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Black Lives Matter: Ferguson Erupts After Grand Jury Clears Officer in Michael Brown Killing

November 25, 2014
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A grand jury in St. Louis, Missouri, has chosen not to indict Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson for the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed African-American teenager. The decision follows three months of deliberation by the jury of nine whites and three blacks, including four hours of testimony from Wilson himself. The grand jury decision set off outrage in Ferguson and communities across the country who see Brown’s killing as part of a wide-scale pattern of police mistreatment of people of color. In a statement, the Brown family said: "We are profoundly disappointed that the killer of our child will not face the consequence of his actions." We hear from St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch and go to the streets of Ferguson where Amy Goodman interviewed protesters last night.


TRANSCRIPT

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We are broadcasting from just outside the Clayton County Courthouse in St. Louis, Missouri, where on Monday a grand jury voted not to indict Officer Darren Wilson for the killing of unarmed the African-American teenager Michael Brown. After three months of deliberation, that included testimony from Wilson himself, the jury of nine whites and three blacks decided that Wilson should not be tried for any of the criminal charges he faced—not first-degree murder, not second-degree murder, not voluntary or involuntary manslaughter.

Many are questioning the timing of the release of the grand jury decision, which came late at night instead of in broad daylight. Soon after the grand jury decision was read, police fired tear gas at protesters in Ferguson. The grand jury decision set off outrage in communities not only throughout St. Louis, but across the country, who see Brown’s killing as part of a wide-scale pattern of police mistreatment of people of color. Here in Ferguson, at least a dozen stores were broken into and burned. A number of businesses burned for hours before firefighters arrived. Sporadic gunfire was heard throughout the night in the Ferguson streets. Police arrested at least 61 people.

A large crowd gathered outside the Ferguson Police Department as the grand jury’s decision was announced. The crowd included Michael Brown’s mother, Lesley McSpadden, who broke into tears after hearing Wilson would walk free. In a statement, the Brown family said, quote, "We are profoundly disappointed that the killer of our child will not face the consequence of his actions." The statement continues, "While we understand that many others share our pain, we ask that you channel your frustration in ways that will make a positive change." The family has asked for support of the Michael Brown Law, which would ensure police officers wear body cameras.

St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch announced the grand jury’s decision here at the Clayton County Courthouse on Monday night. McCulloch said jurors had found, quote, "that no probable cause exists to charge Officer Wilson with any crime."

BOB McCULLOCH: The duty of the grand jury is to separate fact from fiction, after a full and impartial and critical examination of all the evidence in the law, and decide that evidence supported the filing of any criminal charges against Darren Wilson. They accepted and completed this monumental responsibility in a conscientious and expeditious manner. It is important to note here and say again that they are the only people—the only people—who have heard and examined every witness and every piece of evidence. They discussed and debated the evidence among themselves before arriving at their collective decision. After their exhaustive review of the evidence, the grand jury deliberated over two days, making their final decision. They determined that no probable cause exists to file any charge against Officer Wilson and returned a no true bill on each of the five indictments.

AMY GOODMAN: Bob McCulloch, the prosecutor himself, faced public scrutiny throughout the grand jury investigation, with calls for him to resign over allegations of a pro-police bias and questions raised about an unusual grand jury process that resembled a trial. McCulloch bristled when a reporter asked what message the grand jury’s decision had sent.

REPORTER 1: Mr. McCulloch, you’re somebody who’s had his record questioned by many members of the community with cases that have happened in the past, so how do you feel making this—announcing this decision? And what message do you think it sends to the community that says that they have had numerous members of that community, young, predominantly black males, killed by police with impunity? What kind of message do you think this decision says to them?

BOB McCULLOCH: Well, a much better message than what you’re sending, that young men being killed with impunity. They are not being killed with impunity. We look at every case that comes through, and whether they’re young black or young white men.

REPORTER 2: I think people looking at this from around the country are going to be struck by the fact that there is not a single law in the state of Missouri that protects and values the life of this young man who unquestionably was shot and killed dead—there’s no dispute about that—by the police officer. What do you say to people who wonder, is there something wrong with the laws here that allows this to happen, that, after this happens, says we just move on, essentially, and that this is justice? Is this really justice? Or is there something wrong with the laws in the state that would say that this is OK?

BOB McCULLOCH: Well, this is a—you know, it’s another question that, really, I don’t have an answer to that question, that what’s wrong with the law. There are no laws to protect us. Every law out there is to protect the safety of every individual, regardless of their age and regardless of their race. And so, if those laws are not working, then we need to work to change them.

