NEWS

Michael Brown shooting: Long legal process angers Ferguson residents

09/18/2014 10:41 EDT | Updated 06/16/2017 00:58 EDT
It has been more than a month since unarmed teenager Michael Brown was shot dead in Ferguson, Mo., and residents are still "mad as hell" that the police officer who killed the young black man hasn't been arrested.

Brown's death led to violent protests in the streets of Ferguson, calls for justice and for authorities to address racial tension in the mostly black community policed by a mostly white force.

Media descended upon Ferguson to cover the protests, and then the funeral, and then they left. The country's attention is now focused elsewhere, but the story is far from over in Ferguson.

Residents, especially Brown's parents, are still waiting for answers about what happened that Aug.9 day and are frustrated at how slowly the wheels of justice are turning.

Darren Wilson, the officer who shot Brown on a residential street, remains on paid administrative leave and has kept out of the public eye. He spoke out on Tuesday, according to the St. Louis Dispatch, to the grand jury that will decide whether he should be charged with a crime. The jury of 12 meets in private, and the newspaper reported he had a four-hour talk with them.

Also on Tuesday, a judge extended the amount of time the jury can consider the evidence presented, to January. That doesn't mean the group will need or use all of that time, but it can have it if it wants it.

Grand juries typically are on duty for terms of four months, and the current group's term expired before dealing with the Brown case, prompting the extension.

Meanwhile, the extension is further testing the patience of Ferguson residents, who are eager to hear a decision about an indictment and can't understand why it hasn't yet happened.

Grand jury gets more time

"Pushing back the date of the grand jury was like throwing gasoline on a four-alarm fire," Patricia Bynes, a local politician who was frequently interviewed by media covering the protests in August, wrote on Twitter.

"People are angry and they see this as political manipulation. To think that it's going to take this long, five to six months, to look at the evidence and say we may need a trial, is pissing people off," Bynes was quoted as saying by MSNBC. "This has energized the people even more."

The lawyer for the Brown family and a number of their supporters believe there is enough probable cause to arrest Wilson immediately, and that it wasn't necessary to put the case in the hands of a grand jury. 

St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch could have filed charges himself rather than leave it up to the grand jury, a choice that automatically makes the process longer. McCulloch expects the jury to wrap up its work by mid-October.

In the meantime, some of Brown's supporters continue to call for McCulloch to step aside. They want a special prosecutor to handle the case because they argue McCulloch has close ties to law enforcement, his police officer father was killed by a black man and he may not be impartial. McCulloch refuses to quit. It's another source of tension, on top of everything else.

The frustrations over the handling of the Brown case continue to boil over. Last week and this week, demonstrators interrupted council meetings, demanding from their elected officials that Wilson be arrested and McCulloch be removed, and poor relations between police and residents be improved.

"People say we love Ferguson. But we are mad as hell," one man, quoted in the New York Times, said at the Ferguson city council meeting last week.

Suspicion about legal system manipulation

Demonstrators and police faced off again on Sept. 10 when the demonstrators tried to block a highway. Thirty-five people were arrested.

Adolphus Pruitt, head of the St. Louis branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said in an interview that there is suspicion in the community that authorities are "playing games" with the legal system.

"Why is it taking so long and why is it so slow? They're trying to manipulate the system — that's the response we're hearing on the street," he said. "It's feeding the distrust of the judicial process."

Pruitt explained that some believe authorities are trying to stretch out the judicial process as long as possible with the hope that tensions will die down and protesters will lose their momentum. But the more time that passes, the more people are getting agitated and their positions hardening, said Pruitt, and that could mean trouble ahead.

He said there is concern in the community that if the grand jury decides against recommending criminal charges against Wilson, more violence would hit the streets.

"If there is no indictment, then what we saw erupt earlier is the tip of the iceberg of what's probably going to come," said Pruitt. "It will be worse."

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