Judging by the New York Times report on police officer Darren Wilson’s testimony before a grand gury, we’re probably about to learn how well the Ferguson mob handles disappointment. Past experience suggests they will not handle it well. Then again, the great “federal civil rights investigation” of George Zimmerman appears to have been a largely successful propaganda effort by the Justice Department to dilute the bad vibes surrounding the Trayvon Martin shooting in Florida. There is still unrest in Ferguson, but maybe the fever pitch has subsided enough to stave off full-blown riots if Wilson is not indicted for the shooting of Michael Brown:
The police officer who fatally shot Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., two months ago has told investigators that he was pinned in his vehicle and in fear for his life as he struggled over his gun with Mr. Brown, according to government officials briefed on the federal civil rights investigation into the matter.
The officer, Darren Wilson, has told the authorities that during the scuffle, Mr. Brown reached for the gun. It was fired twice in the car, according to forensics tests performed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The first bullet struck Mr. Brown in the arm; the second bullet missed.
The forensics tests showed Mr. Brown???s blood on the gun, as well as on the interior door panel and on Officer Wilson???s uniform. Officer Wilson told the authorities that Mr. Brown had punched and scratched him repeatedly, leaving swelling on his face and cuts on his neck.
This is the first public account of Officer Wilson???s testimony to investigators, but it does not explain why, after he emerged from his vehicle, he fired at Mr. Brown multiple times. It contradicts some witness accounts, and it will not calm those who have been demanding to know why an unarmed man was shot a total of six times. Mr. Brown???s death continues to fuel anger and sometimes-violent protests.
In September, Officer Wilson appeared for four hours before a St. Louis County grand jury, which was convened to determine whether there is probable cause that he committed a crime. Legal experts have said that his decision to testify was surprising, given that it was not required by law. But the struggle in the car may prove to be a more influential piece of information for the grand jury, one that speaks to Officer Wilson???s state of mind, his feeling of vulnerability and his sense of heightened alert when he killed Mr. Brown.
Police officers typically have wide latitude to use lethal force if they reasonably believe that they are in imminent danger.
The political pressure to indict Wilson must be enormous, but those who believe an indictment would mollify the protesters are underestimating how angry they’ll become if indictment is followed by acquittal. It sounds like the Administration is already working to lower expectations for a federal show trial:
The officials said that while the federal investigation was continuing, the evidence so far did not support civil rights charges against Officer Wilson. To press charges, the Justice Department would need to clear a high bar, proving that Officer Wilson willfully violated Mr. Brown???s civil rights when he shot him.
No matter how much the Administration might want to appease or mollify protesters, they’re simply not going to level charges they know will get trounced in court. The loss of prestige to the civil rights system would be too great. Also, no matter how politicized the Justice Department might have become under Attorney General Eric Holder, there are lots of people working there who are simply trying to do their jobs, and they pay more attention to the preponderance of the evidence than protest marchers and professional agitators do. The Times spends a surprising amount of column space recounting the charges from that most unreliable of witnesses, Michael Brown’s friend Dorian Johnson, before mentioning that “officials briefed on the case said the forensic evidence gathered in [Wilson’s police car] lent credence to Officer Wilson’s version of events”:
According to his account, he was trying to leave his vehicle when Mr. Brown pushed him back in. Once inside the S.U.V., the two began to fight, Officer Wilson told investigators, and he removed his gun from the holster on his right hip.
Chief Jon Belmar of the St. Louis County Police Department has said in interviews that Officer Wilson was ???pushed back into the car??? by Mr. Brown and ???physically assaulted.??? The department is conducting the local investigation into Mr. Brown???s death.
Spokesmen for the F.B.I. and the Justice Department declined to comment.
Alas, the professional agitators never decline to comment:
In an interview, Benjamin L. Crump, a lawyer for the Brown family, dismissed Officer Wilson???s account of what happened in the S.U.V. that day.
???What the police say is not to be taken as gospel,??? Mr. Crump said, adding that Officer Wilson should be indicted by the grand jury and his case sent to trial. ???He can say what he wants to say in front of a jury. They can listen to all the evidence and the people can have it transparent so they know that the system works for everybody.???
He added: ???The officer???s going to say whatever he???s going to say to justify killing an unarmed kid. Right now, they have this secret proceeding where nobody knows what???s happening and nobody knows what???s going on. No matter what happened in the car, Michael Brown ran away from him.???
What would be the point of having grand juries, if they just ignore the evidence and send every case to court automatically? Or should that just be every case an angry mob really wants to see tried in court, even if they retroactively decide they didn’t like the show?
The Daily Beast sees a “powder keg” ready to blow, with Ferguson on “the knife edge of more violence” if Wilson is not indicted. They’re already passing around links to the New York Times story and literally insisting that “no matter what happened in [Wilson’s] car, Michael Brown’s hands were up. No matter if he beat the crap out of Officer Wilson, his hands were up – a universal sign of surrendering.”
And the guy who said that is a pastor, Rev. Carlon Lee. He also predicted that Wilson is not indicted, “I think you’ll see an immediate uproar… I don’t think people have seen the amount of unrest and anger that will come if there’s a non-indictment.” No doubt the protesters will rise to the challenge of all these self-fulfilling prophecies about violence. No one seems terribly interested in encouraging them to respect the law. Of course, the city is only balanced on this knife-edge of violence because all the early reports claimed Michael Brown was a gentle soul who was randomly gunned down in what amounted to a drive-by execution. Perhaps things wouldn’t have gotten so out of hand if people had waited to hear the “beating the crap out of Officer Wilson” part before they blew their stacks.