AMY GOODMAN: Shortly after the grand jury’s decision was announced, President Obama spoke in a nationally televised address and urged protesters to stay peaceful and police to exercise restraint.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We need to recognize that this is not just an issue for Ferguson, this is an issue for America. We have made enormous progress in race relations over the course of the past several decades. I have witnessed that in my own life. And to deny that progress, I think, is to deny America’s capacity for change. But what is also true is that there are still problems, and communities of color aren’t just making these problems up.

AMY GOODMAN: There you’ve got the voices of officialdom. Now for the voices from the streets. Democracy Now! was on the ground in Ferguson Monday night as protesters were met by walls of police officers, many in riot gear and heavily armed. The burning and property damage was worst on West Florissant, a strip of largely black-run businesses. The National Guard, heavily touted by the governor? We didn’t see them there. We did see, though, a heavy police presence just blocks away on South Florissant, home to the Ferguson Police Department headquarters. That’s where we began.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re here on South Florissant. Down the road are fires. Cars are on fire. We’re following a group of protesters. Right now the police in riot gear—we’ve also seen state troopers—are moving in. So we’re going to follow the protesters who are walking down the street.

POLICE OFFICER: Move back! Move back! You’re subject to arrest! Move back!

AMY GOODMAN: Here’s clergy who are talking to the police. They’re just shouting, "Move back!"

POLICE OFFICER: Move back! Move back! Move back!

REV. WALTRINA MIDDLETON: You’re being militarized and forceful.

POLICE OFFICER: Move back!

CROWD: Don’t shoot!

POLICE OFFICER: Move back!

CROWD: Don’t shoot!

POLICE OFFICER: Move back!

CROWD: Don’t shoot!

POLICE OFFICER: Move back!

REV. WALTRINA MIDDLETON: They have a right to assemble. Do not hurt the young people.

POLICE OFFICER: Get out of the street!

PROTESTER 1: We’re out of the street, but where do we go? Where do we go?

POLICE OFFICER: Move back!

POLICE OFFICER: Get onto the sidewalk.

REV. WALTRINA MIDDLETON: We were trying to. We were there. They told them to move, and we were told that we could peacefully assemble here, and we did. And now they’re here, and Officer Wenning [phon.] is still being aggressive. They’re not bothering anyone. Can they stand here? They have a right. We were told that under the rules of engagement that they could peacefully assemble.

POLICE OFFICER: We didn’t agree to your rules, ma’am.

REV. WALTRINA MIDDLETON: They are here. They are here.

POLICE OFFICER: Where I need you to be is on the sidewalk

REV. WALTRINA MIDDLETON: OK, we have a right to peacefully assemble.

POLICE OFFICER: But this is breaking the law. I need you to move.

REV. WALTRINA MIDDLETON: But the street is blocked off, isn’t it?

POLICE OFFICER: Yes, ma’am, it is.

KATRINA REDMON: My name is Katrina Redmon, and I’m very disturbed with the police presence out here. People were peacefully protesting. People got maced and tear-gassed. This is ridiculous. Like, look, all these officers—for what reason?

PROTESTER 2: They thought you black people was going to calm us down?

KATRINA REDMON: This is ridiculous to me.

PROTESTER 2: We don’t give a [bleep].

KATRINA REDMON: And this is unfortunately what my city has turned into.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the grand jury decision not to indict Officer Wilson?

PROTESTER 2: I hope y’all mamas know what y’all are doing.

KATRINA REDMON: Obviously that’s a problem. It’s the reason that everybody has a problem with the fact that Officer Wilson was not indicted. I mean, he killed an unarmed black teenager. There’s no excuse for that. I mean, it was a man that was killed, and it’s somebody that walked away from it. And this is the reason that we’re all out here, because nobody gets answers, because nobody has had an answer since this has all happened. That’s a problem for us. And we want answers, essentially, because it seems like the only way you can get away with murder is if you got a badge.

PROTESTER 3: If you got a badge, you can get away with murder, baby!

KATRINA REDMON: Which is unfortunate.

AMY GOODMAN: What will you be doing beyond tonight?

KATRINA REDMON: I’m going to continue to follow up and protest and make sure our voices are heard. Just because, you know, he wasn’t indicted doesn’t mean that the people of Ferguson or Florissant or Hazelwood or the surrounding areas are going to rest. Like, if we have to come out here every single night and protest and make it be know that is a problem for our city with the black community, we will. Like, I have no problem coming out here every single night to protest.

AMY GOODMAN: How do think things could change, where you’d feel some hope?

PROTESTER 2: I mean, really, I feel like all they had to do was indict him, and things could have been peaceful. Things have been peaceful up to the point where they said that they don’t care and he didn’t do anything wrong. So, all they had to do was admit that they were wrong and right that by arresting him, and things will calm down, at least a little bit, until they try to tell us he innocent again.

