I've been waiting for the media -- and especially social media -- scrum to settle down and sort out to try to understand the Michael Brown case better.
In general, I feel the Eric Garner case is more clear-cut. Here was an unarmed man, not committing any violent crime or doing any threatening and yet he got piled on and choke-holded to death. It seems a homocide, once found by the coroner, should have been prosecuted here. Maybe it's because my son is also a victim of NYPD police violence that I have an easier time with this case, closer to home.
But Michael Brown's case never held up for me because as far as we know, he grabbed for Officer Wilson's gun, and indeed Wilson had abrasions on his face showing he was struck or slapped. There's gun powder on Brown's hand found in forensic examination, and of course Wilson himself testifies this. I've heard all kinds of distractions from this story, i.e. "Wilson wasn't seriously wounded in the head so it's not a case" -- as if it's okay to just lightly slap or swipe a policeman and not expect any response. I endlessly hear the retort "he doesn't deserve the death penalty" -- by which they mean extrajudicial execution. Of course not. No one does, ever, and I oppose the death penalty anyway.
But the sequence of events -- robbing the cigars, roughing up the store owner, jay-walking, disregarding the policeman's legitimate request to get out of the road - then most importantly, slapping a policeman and going for his gun -- did lead to death because law-enforcement has to maintain credible force -- and the only response police can have in this kind of case is deadly force. The idea that they can have some kind of community policing Kumbayah and discuss things might work in some Better World, but this is reality. We could say Wilson should have called for back-up and not coped himself, but I'm not so sure the outcome would be different.
He didn't have to shoot, once his gun is grabbed for? The idea that police can just disable a suspect by only shooting them in the legs belongs to a fictional notion of how things work -- although I think it's more than fine actually to have a debate about whether that policy should be changed. The conclusion about how police work has to be done from many studies is that deadly force has to be used once a threshold is crossed.
Was it? We can't be sure, because the testimony isn't clear cut, and now there's a big hullaboo about Witness 40 lying. But even without any Witness 40 at all in the picture, there were enough doubts in the claims. Unless someone can show that no gun was grabbed at all, I will continue to have doubts about this case. And no, I see no reason to disbelieve Wilson's story.
However, I'm here to point out that we didn't need to have the hate parade, the doxing, the savage glee over this we're getting because Witness 40's testimony was already impugned.
The prosecutors themselves did that -- duh.
Back two weeks ago on December 2 when Daily Kos published the grand jury testimony, and the St. Louis Dispatch published documents, I read through a lot of them, although it's a huge amount of stuff I couldn't hope to find time for. But even before the Smoking Gun expose, days ago, we could see that the prosecutors essentially called out her lying. See for example here:
You don't have to see her racist statements on Facebook; you don't have to know that she suffers from bi-polar depression and memory loss since a head injury, which is also made public, to figure out: her story doesn't hold. She couldn't have been where she said she was because there are video tapes and her car doesn't show up. She couldn't have driven the route she said because the streets are blocked. And so on. There are many details and the prosecutors call it out, and they are not "gentle" about it, but firm.
She's already thoroughly discredited here for anyone who can bother to read into some grand jury testimony documents online already. So why the doxing, hounding, persecution of Smoking Gun and blackamericaweb and all the rest?
It's vigilantism, of the same kind we've gotten from Anonymous at the start of all this, when they outed the wrong officers' names, and the socialist agitators inciting violence and looting which we're told is "redistributive justice." And calls to boycott Black Friday when a lot of stores do their business, because, you know, white and black owners both all over American should be punished collectively because of one story of injustice! Oh, you think it's 2,000 such cases, and every single case of a police killing is not justified? Surely some aren't; I've just mentioned Garner, but every single one? And you know that...how? By dialectics and Marxist ideology?
In any event, I expected to be all alone with these thoughts, since the stampede is to lynch this woman because she's racist, stupid, and a liar.
All true, but my point is: the system work, this was already established by the legal process itself, with prosecutors' testimony heard by the grand juror, so there was no need for more persecution.
There is absolutely no way in hell anyone can prove that Witness 40's false testimony, exposed in the process of the questioning itself and published, made the grand jury not indite.
