On August 9, 2014, a neighborhood on the north side of St. Louis endured a community-altering situation. It all happened in a mere 120 seconds – a struggle ensued between Michael Brown (and friend) and police officer, Darren Wilson; 12 shots were fired, Brown was hit by 6, one was the fatal shot to his head.
Three and a half months later, the grand jury decided not to indict officer Wilson. The conclusion: there was no probable cause that Wilson acted criminally in his 2-minute altercation with Brown. Following the announced decision, shockwaves were felt around much of the African-American community of not only Ferguson, but the whole of the U.S.
Today, I read a very helpful article posted by pastor, Thabiti Anyabwile, entitled, Why I Believe the Grand Jury Got It Wrong and Injustice Triumphed. The article was of great interest to me because Anyabwile is African-American himself. Not that all black folk would agree with Anyabwile’s views. But his words offered a window into the mind of a respected African-American reflecting on the grand jury’s decision.
I invite you to read the whole post, but suffice it to say, Anyabwile lays out what a grand jury and prosecutor are tasked with, followed by a legal definition of probable cause. He then goes on to give 3 main reasons why he believes the Ferguson process and decision were unjust:
- The prosecutor, in this case, failed to play the normal prosecutorial role.
- As a consequence of the prosecutor’s failure to act, the grand jury was forced to do the work of a trial jury without the benefit of criminal proceedings.
- There was enough evidence – properly presented – to establish probable cause.
As a side note, and a very important one I might add, Anyabwile does well to remind us that the grand jury’s bar of probable cause is a lower standard than the criminal trial requirement of beyond a reasonable doubt. He writes:
Here’s a common definition of “probable cause”: “a reasonable amount of suspicion, supported by circumstances sufficiently strong to justify a prudent and cautious person‘s belief that certain facts are probably true.”
In the end, no indictment would have incriminated officer Wilson. It would have only taken things to the next level – the criminal trial.
Ladies and gentlemen, I would have to agree that something smells slightly fishy, if anything. It might be my upper lip or a sewage backup in my neighborhood. But something seems a little afoul that this wasn’t taken to the next step, a criminal trial. I think Anyabwile did well to show the problematic decision handed down just 4 days ago.
A reasonable doubt – yes, I think reasonable doubt might have been established in a criminal trial, allowing officer Wilson to walk free and move on. But to say there was no probable cause at the grand jury level, no reasonable amount of suspicion that something could have been criminally awry in the altercation – I find that difficult, probably difficult, reasonably difficult. The evidence that we could boil things down to, which Anyabwile does in a most helpful way, shows probable cause as far as I can tell. And he didn’t even mention 6 shots entering the body of an unarmed man.
But here a nation find’s itself, regardless of the decision and whatever actually happened, looking to clean up the fractured pieces.
I’m far removed from Ferguson – 5 hours down I-55 in Memphis. Yet, growing up and living in Memphis for 80% of my life, this whole story has great implications for our city. We are a city divided by race, still today. The systemic problems of race relations are a reality, even seen in the little bit of conversation about Ferguson that was had at our family Thanksgiving gathering, noting my cousin is a Memphis police officer who was present at the Poplar & Highland protests the day after the Ferguson decision.
To think that race problems are not present just because it’s 2014 is to, I believe, side-step reality. I could understand very little why a person might claim things are fine and dandy in our world today. I know my own heart at times. I know my city. I know that Ferguson still exists. I know that Detroit and Cleveland and Chicago and LA and New York exist, even the small towns of the southeastern United States of America. And I believe Anyabwile’s article the very next day is just as important: Four Common But Misleading Themes in Ferguson-Like Times. It was in response to his own friend, Voddie Baucham, who posted an article as well. Though he, too, is African-American, I thought Baucham preceded on an adventure of greatly missing the point post-Ferguson. Anyabwile revealed that.
Please read the 2 articles.
Something was going on in the hearts and minds of the people, the African-American populace, of Ferguson following the grand jury’s decision. Why did they respond the way they did?
Please know that I am, by no means, advocating for the riots that took place in response to the grand jury’s lack of indictment for officer Wilson. And I’d posit Martin Luther King Jr., too, would not agree with such ploys (nor would the one Christians say they follow, that being the Christ). I think riots, looting and violence are not even close to the answer. AT ALL!
But the words above by King make me ask if we are listening. He was an example of supreme listening and, thus, he knew why his African-American brothers and sisters were rioting in his day. Perhaps there’s not much listening going on in our day.
In my life, I don’t want to see another Rodney King or Trayvon Martin or Michael Brown. But if another case arises in the coming months or years (and I just became aware of what happened in Cleveland only 2 days ago – 12-year Tamir Rice was shot and fatally wounded), I also want the confidence to know justice will be available. I do have probable cause for suspicion on that front. I believe Anyabwile showed why the Ferguson decision should be suspect, on some level, for offering justice. I think we took a step backwards, rather than forwards. Ferguson became Nosugref.
I don’t have the time nor energy at this point to argue the non-necessity of weapons/guns. Suffice it to say, I’ve learned a lot from living abroad, living in lands where people don’t walk in to coffee shops packing heat (carrying guns on their hip), where one’s right to defend oneself doesn’t reach into the realm of “pulling the trigger if it’s too dark to see,” not to mention the plethora of excuses that might fall under the umbrella of “self-defense.”
There is a lot we still need to discuss, together, which calls for us to listen. To understand that not all Muslims are jihadist terrorists, we are called to sit with them and listen (perhaps over a meal). To understand the frustration, angst and pain of systemic race problems as commonly shared by African-Americans, we need to turn our ears to these brothers and sisters of ours in the human race.
In all, I do believe only the rule of king Jesus can make things truly right and just, can heal our brokenness, can bring reconciliation, can destroy the systemic roots of racism that still exist where they do. But the rule of king Jesus can be real amongst his people today. I pray for this, as the Lord taught us to pray in Matthew 6.