PROTESTER 4: At the end of the day, black lives don’t matter to them, at the end of the day.

AMY GOODMAN: What did you say?

PROTESTER 4: At the end of the day, black lives don’t matter to these cops, ma’am, at the end of the day. We be locked up more than everybody, and this is our own community. You know what I’m saying? Get charged real quick, everything. We getting false things put on us and everything, man. These cops is grimy, man. Everybody on this police force needs to get fired, including the captains all the way down to whoever. Everybody got to get fired. Rubber bullets onto women and children, peaceful protest. You know they don’t care about no black lives. They know that. Come on, now. Black lives don’t matter.

PROTESTER 2: Black lives don’t matter.

PROTESTER 4: Let’s be 100. Black lives don’t matter.

PROTESTER 5: That’s the truth!

PROTESTER 2: Black lives don’t matter.

PROTESTER 4: Black lives don’t matter. I ain’t out here to sugar-coat nothing, man. Black lives don’t matter, y’all.

PROTESTER 2: Black lives don’t matter to nobody but black people. So, we going to show y’all how we feel, and that’s what it is.

PROTESTER 5: It is what it is.

PROTESTER 4: Come on. It is what it is. Drug down the street, left there for four hours. Trash get picked up quicker than that. Come on, now. Come on, now. That’s disrespectful. That’s disrespect.

PROTESTER 5: What do you say? What do you say? We going to shake the heavens. We’re going to shake the heavens.

PROTESTER 2: We going to shake the heavens. If we don’t get it, shut it down.

PROTESTER 4: Disrespectful from the jump.

AMY GOODMAN: Are you going to be—were you out protesting from August 9th?

PROTESTER 4: Oh, of course, of course. I straight seen—I straight seen people get shot with rubber bullets. I just didn’t get shot. You feel me? I’m blessed.

PROTESTER 2: We’ve been gassed. We’ve been gassed. We’ve been tear-gassed. We’ve been—

PROTESTER 4: Been all that. Black lives don’t matter to these people.

PROTESTER 2: —maced and everything. We’ve been chased. People have been beaten. That’s what happened the first day. That’s how the rioting started the first day. A little boy got bit by a dog, and it just cracked off since then.

PROTESTER 4: On citizens, on citizens. They’re firing onto their own citizens. Matter of fact, they’re firing onto their "so-called" citizens. That’s how they look at us, their "so-called" citizens.

PROTESTER 2: They raised $400,000, $400,000 for Darren Wilson. For what? What is he going to do with $400,000 now? He just got a paycheck for killing somebody.

PROTESTER 4: They got a paycheck.

PROTESTER 2: That’s a nice paycheck—for killing somebody.

PROTESTER 6: They gave him a medal for killing a kid.

PROTESTER 2: Yeah—

PROTESTER 4: A medal.

PROTESTER 2: —for killing a kid.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think it’s possible the federal government will bring civil rights charges against him?

PROTESTER 5: No.

PROTESTER 4: No, no.

PROTESTER 5: No, no, no.

PROTESTER 4: No, it’s like—ain’t it like a hundred-something days, ya’ll?

REV. WALTRINA MIDDLETON: I’m Reverend Waltrina Middleton with the United Church of Christ National Youth Office. And I’m here to keep the peace, but also mostly to support and stand with these young people who have a right to peacefully assemble and to express themselves. And I feel like they have a right—it’s a natural reaction to be angry, and to be heard in response to such suffering and pain. And for so long, they’ve been told to be quiet, to be silent and just to conform, and now they have an opportunity to express themselves. And for many of us, we’re not used to hearing these young people articulate themselves in this way, but this is their street, this is their home. They have a right to be here, and they have a right to say, "You know what? One of our brothers was murdered and killed, and we are responding to that pain." And I think sometimes in this society we’re not used especially to hearing young people of color speak so firmly and strongly about their rights.

AMY GOODMAN: What’s your response to the grand jury decision not to indict Officer Wilson?

REV. WALTRINA MIDDLETON: I’m hurt by it. I wonder, myself—I’m looking forward to seeing what evidence was presented to them, to see if they had an opportunity to make a fair and balanced decision. It’s hard to really say, because we don’t know what was put before them. But I do think that it’s important that we take a look at this system and see if it’s actually working, is justice having an opportunity to prevail, is democracy actually taking place, because when you have a young person who dies, and, you know, with all the evidence that we’ve been presented to show that he was unarmed and not a danger or a threat, why is it that they chose not to take this case to trial or to have an indictment? It’s troubling to know that what message is being sent out here to these young people is that their lives don’t matter. They have the position of "I have nothing to lose, because I could just die on the street walking home." So...

AMY GOODMAN: Can you describe the police to me who are out here tonight?

