FORT LAUDERDALE — While the dreaded timeline drew near, residents in Ferguson, Missouri and all across the country anxiously braced themselves as they awaited news of the grand jury’s decision on whether to indict Officer Darren Wilson in the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown.
On Nov. 24, county prosecutor, Robert P. McCulloch, announced that the grand jury had decided there was not enough evidence to charge Officer Wilson with killing the unarmed teenager on Aug. 9, 2014.
“We are profoundly disappointed that the killer of our child will not face the consequence of his actions,” Lesley McSpadden and Michael Brown Sr., Brown’s parents, wrote in a statement after the verdict.
In what many legal experts deem“highly unusual,” prosecutors presented an overwhelming amount of conflicting evidence and summoned as many 60 witnesses, including Officer Wilson, according to transcripts released.
The selected panel — six white men, three white women, two black women and one black man — had the gruesome task of sifting through the amassable evidence that imminently leaned toward Officer Wilson’s testimony that Brown had reached for the officer’s gun. The evidence was released to the public following the verdict.
In his testimony, Officer Wilson, 28, a six-year veteran with no record of disciplinary action, told jurors that Brown had grabbed the gun and it went off twice, hitting Brown once in the hand.
Forensic evidence showed Brown’s DNA on Officer Wilson’s gun, uniform pants and shirt, and gunpowder on a graze wound on Brown’s hand. Three autopsy reports, one by the St. Louis County coroner, one by Dr. Michael Baden, and one by the Justice Department, provided proof that the wound was a close range shot.
Other forensic evidence presented at the closed-door proceeding also supported Officer Wilson’s statement that Brown was moving toward him prompting him to open fire. He said Brown continued to approach him after being hit initially causing the officer to continue shooting. An investigator showed photographs of two blood-spattered foot patterns as evidence that Brown was moving toward the officer.
Police also said Wilson was taken to the hospital with a serious facial injury. Hospital records show that Wilson was taken to the hospital and given an anti-inflammatory painkiller.
Testimonies by eyewitnesses were filled with discrepancies. Most were consistent with Wilson’s account of the struggle at the police car and two shots fired, but stories began to vary as to what happened next. Some witnesses said they could not see clearly. Others said they saw Officer Wilson running after Brown and firing shots. Brown then stopped, turned and started moving back towards Officer Wilson. While some said Brown had put his hands up, others were not so sure.
“The real issue,” Benjamin Crump, an attorney for the Brown family said during a television interview, “is the Brown family has no chance at getting justice for their child.”
Days before the verdict was released to the public, anxiety washed everyone’s mind as it became clear that Brown’s murder would be another blow to the black community. Many feared a repeat of the chaos that erupted in the community last summer.
Ferguson and surrounding areas began to prepare for a worst-case scenario. Law enforcement officials, community leaders and the Brown family urged the public to remain non-violent, yet braced for the possibility of Officer Wilson not facing charges in Brown’s death.
Speculation of a battle scene intensified as Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon declared a state of emergency and activated the National Guard to assist state and local police, and news reports stated that the St. Louis County Police Department spent a whopping $172,000 on riot gear such as grenades, smoke canisters, rubber bullets, shields and helmets, and underwent training regarding protesters’ constitutional rights.
Activists also urged the public to remain nonviolent. Business owners boarded up their shops, and the already struggling school district closed ahead of the verdict. The FBI moved in and barriers were erected around government buildings in downtown Ferguson.
But such efforts were only putting a band-aid on a deep wound, according to Dr.Germaine Smith-Baugh, president of the Urban League of Broward County.
“It’s only by leveling social and economic barriers that stand in the way of opportunity for struggling families that we can achieve progress and fix the long-term issues that created an environment ripe for the formidable chasms and deep-rooted tensions in Ferguson,” Smith-Baugh said.
Last summer, Brown’s death sparked days of protests on the streets of Ferguson, a predominantly black suburb, and escalated into violence,numerous property damage and looting. Blacks from all across the country, fed up with the long history of white police officers using excessive force and the seemingly unjustified killings of black men, grew tired of having their concerns dismissed and joined citizens in Ferguson to demand justice.
The conflict between protesters and police that engulfed Ferguson following the shooting became yet another discussion of racial bias and policing in America. But, Brown’s death may very well be the turning point that echo the call for greater scrutiny of police and community relations across the U.S.
“We also impress upon elected officials, law enforcement, the legal profession, businesses and all those in our nation interested in social justice that we must not allow the killing of Michael Brown and other unarmed individuals across the country to be in vain,” Dr. Smith-Baugh continued. “We ask the community at large to make sure that this tragedy results in future systemic change to prevent similar tragic shootings.”
Even though they called for peace, Brown’s parents’ emotions got the best of them after hearing the verdict. “Why?” Lesley McSpadden cried, and, “Burn this f***ing place down,” Brown Sr., said in a video. He later apologized for his outburst.
President Barack Obama also urged citizens to protest peacefully, but regardless of the increased police presence, the unrest in Ferguson once again turned ugly.
Businesses and police cars were burned; stores looted as police threw tear gas in efforts to disperse the crowd. Protesters also marched in cities such as New York, Chicago and Oakland, California calling for police accountability.
One way to make police more accountable is to ensure that every police officer patrolling the streets wear a body camera, Brown’s parent wrote.
“While we understand that many others share our pain, we ask that you channel your frustration in ways that will make a positive change,” said the prepared statement. “We need to work together to fix the system that allowed this to happen. Let’s not just make noise; let’s make a difference.”