Let me ruin the suspense of the headline right away: no, there will not be federal civil-rights charges against Darren Wilson. (Man, I’m going to have to learn how to keep plot twists under wraps for longer if I ever want to write a screenplay for Christopher Nolan.)
We’re all supposed to pretend it’s a possibility for a few days, as part of a little finger-puppet show to defuse tensions. It seems childish to me, and I think our government and just about every demographic of the populace needs to do so me growing up. I don’t know how anyone could fall for it after watching the same hustle played after the George Zimmerman trial. For that matter, even dragging the paper-thin case against Officer Darren Wilson before a grand jury seems like it was a delaying tactic, and perhaps a failed effort to work up some respect for the system.
The Justice Department isn’t going to risk blowing its reputation on charges that won’t go anywhere, not to mention inviting yet another round of riots when they get thrown out. Anyone who thinks civil-rights charges would stick to Wilson didn’t pay much attention to the grand jury’s findings, or chose not to believe them. I guess that’s enough people to make the pretense seem worthwhile to Attorney General Eric Holder, judging by a report at The Hill:
The federal government???s investigation into the shooting death of Michael Brown ???remains ongoing,??? Attorney General Eric Holder said Monday after a grand jury decided against indicting the officer who shot and killed the Ferguson teenager.
Calling Brown???s death ???a tragedy,??? Holder said his department is still examining the possibility of bringing civil rights charges against Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson.
???Though we have shared information with local prosecutors during the course of our investigation, the federal inquiry has been independent of the local one from the start, and remains so now,??? Holder said.
Holder said the Justice Department was also continuing to invest allegations of unconstitutional policing patterns and practices by the Ferguson Police Department.
???This incident has sparked a national conversation about the need to ensure confidence between law enforcement and the communities they protect and serve,??? Holder said. ???While constructive efforts are underway in Ferguson and communities nationwide, far more must be done to create enduring trust.???
We’re also still pretending that Wilson did something wrong by asking a pair of jaywalkers to get out of the middle of the street, taking more of an interest in them after suffering verbal abuse, realizing they matched the description of a duo that just pulled off a strong-arm robbery, and issuing a challenge that earned him a potentially fatal assault. For good measure, let’s pretend that the biggest danger in a racially-charged vandalism and looting spree – which also featured numerous incidents of assault, a carjacking, and maybe a murder – is the cops:
Holder, who has served as the Obama administration???s point person for examining the case ??? which has become a flashpoint for frustration over police treatment of minorities ??? also echoed President Obama???s call for peace in the aftermath of the decision.
???Though there will be disagreement with the grand jury’s decision not to indict, this feeling should not lead to violence,??? Holder said.
The attorney general said it did not honor Michael Brown???s memory ???to engage in violence or looting.???
???In the coming days, it will likewise be important for local law enforcement authorities to respect the rights of demonstrators, and deescalate tensions by avoiding excessive displays ??? and uses ??? of force,??? he said.
To that point, Holder pledged the Justice Department would continue to work with civil rights, faith, and community leaders to improve relationships with law enforcement ??? a charge Obama also mentioned in his brief remarks following the grand jury???s decision.
???I???ve instructed Attorney General Holder to work with cities across the country to help build better relations between communities and law enforcement,??? Obama said. ???That means working with law enforcement officials to make sure their ranks are representative of the communities they serve.???
Holder???s involvement in the case has included coordinating directly with Brown???s family, and briefing them on the federal civil rights investigation. In August, he traveled to the town to receive an on-the-ground briefing and meet with local officials.
The Justice Department has also offered technical assistance to police in Ferguson to help conduct crowd control without extreme use of force. And Holder???s team has attempted to bring law enforcement and civic leaders together to preempt violence.
Fat lot of good all that “technical assistance” did, huh?
Justice Department sources admitted to the Washington Post several weeks ago that civil rights charges against Wilson were unlikely. DOJ then grew rather cross with the Post for reporting it:
???The evidence at this point does not support civil rights charges against Officer Wilson,??? said one person briefed on the investigation, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the case.
Justice Department officials are loath to acknowledge publicly that their case cannot now meet the high legal threshold for a successful civil rights prosecution. The timing is sensitive: Tensions are high in greater St. Louis as people await the results of a grand jury???s review of the case.
Many supporters of Brown say they are already convinced there will be no state-level indictment of the officer. Federal officials have wanted to show that they are conducting a full and fair review of the case.
Justice spokesman Brian Fallon said the case remains open and any discussion of its results is premature. ???This is an irresponsible report by The Washington Post that is based on idle speculation,??? Fallon said in a statement.
Other law enforcement officials interviewed by The Post said it was not too soon to say how the investigation would end. ???The evidence we have makes federal civil rights charges unlikely,??? one said.
This perpetual fantasy of federal double jeopardy to satisfy the mob is silly, because such charges are considerably more difficult to bring than regular criminal indictments. The grand jury couldn’t even see “probable cause” – a very low standard – to charge Wilson with involuntary manslaughter. A federal civil rights trial would have to prove that he abused his authority with the intent to deprive Michael Brown of his civil rights. That would be orders of magnitude more difficult to prove than the less sensational charges the grand jury decided not to hand down.
I don’t think it’s healthy to use the Justice Department for performance art to entertain rioters, and give activists something to talk about on television for a few days. This idea of civil-rights prosecution as a “do-over” when the regular court system fails to bring “justice” to a minority victim is poisonous. It undermines confidence in the courts, and since the last-ditch civil-rights revenge trial never actually happens, it only makes everyone more cynical about the justice system. For all the sunny rhetoric about “hope and change,” cynicism hangs like a dark cloud over everything these days.