Ferguson grand jury: Same old inequality, different venue

grandjurydoorThe decision not to indict Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown is wrong in multiple ways, not the least of which is the unorthodox way that County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch presented his “case.”

There’s a lot to question: Police procedures immediately following the shooting; the hard-to-believe story told by Wilson; the fact that Wilson—the potential indictee– even testified to the grand jury; the undirected data-dump of evidence.

One thing I’m not hearing, though, is a more “meta” view of the grand jury proceedings. As I have written previously, I served on the St. Louis County Grand Jury a number of years ago, and it’s clear to me that McCulloch’s approach to the Wilson case was totally unorthodox—and perhaps even calculated to result in a non-indictment.

Floating above all of my doubts about the sincerity of McColloch’s attempt to get an indictment is the fact—in itself—that he treated this one case so differently—so unequally. In this one case—this case only—the possible indictment of a white police officer in the death of an unarmed black teenager—McColloch decided to go “separate and unequal” in his approach to the grand jury.

If he had wanted to demonstrate fairness, McCulloch could have treated this case just like any other. An “equal” treatment would have meant that the prosecutors would—as they do in all other cases before the grand jury—cull the evidence and show just enough to make the case for probable cause.

“Equal” treatment would have meant that the person facing possible indictment would not be given the opportunity to testify to the grand jury.

“Equal” treatment would have meant that the prosecutors would definitively list the charge they were seeking.

“Equal” treatment might also have meant that prosecutors would take their evidence directly to a judge for a preliminary hearing in open court—not to the secret grand jury. [My understanding of the role of the grand jury is to hold closed-door, probable cause hearings in cases in which the identity of minor children or undercover police officers need to be protected. This case did not meet those criteria.]

But “equal” is not what we got.

McCulloch’s separate and unequal grand-jury strategy is, to me, just another reflection of the inequalities in our society and in our criminal justice system. Our system treats black people differently, plain and simple. In this case, a black victim received a different standard of justice. [He jaywalked. He may have shoplifted. He was unarmed, but was shot dead.] A white perpetrator—a police officer, no less—got special treatment. Not just on the street, and not just in the police station and in the media, but in the grand jury room as well.

It’s just another part of the ingrained, unacknowledged, not-so-subtle institutionalized racism that permeates our society and our justice system.

Shame on Bob McCulloch for being a part of it.