REV. WALTRINA MIDDLETON: I do feel as if that the demeanor is quite aggressive. I think that we were told that young people have a right to peacefully assemble. We were told that they have a right to come here and express themselves, and everything that they were promised is being denied. Everything that they have asked them to do, they have complied. They said to move back; they moved back. They said move to the sidewalk; they moved to the sidewalk. And basically, they’re trying to push them out and once again silence them. And when you come to young people who are not armed, just dressed in their winter clothes, with militarized weapons and tear gas and all of this gear and guns and whatnot, it’s intimidating, it’s aggressive. And how do you expect people to respond, especially after an announcement like that?

AMY GOODMAN: As we walk back behind the police cars and the riot police, there are several buses that say Missouri Department of Corrections, waiting to be filled.

ZECHARIAH WILLIAMS: My name is Zechariah Williams, I’m 19. We’re standing in front of the corner coffeehouse. And it’s broken into—as you can see, glass everywhere. They did this to everything. They broke into Beauty Supply. They broke into Earn’s. They broke into T-Mobile. They burned down a Walgreens, the fish place on the corner. They burned down a Little Caesars. They broke into the bank.

AMY GOODMAN: And who is "they"?

ZECHARIAH WILLIAMS: Police in that bank, because they broke into that one, too.

AMY GOODMAN: And who’s "they"?

ZECHARIAH WILLIAMS: Just people that’s out here rioting.

AMY GOODMAN: How do you feel about the grand jury decision not to indict Officer Wilson?

ZECHARIAH WILLIAMS: It’s sad to see.

PROTESTER 7: It’s messed up, for real.

ZECHARIAH WILLIAMS: That’s sad to see, like, their family going through that. And they’re not showing no type of mercy. They tried to charge them on five charges, and they didn’t indict him on neither one of them.

AMY GOODMAN: Why do you think that is?

ZECHARIAH WILLIAMS: People protect their own. That’s the truth. People will protect their own.

AMY GOODMAN: Have you ever been bothered by the police?

ZECHARIAH WILLIAMS: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: Have you ever been arrested?

ZECHARIAH WILLIAMS: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: And what happened then?

ZECHARIAH WILLIAMS: Well, one time I got arrested, I got punched in my mouth and—

AMY GOODMAN: By?

ZECHARIAH WILLIAMS: Officer Dewight [phon.], Sergeant Dewight. Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: Were you able to bring charges against him?

ZECHARIAH WILLIAMS: No.

AMY GOODMAN: So, we’re standing in front of Taco Bell. The window has been smashed. We’re right in front of AutoZone. It looks like it’s about to blow, with the flames coming out on top of it. Across the street is the tire shop, Auto Tire. And there, a bunch of young people going in there. They’ve smashed the windows. A lot of cars going by. A lot of smoke here. This very much feels like ground zero. And people—young people are saying, "They don’t care about us." This is West Florissant, ground zero for the protests. This is Ferguson, Missouri.

PROTESTER 8: I’ve been all—I’m from St. Louis. I’ve been all over there. I just came from where they just announced the verdict at, and they shot tear gas. And everything on fire. And this is not what our youngsters were supposed to represent, because this is a new-era civil rights movement. I didn’t expect it out of them, but I can’t blame them for it. Civil disobedience, 'cause ain't nobody took [bleep]. It’s just reckless property. And then all of them been knowing, and they’ve been over here, so they keep protecting me because I’m 43 years of age. All of these over here, they already got their insurance, and they already—they had three months to prepare for this. So, they’re not losing out on anything. They’ll probably relocate. But as far as the money value or the monetary value, everything is still going to be the same.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re back on Canfield Drive. There are some helicopters in the sky. There’s smoke in the air because West Florissant is on fire. But here is the stuffed animal memorial for Mike Brown, who was gunned down right here in the road between the apartment complexes. There are dozens of animals, stuffed animals, a baseball cap. It might be Mike Brown’s original baseball cap. This is the place where on August 9th Officer Darren Wilson killed Mike Brown. Today, a grand jury decided not to indict Officer Wilson for that killing.

PROTESTER 9: After they played us like that with Darren Wilson, [bleep] I expect expect for [bleep] to go hard. [bleep] is what it is. Ain’t no stopping us. No justice, no peace.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with special thanks to our crew here on the ground, to Sam Alcoff and to Renée Feltz and to Aaron Maté. That report after midnight last night. Today, we’re standing in front of the Clayton Courthouse, where the grand jury has deliberated over the last months. They call it the Justice Center. When we come back, we’ll be joined by guests who have been here on the streets, as well as a legal expert, to talk about exactly what the grand jury did or did not decide. This is Democracy Now! We’ll be back in a minute.


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