot” position that has come to symbolize the events in Ferguson.

According to McCulloch, the witnesses whose testimony was most damaging to Officer Wilson contradicted themselves and the forensic evidence, while the exculpatory witnesses did not. Taken together, the grand jury could not find probable cause that a crime took place.

Ferguson protesters and a not-insignificant part of the liberal media will no doubt argue that the grand jury made its decision for reasons of race, or from a bias toward law enforcement. But there is no indication that these, or any other alternative explanations, are the case. Indeed, prosecutors usually dismiss weak cases on their own; they do not bring to a grand jury cases in which evidence is insufficient to convict under the higher “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard of proof that applies at trial. In this instance, however, Mr. McCullough made an exhaustive presentation to the grand jury, thus providing representatives of the community the opportunity to indict. Upon hearing all the evidence, the grand jury declined to file charges. There is no indication that the system worked otherwise than as it should.

Nonetheless, almost immediately protesters — soon become looters — were throwing rocks at the police and then setting ablaze police cars and local businesses. The owners of those local establishments obviously did nothing except attempt to serve the community, and have gotten burned out for their trouble. Ferguson demonstrators say they live in fear, but the evidence of the last several months suggests that the unrest they instigated and have perpetuated — from the week-long riots that followed Brown’s death to the civic disruption that has had the St. Louis area, from symphony-goers to football fans, on edge for the last months, to the latest mayhem — has spread more fear in the community than any malfeasance among local law enforcement. There is clearly significant racial tension in Ferguson. But the best way to resolve it is not by enkindling local establishments, but by working peacefully through the available democratic mechanisms.

The grand-jury verdict does not mean Officer Wilson is in the clear. He remains the subject of a federal civil-rights investigation (although it is unlikely to go anywhere), and the Brown family retains the option of filing a civil suit. But the grand jury resisted the mammoth political pressure to indict strictly to assuage racial grievances, instead opting to follow the evidence. When it comes to justice, that is as much as any American can hope for. Peace, on the other hand, won’t come to Ferguson until the arsonists and looters are stopped.

The Editors — The Editors comprise the senior editorial staff of the National Review magazine and website.

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