Takeaways from The Verdict: community discussion on the events of Ferguson, Missouri

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Following the the silent, peaceful and powerful Die-In Protest, students gathered at the Brown-RISD Hillel at 5 pm to vocalize their feelings towards the events of Ferguson, MO.

After seeing a case that has captivated the country’s attention and caused so much student response, the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity hosted the event with one clear purpose: “To provide a background into the events surrounding the verdict of whether to indict Darren Wilson, including the events surrounding the murder of Mike Brown and the climate of Ferguson after these events.” 

While the participants in the discussion expressed their own tear-jerking opinions, the moderators, Ricardo Mullings ‘15.5 and Godwin Tsado ’16, provided a comprehensive, clear guide to the facts of the case and the consequent media coverage. This is what we all should know:

The evidence and Darren Wilson’s testimony.

On August 9th, Michael Brown was jaywalking when Officer Darren Wilson asked him to move to the sidewalk. According to Wilson, when he tried to exit his vehicle to approach Brown, Brown closed the car door before he could get out, which started an altercation. The officer claims that after receiving a blow to the head from Brown, he drew his weapon. Wilson said that he was scared for his life, and that he “felt like a five year old holding onto Hulk Hogan,” in the presence of Brown. He also claims that he was assaulted by Brown, and was diagnosed with a bruise in the mandibular joint area, or the jaw. After the assault, Brown grabbed the weapon, perhaps to intentionally jam it, or maybe to use it on the officer.

The gun itself was never tested for Brown’s prints, only his blood DNA, but either way it resulted in two shots that hit Brown, causing him to flee from the officer. As Wilson pursued Brown, he fired 10 more shots, six of which hit and ended the 18 year old’s life. The autopsy showed that none of the bullets hit Brown in the back, however witnesses say that the officer fired his weapon while Brown was fleeing, which caused the unarmed teenager to turn around, either in surrender or in retaliation depending on who you ask, as he faced six more bullets. Brown’s body was found 153 feet away from the officer’s vehicle.

Witnesses testimony.

More than half of the witnesses said that Brown had his hands up and was fleeing when Wilson shot him, while only 5 of the 29 witnesses claimed Brown reached for a weapon during the altercation. Some witness accounts changed over the course of police interrogation. For example, Witness 14, who strongly believed that Brown was executed, eventually admitted that the unarmed teenager charged Wilson despite the officer’s demands to stop.

What exactly a grand jury is and what it did in this case.

The grand jury’s job is not to decide whether someone is guilty of a crime. In fact, the grand jury only sees the evidence that the prosecution presents and then decides whether or not the defense should be indicted, or put on trial.

“Essentially, they are tasked to determine if there is enough evidence or probable cause to bring criminal charges as indicated by the 4th Amendment to the United States Constitution,” Mullings said.

This particular jury had been appointed for a four month term by a judge, and consisted of 9 white members and 3 black members. On November 24th it decided that there was not sufficient evidence to indict Officer Wilson.

The prosecution and the potential bias.

Some question Prosecutor Robert McCulloch’s impartiality in the case. As the prosecuting attorney for St. Louis County, he has close ties with the local police force. Furthermore, his father was a police officer, and in 1964 he was shot and killed by an African-American suspect. Additionally, McCulloch’s brother, uncle and cousin have all served for the St. Louis PD.

The response.

On August 20th, Ferguson experienced peaceful protest, endorsed by Brown’s father. However, after the decision to not indict Wilson, the much publicized violence and looting ensued. Some reporters claim that Brown’s stepfather’s reaction to the decision caused the violence, but many see the looting as an exploitation of a sensitive Ferguson police force.

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