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“A Systemic Failure”: New Calls for Reform as Feds Rule Out Civil Rights Charges for Darren Wilson

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The Justice Department has reportedly concluded it will not bring civil rights charges against police officer Darren Wilson for shooting unarmed African-American teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. On Wednesday, The New York Times reported Attorney General Eric Holder will have the final say, but will almost certainly side with investigators who are recommending no charges. A wider Justice Department probe into Ferguson police over reports of racial profiling in traffic stops and use of excessive force remains underway. Meanwhile, a judge has rejected an NAACP Legal Defense Fund request for a new grand jury to consider criminal charges against Wilson. The group raised concerns over the actions of prosecutor Bob McCulloch, including his decision to let a witness provide false testimony. All this comes as President Obama made just one mention of Ferguson in his State of the Union address Tuesday, prompting activists to release their own video on the State of the Black Union. We are joined by Vincent Warren, executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights.

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

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We turn now to news that the Justice Department does not plan to bring civil rights charges against police officer Darren Wilson for shooting unarmed African-American teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. On Wednesday, The New York Times reported Attorney General Eric Holder will have the final say, but will almost certainly side with investigators who are recommending no charges. A wider Justice Department probe into Ferguson police over reports of racial profiling in traffic stops and use of excessive force remains underway. Meanwhile, a judge has rejected an NAACP Legal Defense Fund request for a new grand jury to consider criminal charges against Wilson. The group raised concerns over the actions of prosecutor Bob McCulloch, including his decision to let a witness provide false testimony.

AMY GOODMAN: All this comes as President Obama made a single mention of Ferguson in his State of the Union address Tuesday, prompting activists to release their own video on the State of the Black Union. This is a clip.

STATE OF THE BLACK UNION: We recognize that not even a black president will pronounce our truths. We must continue the task of making America uncomfortable with institutionalized racism, in the hopes that together we can re-imagine what is possible and build a system that is designed for blackness to thrive.

AMY GOODMAN: For more on the news that the federal government does not plan to file civil rights charges against police officer Darren Wilson for shooting Michael Brown in Ferguson, we’re joined by Vincent Warren, executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights.

Vince, welcome back to Democracy Now! Were you surprised?

VINCENT WARREN: Not terribly surprised. It’s very disappointing, because I think a range of people want to have some measure of accountability. But when you actually look at the federal civil rights laws, it’s a much harder and higher burden for them to prove these types of charges. They were going to have to essentially show that Darren Wilson intended to violate Mike Brown’s civil rights. And there are ways that they can do that, by looking at the totality of the evidence, looking at what he said. But I think their view is the evidence just is probably not enough to support that higher burden of proving an intent to do something based on race or to violate his civil rights in that way. It’s a challenge.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And what about the ongoing investigation of Ferguson by the Justice Department?

VINCENT WARREN: Well, the Department of Justice has two options. One is the criminal route, which it looks like it’s not going to happen specifically with respect to Darren Wilson. But they also have other options, which are civil lawsuits against the Ferguson Police Department for pattern and practice of activities that violate civil rights—excessive force and things like that. So that’s clearly something that they’re intending to move forward. Beyond that, the Brown family also has the ability to file a civil lawsuit, which is not outstanding for the justice that people want, but it certainly is a remedy that could send a very strong financial message.

AMY GOODMAN: On this issue of intent, I mean, even if he didn’t that morning, when he got up, say, “I want to violate his rights,” or even five minutes before, once he did that, why is that not sufficient?

VINCENT WARREN: Well, there are a range of things in life that happen that it’s difficult to prove after the fact. And with this situation, you know, it’s not—the proof doesn’t require him to say the N-word right as he pulls the trigger. And you can look at the facts and the circumstances. So, whether Mike Brown’s hands were up or not would matter. Whether Mike Brown was running away or running towards would matter. So those are the totality of the circumstances that they can begin to look at. However, I think their take is, based on that information that they have, it’s going to be very hard for them to issue an indictment in a federal court that would sustain this type of charge, unfortunately.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And what’s been the impact nationwide, following Ferguson, in terms of attempts by local communities to reform the police abuse situation in their own communities? We just recently—for instance, this week, Governor Cuomo announced new measures. During his State of the State address Wednesday, he announced his reforms that could lead to the appointment of special prosecutors in cases where police kill unarmed suspects and a grand jury fails to indict the officer. This is Governor Cuomo.

GOV. ANDREW CUOMO: I will appoint an independent monitor who will review police cases where a civilian dies and no true bill is issued, and the independent monitor can recommend a special prosecutor be appointed. The independent monitor should have access to the grand jury information, which will be protected, but this way, the independent monitor can actually make an intelligent recommendation, because they’ll have all the evidence and they’ll have all the facts.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: That was Governor Cuomo at his State of the State. Your analysis of his proposals and what’s going on in other parts of the country, as well?

VINCENT WARREN: Well, yeah, the Ferguson situation has everything to do with what’s going on in different parts of the country. With respect to that particular proposal, I actually was part of a meeting with Attorney General Schneiderman of New York, who proposed a similar measure in which his office would be appointed to be able to look at these things more independently than local prosecutors who work with police officers would. This, I think, is a step in the right direction. And it really points to the larger issue that the protesters are talking about, is that we’re talking systemic failure. What’s happening in grand juries around the country, and even in terms of the federal prosecution, the system is not keeping up with the current nature and tenor of the civil rights violations that are happening with police departments. We need protesters out there to push that political agenda to make sure that black lives matter, and then we need to have smart reforms, like this one, that shift the dynamic so that the system is not trying to reform itself.

AMY GOODMAN: Vince Warren, I want to thank you for being with us. Vince Warren is executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights.

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