The New York Times reports that the Justice Department will not bring civil-rights charges against former police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. The Gray Lady adds, however:
A broader civil rights investigation into allegations of discriminatory traffic stops and excessive force by the Ferguson Police Department remains open, however. That investigation could lead to significant changes at the department, which is overwhelmingly white despite serving a city that is mostly black.
National Review readers will not be surprised by any of this. In an August column, I explained why there was no conceivable civil-rights case against Wilson. Only racial profiling – i.e., the Justice Department’s presumption of guilt based on nothing more than that the police officer was white and the decedent black – could explain the pursuit of a federal civil-rights investigation (notwithstanding that Attorney General Holder portrays himself as a stalwart opponent of profiling). As I wrote at the time:
Federal civil-rights laws may be invoked, but only in exceedingly rare circumstances: murders carried out because of the victim’s race, ethnicity or religion (see Section 249 of the federal penal code); or murders carried out by police (or other persons acting “under color of law”) with the specific intent to deprive a person of some federal right or privilege — usually, but not necessarily, motivated by some animus toward race or analogous personal characteristics (see Section 242).
To constitute a civil-rights crime, it is not nearly enough for a violent act to have the “racial overtones” assorted agitators and commentators choosing to frame the case in racial terms contend it does. To justify a federal investigation, the Justice Department must have a rational basis to believe it could prove these invidious and evil purposes beyond a reasonable doubt. That requires compelling evidence, not a farfetched social-justice narrative.
Remember the similarly tragic Trayvon Martin shooting, when Mr. Holder colluded with the notorious Al Sharpton in raising the specter of a federal civil-rights prosecution, pressuring state officials in Florida to file a specious murder indictment. After a jury swiftly acquitted George Zimmerman, Holder was forced to retreat. As he had to have known all along, the evidence of intent to deprive Mr. Martin of his civil rights was non-existent — even weaker than the state’s flimsy murder case.
Well, here he goes again.
Based on what is known about the unblemished six-year record of Officer Darren Wilson and the facts surrounding his shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown, there is no reason to suspect racism, much less that any thought was given to Mr. Brown’s federal rights during the sudden, violent exchange. There is no way this is a civil-rights case . . . unless you are a backward-thinking dolt who spots racism based on nothing more than the fact that the police officer is white and the victim is black.
Of course, it had to have been no less obvious to the talented lawyers at the Justice Department than it was to me that there is no civil-rights case on the facts of the Ferguson shooting. So why pursue it as a civil-rights matter? Because, I argued in a subsequent column, the investigation of the controversial shooting is just a pretext.
It gives the Justice Department an ostensible justification to subject the entire police department to an investigation over its “patterns and practices.” Using a Clinton-era statute that lowers its burden of proof, and the staggering DOJ budget and resources that make it prohibitively expensive for states and municipalities to contest federal investigations and lawsuits, the Justice Department extorts the police departments into signing agreements to conduct policing in an Obama-compliant manner.
So it is in Ferguson. Phase One of this two-step is complete. Darren Wilson is off the hook . . . but the Ferguson Police Department waits for the other shoe to drop – and for crime to surge.