A great amount of investigation took place to uncover what happened the night of August 9th. Initially, the Ferguson police department investigated and found that Officer Darren Wilson acted correctly, shooting in self-defense. Following this investigation, there was a grand jury investigation. St. Louis County prosecutors presented evidence and the jurors (a group of people from society who agree to listen to evidence and decide) determined there was not enough evidence to charge Officer Wilson of a crime. Unlike other grand jury hearings, St. Louis County released all testimony and evidence regarding this case. There were at least three types of evidence related to what happened August 9th: eyewitness testimony, video recording, and forensic evidence.
According to Wilson, he had been called to investigate a crime of a small store being robbed. When he arrived, two men were walking in the middle of the street. After Officer Wilson told the men to go to the sidewalk, they shouted profanities at him. One of the men, Michael Brown, went towards the car, reached in and fought with Officer Wilson. Wilson reported that Brown punched him twice and then reached for the officer’s gun. Wilson then shot at Brown. Mr. Brown then ran back 30 yards and turned around. Wilson shouted for him to lie on the ground. Brown didn’t and charged. Wilson shot him. Brown continued to charge him. Then, Wilson shot more times until Brown was fatally hit.
There were at least 60 witnesses called to testify. All agree that Brown and Wilson fought in the police car, with Brown standing outside reaching in. Dorian Johnson, the man who had robbed the store with Brown, reported that Wilson shot Brown in the back, and that Brown had his hands raised saying, “Hands up, don’t shoot.” Some witnesses claimed Wilson had shot Brown in the back. Other eyewitnesses testified the exact same story Officer Wilson had told. And, some eyewitnesses changed their story during the grand jury, initially saying Brown had been shot in the back, to saying that what they said was actually a lie.
The second piece of evidence we have is a tape recording of the store that Brown robbed with his accomplice, Dorian Johnson. In the video, Brown menacingly stares down the store owner, who attempts to stop Brown before he walks out of the store.
The third piece of evidence we have is the forensic, or physical evidence. According to the autopsy, Brown’s right hand was shot within a distance of 6 to 9 inches of the barrel of a gun, which is consistent with Officer Wilson’s testimony of shooting Brown when there was a struggle in the police car. The other wounds to Brown are also consistent with Officer Wilson’s testimony. Brown suffered from non-fatal wounds on the front, right side of his body, and the final wound was a bullet going down on the top of his head. These wounds contradict some of the witnesses who claim Brown was shot in the back. 12 shell casings were recovered from the scene. Two were found next to the car, and ten were found next to the path that Wilson had claimed Brown took when charging him.
In the U.S.A., Americans have attempted to live in a society that follows the rule of law for over 200 years. This means that all people have to follow the law, and no matter how powerful one person may be, all individuals are equal under the law. Also, the ancient notion of innocent until proven guilty is one that is honored in American courts. Both of these concepts were crucial to enable the St. Louis County grand jury research, listen to, and ably judge the evidence.
Immediately after the shooting, protests exploded in cities across America. Some Americans chose not to wait and find out what the evidence was and convicted Wilson simply because of the color of his skin, which is white. Famous athletes and politicians joined in this activity, as did news media. Officers were attacked, and there are reports of increased violence in St. Louis against the white immigrants from Bosnia. Officer Darren Wilson resigned from his job as a police officer, because he felt that his presence on the Ferguson force would place himself and his fellow policemen in danger. Although he was found 100% innocent, he now lives a life where he will always be looking over his shoulder, wondering if somebody is out to seek vengeance for a crime he didn’t commit.
1. If Officer Wilson had been black, do you think people would have questioned his actions?
2. Was there any evidence presented that showed Officer Wilson was racist?
3. After the grand jury decided not to have a trial, some people in Ferguson destroyed buildings, and others in a major U.S. city attacked policemen. Were these perpetrators justified?
4. Before you read this article, what did you think about “police brutality?” Did your mind change?
5. Imagine you were a policeman. How would you want to be treated if someone accused you of racism?