Three hours ago, exactly, Ferguson district attorney Bob McCulloch stood before the nation and reminded us how little Black lives truly matter. Over the course of twenty minutes, McCulloch presented in excruciating detail his version of the events that occurred on August 9th of this year. McCulloch prosecuted Mike Brown’s guilt with a meticulous fervor that stood in stark contrast with his disdainful disinterest in finding fault with Officer Darren Wilson’s actions that day.
There was never — could never have been — an advocate for Michael Brown in the grand jury proceedings. This was a grand jury that was 75% White, asked to see the humanity of a Black teenager. This was a prosecutor who, despite his job being to speak on behalf of the victim, clearly perceived the victim in this situation to be Officer Darren Wilson, and not the teenager whom Wilson may have illegally killed.
Mike Brown was not even given the dignity of a trial, where someone might have presented the argument that the taking of his life might have been unjust.
One thing must be made crystal clear: the purpose of a grand jury is not to decide guilt or innocence. The purpose of a grand jury is to decide whether there is sufficient evidence to suggest that a crime may have occurred. McCulloch presented compelling evidence that eyewitness testimony conflicted — that some witnesses described a scenario of a crime while others did not. That it took McCulloch twenty minutes to explain the incongruencies between testimonies suggest that an indictment was not only desirable; it was the most legally appropriate outcome. It is not the job of a grand jury to sort through inconsistencies in eyewitness testimony to decide whether or not a person may be guilty of a crime; that is the role of the trial jury.
This is a gross miscarriage of justice. This is a local prosecutor who was sympathetic with his victim; who was reluctant to prosecute his law enforcement allies; who was nonetheless pressured by outside forces to bring some action; and, who therefore simply abdicated his role in presenting a compelling case to the grand jury. This was a grand jury led — incorrectly — to believe their role was to decide Darren Wilson’s guilt or innocence, not the possible legality or illegality of Mike Brown’s death. This was a travesty.
Already, 538 has released the data showing that in virtually all grand jury proceedings held in the past several years, an indictment is handed down; except in the circumstances of police shootings where grand juries almost never return an indictment. What 538 fails to remind us is that in this legal blindspot, the victims are also disproportionately Black. We have, in essence, a legal system that hands a free pass to police officers to take civilian lives — and more frequently — to take the lives of young Black men; and to expect no legal retribution.
This is why the emotions I feel tonight are anger. I feel sadness. I feel rage. I feel grief.
The emotion I do not feel is shock. I do not feel surprise.
Mike Brown was not going to find justice today.
For decades, the justice system has failed to give justice for far too many Black men and women, all wounded or killed by law enforcement. We remember some of their names — Oscar Grant, Amandou Diallo, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice. But what should terrify us is that the killing of Black men by police has become so commonplace, numerous and routine that we have difficulty recalling them all. We simply do not have the capacity to inscribe every name into our memories. We cannot muster surprise when the justice system fails these victims; it happens every time.
All lives should matter. Yet, when a legal system has failed — for decades — to find justice for some victims, it shouts in a single unmistakable voice that some lives do not matter. Specifically, those lives are Black.
How much longer will we allow this iniquity to persist? How many deaths will it take for us to declare that no more will we let Black lives be worth less than White inconvenience?