Monday night, St. Louis county prosecutor, Robert McCulloch announced that Officer Darren Wilson would not be charged for the murder of Michael Brown that took place on August 9 in Ferguson, Missouri.
Brown’s parents delivered this statement following the grand jury’s decision:
We are profoundly disappointed that the killer of our child will not face the consequence of his actions.
While we understand that many others share our pain, we ask that you channel your frustration in ways that will make a positive change. We need to work together to fix the system that allowed this to happen.
Join with us in our campaign to ensure that every police officer working the streets in this country wears a body camera.
We respectfully ask that you please keep your protests peaceful. Answering violence with violence is not the appropriate reaction.
Let’s not just make noise, let’s make a difference.
Not long after that statement, around 10 PM, President Obama addressed the nation in response to the immensely controversial decision.
Simultaneously, as the president quoted Brown’s father, requesting peaceful protests to honor their son, the streets erupted and clouds of tear gas filled the air.
Three news networks right now. That Obama/Ferguson split screen is so surreal pic.twitter.com/QiaRgG0jo1
— Amanda Wills (@AmandaWills) November 25, 2014
Footage from the rest of the evening closely covered the protest as it rapidly descended into rioting. Over the course of the night, stores were looted, police cars and buildings were set on fire, gunshots rang out, tear gas and less than lethal weapons were deployed, a highway was blocked and protests sprang up across the country.
McCulloch was chided on social media after this comment about the historic process:
The most significant challenge encountered in this investigation has been the 24-hour news cycle and its insatiable appetite for something, for anything to talk about, following closely behind with the non-stop rumors on social media.
Unfortunately for McCulloch, those “rumors,” as well as legitimate journalism covering Ferguson, are just heating up as legal experts fervently pour over the evidence he presented to the grand jury; which was released after the decision not to charge Wilson was made public. If Wilson was indicted, he would then have gone to court to plead his case (not right to jail), and it should be noted that the federal investigation into the shooting is still ongoing.
A grand jury indictment simply means the jury believes there’s enough evidence present that you committed a crime, in this case the jury’s vote deemed there wasn’t. Vox.com’s Jenée Desmond-Harris and Dara Lind explained the grand jury’s indictment options for Darren Wilson:
The grand jury had a lot of choices: it could have issued an indictment on one of four charges: first-degree murder, second-degree murder, voluntary manslaughter, or involuntary manslaughter.
But most of these weren’t realistic options. All along, legal experts have said that it was unlikely that Wilson would be charged with first-degree murder. That would have required evidence that he maliciously set out to kill Brown. Second-degree murder charges were theoretically possible, but this choice was unlikely if jurors decided that Wilson feared for his life when he killed Brown.
If jurors concluded that Wilson was negligent when he shot Brown, they could have gone with a charge of voluntary or involuntary manslaughter. That was somewhat more likely.
It’s important to note that nine out of the twelve grand jurors would have had to agree to indict. That means only four jurors needed to agree that there wasn’t enough evidence to charge Wilson — but that’s still a lower standard than a full trial, where a jury would have to unanimously agree that he should be convicted.
In the end, one of the most impactful decisions was releasing the grand jury’s decision at night. The aftermath of that choice was ugly, and will receive rounds of analysis from pundits, reporters and editors. Hopefully, lessons learned from the events in Ferguson enter the national consciousness in a way that brings positive change going forward, for everyone. Before sitting down with family and friends this week, make sure to keep in mind that every story is biased in some way, preluded by some previous experience and influenced not matter how hard we try. Accounts and opinions of Ferguson are and will be no different.
Read this article from the Washington Post if you want to learn more about the grand jury’s process.