No indictment by @BloggersRUs

No indictment

by Tom Sullivan

Still processing last night's Ferguson, MO press conference by St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch. CNN's legal expert, Jeffrey Toobin, called the decision to announce the grand jury's decision not to indict Officer Darren Wilson at night "clueless." Grand jury documents are available in several places including here.

If nothing else, McCulloch's color commentary on public and social media reaction to the killing was unnecessary and inappropriate. Ben Casselman at FiveThirtyEight observes, "Grand juries nearly always decide to indict." Unless the cases involve police officers.

Former New York state Chief Judge Sol Wachtler famously remarked that a prosecutor could persuade a grand jury to “indict a ham sandwich.” The data suggests he was barely exaggerating: According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. attorneys prosecuted 162,000 federal cases in 2010, the most recent year for which we have data. Grand juries declined to return an indictment in 11 of them.

Casselman continues:

... But newspaper accounts suggest, grand juries frequently decline to indict law-enforcement officials. A recent Houston Chronicle investigation found that “police have been nearly immune from criminal charges in shootings” in Houston and other large cities in recent years. In Harris County, Texas, for example, grand juries haven’t indicted a Houston police officer since 2004; in Dallas, grand juries reviewed 81 shootings between 2008 and 2012 and returned just one indictment. Separate research by Bowling Green State University criminologist Philip Stinson has found that officers are rarely charged in on-duty killings, although it didn’t look at grand jury indictments specifically.

Meanwhile, Ferguson, MO caught fire and protests erupted across the country after the presser:

In Seattle, Los Angeles, Oakland, Denver and elsewhere, protesters blocked intersections with “die-ins,” throwing themselves on the pavement, some outlining their bodies with chalk, to symbolize Brown and other unarmed people who died in encounters with police. They lay on the ground for four-and-a-half minutes to represent, they said, the four-and-a-half hours Brown’s body was left in the street after he was shot and killed. Choruses of “hands up, don’t shoot” and “black lives matter” rang out as protesters shut down bridges, freeways and major thoroughfares.

There was a poetry and a sad sort of symmetry to many of the protests that found their way to major highways. Brown died on a neighborhood street, not far from his home, after defying Wilson’s orders to stop walking in the middle of it, as Wilson testified before the grand jury.

One has to wonder what sort of dynamic led from asking two men to walk on the sidewalk into a deadly shooting. For now, it's back to the transcripts to look for answers.