The announcement was met with demonstrations here and throughout the country that drew attention to other cases of cop brutality against working people and the disproportionate number of victims who are young Black men. The reach of the protests went as far as London, England, where the featured speakers were Carole Duggan, aunt of Mark Duggan who was fatally shot by a police officer in August 2011, and Marcia Rigg, sister of Sean Rigg, who died in police custody at Brixton police station in 2008.
“I’m sorely disappointed by the grand jury decision, but it’s what I expected,” Rodney Martin, a worker at Home Depot, told the Militant. “This is a recurring thing. It’s been going on for decades. The problem is the law that says when police can use deadly force. They know they can use deadly force and easily justify it.”
The grand jury decision did not come as a surprise to many, and was foreshadowed by evidence and testimony leaked to the media, as well as explanations of Missouri law, which, as in other states, is crafted to make it difficult to indict cops, who invariably claim to kill in self-defense.
Before the decision, Gov. Jay Nixon deployed 700 National Guard troops into the Ferguson area. Alongside peaceful protests following the decision, small groups took part in acts of arson, looting and vandalism, giving the governor a pretext to increase the number to 2,200.
“The protesters are not responsible for the looting or the arson,” Markese Mull, a neighbor of Brown’s mother Lesley McSpadden, told the Militant. “The places burned and looted are where a lot of people in this area shop and work. And it played right into the hands of the government and the media that wanted to paint a negative picture of us.”
“I’m not with the riots, but I feel like I’m exploding inside,” Gwen Carr, mother of Eric Garner, whose death while being put in a chokehold by Staten Island cop Daniel Pantaleo in July was caught on video, told the Staten Island Advance. A special grand jury is still deliberating on whether to indict Pantaleo for killing Garner during an argument after Pantaleo accosted Garner for allegedly selling untaxed cigarettes.
“I wouldn’t want to see that violence here,” Carr said, referring to Ferguson.
Media reports during the grand jury deliberations included a toxicology report that Brown had marijuana in his system; evidence that he stole cigars earlier that day; testimony from several witnesses that he initially scuffled with Wilson before the cop shot him; and widely differing accounts over whether Brown was moving toward Wilson, and if so, how fast and from what distance.
“Does Mike Brown’s drug history or the other stuff they used to discredit him matter?” T.K. Smith, a library worker who joined hundreds of others to protest in St. Louis the day after the grand jury decision, told the Militant. “No. He did not deserve to be shot and killed like that.”
All the documents presented to the St. Louis County grand jury, along with transcripts of its proceedings, have now been made public. Witnesses describe Michael Brown as a young man well-liked and known for helping others in the neighborhood, but prone to a youthful recklessness familiar to many.
Wilson spoke about animosity toward cops in a predominantly Black working-class town with a long history of police harassment and brutality. “That community doesn’t like the police,” he said.
Grand jury transcripts show that government prosecutors, and sometimes unnamed jurors, often treated Wilson’s account as truth without challenge, while taking issue with every detail of area witnesses who contradicted him. Among those was Dorian Johnson, who was with Brown throughout the confrontation and several hours beforehand.
Johnson acknowledges the shoplifting incident, as well as mouthing off to Wilson when the officer ordered them to get out of the middle of the street. He describes Wilson backing his vehicle up and blocking their path.
According to Johnson’s testimony, Wilson, still seated in the car, initiated an altercation by grabbing Brown by his shirt collar. Brown then struggled to pull free.
According to Wilson, Brown pummeled him with “Hulk Hogan” strength as he sat in the squad car and tried to grab his gun. Johnson and Wilson testified that Wilson fired the first of 12 shots while sitting in the squad car. That shot struck Brown in the right hand. Brown fled and Wilson pursued him.
According to Wilson and one other witness, Brown then turned around and charged the officer, who had his gun trained on him. Most witnesses said Brown was moving slowly toward Wilson, giving up. Some of these later recanted, saying they weren’t there or didn’t really know.
Either way, Wilson let loose two final multiple-shot volleys. The last two shots were fired as Brown was slumping forward — one struck in the right eye; the other, the top of the head.
No one can dispute Wilson shot an unarmed 18-year-old dead. And because Wilson convinced the grand jury that he feared for his life, his actions were legal under Missouri law.
“We have to continue the fight,” Mark Esters, president of the St. Louis chapter of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, told the Militant at the march. “It’s important to express our outrage at the decision not to indict Wilson. Mike Brown’s death is an issue for all labor.”
Protests against the shooting of Michael Brown continue. As part of a day of student actions drawing thousands across the country, hundreds of high school students from three schools in the Ferguson-Florissant district walked out of school chanting and marching Dec. 2. Many teachers joined in.
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