The Ferguson Grand Jury
Many people have legitimate concerns about police conduct and the possibility of wrongful force regarding Officer Darren Wilson’s fatal shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown. I believe clarification on the concept of a grand jury is needed.
The Fifth Amendment states: “No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury.”
A grand jury hears witnesses and weighs evidence that no one else has seen and perhaps never will. Thus, they can reach conclusions that confound outsiders but conform to the facts, evidence, and laws that they have considered. The St. Louis County grand jury is apparently composed of three black citizens and nine white citizens. This approximates that jurisdiction’s ethnic make-up which, according to the 2010 Census, is 23 percent black and 70 percent white.
The grand jury is not a rubber stamp but a core protection provided by the Constitution. It is a buffer between the prosecutor (government) and the suspect (citizen). It safeguards Americans, whom are presumed innocent, from being subjected to the anxiety, infamy and expense of a trial unless there is probable cause to believe they have committed a serious offense.
I believe if the prosecutor really wanted an indictment, he could have gotten one. It’s debatable whether he should have gotten one, but I think the country would be better off if there was an open and transparent public trial. However, I am also not a fan of show trials (Trayvon) which I fear this would have eventually turned into.
President Obama called on all protesters to respect the wishes of the Brown family and protest peacefully. He spoke of the “handful of people who may use the decision as an excuse for violence” and called on everyone to recognize that “this is not an issue for Ferguson; this is an issue for America.”
“We have made enormous progress in race relations over the past several decades,” the president said, calling it willfully ignorant to deny that truth. “But there are still problems, and communities of color aren’t just making these problems up. Separating that from this decision, there are issues in which the law too often feels as if it is being applied in a discriminatory fashion.”
But progress, Obama warned, won’t come by “throwing bottles or smashing car windows. It certainly won’t be done by hurting anybody.”
Yes, It’s Real
I largely agree with those words as I’m sure do many other Americans including Attorney General Eric Holder. I think we both especially agree with “But there are still problems, and communities of color aren’t just making these problems up. Separating that from this decision, there are issues in which the law too often feels as if it is being applied in a discriminatory fashion.” This is why it’s important to note that the federal investigation is still ongoing and the family could, if they wished, file civil charges.