Interestingly, it turned out I wasn't alone, and Slate.com, which can be a mixed bag, also reasoned along these lines in this article, although they were mild about it:
Indeed, a review of the grand jury documents released by St. Louis County shows that McElroy's account was questioned openly and extensively by authorities. Grand Jury Volume 15 includes her Oct. 23 testimony in front of the grand jury, as well as a transcript of a recording of an Oct. 22 interview between McElroy and a federal prosecutor that was played for jurors. The federal prosecutor tells McElroy that her account of driving through Ferguson is physically impossible, informs her that her car can't be found in any images from the scene, solicits an admission that she "used the N-word" online a half-dozen times in relation to Brown's death, and asks her explicitly if she used media accounts to fabricate parts of her testimony. McElroy speaks about having memory problems in both the recorded interview with the federal prosecutor and the in-person interview in front of the grand jury, and tells both the federal prosecutor and the jury that she suffers from largely untreated bipolar disorder. In McElroy’s Oct. 23 testimony, the grand jury prosecution picks skeptically at her claim to have come across the Wilson-Brown encounter—which did not take place on a main road—after getting lost while trying to find a friend's apartment. (And, to repeat, the federal prosecutor's skeptical interview with McElroy was played for grand jurors that day as well.)
As the Smoking Gun does mention, McElroy returned to the grand jury on Nov. 3 with a new story about why she was in Ferguson. In testimony in Grand Jury Volume 18, McElroy reads from a journal and attests that she was in fact travelling to the area to conduct personal research to help her understand black people (!). But the Smoking Gun doesn't mention that, in those same grand jury records, a prosecutor says (in front of jurors) that McElroy had admitted she may have gotten details of her earlier testimony off the Internet, points out that her journal entry from the morning before Brown's death is suspiciously detailed, and asks McElroy directly whether she may have made up or "dreamed" the events that she's testifying about. Another prosecutor tells McElroy she believes McElroy is "confused" about her own account and grills her about her animosity towards blacks and her use of racial slurs.
Given all this warranted skepticism expressed toward Sandra McElroy in front of grand jurors by prosecutors—and the incredibly obvious flaws in her testimony itself—it's hard to believe that any sane juror, no matter how inclined to believe Darren Wilson, would have taken her testimony seriously. While the Smoking Gun's investigation is useful in undermining those in the media who would take McElroy's words out of context, it's doubtful—given the evidence currently at hand—that the grand jury's ultimate decision would have been any different had she never testified.
Even before this, the leftist Conor Friedersdorf at the Atlantic was forced -- because he at least went through the intellectual due dilligence -- to admit it wasn't so clear-cut:
I haven't yet had time to go through all the documents released by St. Louis County, but based on these witness statements, I can see why the grand jury would have reason to doubt whether Officer Wilson committed a crime. At least some witnesses corroborate his story. Some that don't contradict one another. If the witnesses above all testified in a criminal trial, it's hard to imagine that a jury would fail to have reasonable doubts about what really happened. There are hundreds of pages to sift through that the grand jury saw. In coming days, we'll probably discover at least some eyewitness testimony contradicted by physical evidence. But it seems all but certain that we'll never know exactly what happened that day.
There are quite a lot of radicals and "progressives" who think "reasonable doubt" isn't justice and want to achieve vigilante justice or force federal authorities under media pressure and civil disobedience to bring about an indictment. Likely a trial would do no better at establishing the truth, but the slower and more public and explained process -- unlike thousands of documents on a website that most people won't be bothered to read and comprehend -- might establish that it really isn't possible to do more with this case. In the New York City case, demonstrations and a "progressive" mayor I myself didn't vote for and don't care for may bring about some other outcome, but maybe not, because no city father wants to second-guess police and ruin relations with them when he needs them to control crime in the city or he and his party lose power -- just ask David Dinkins.
The New York Times has behaved worse with this story than the far more politicized Atlantic and Slate.
Note this correction the Times had to put in -- after the damage in public perception was already done!
Correction: December 9, 2014
An article on Nov. 26 examining the grand jury evidence in the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., referred incorrectly to an exchange during the testimony of Officer Darren Wilson, who killed the unarmed teenager. It was a grand juror — not the prosecutor — who asked Officer Wilson, “You felt like your life was in jeopardy?” and then followed up with another question, “And use of deadly force was justified at that point in your opinion?”
Yeah, makes a difference, that -- grand juror, not prosecutor!
The Times showed us they'd cooked it in an early paragraph:
But the failure to bring any charges against a white officer who shot an unarmed black teenager in murky circumstances has set off a new storm of protests and questions about the objectivity of the grand jury process.
NYT writes this as well:
But the gentle questioning of Officer Wilson revealed in the transcripts, and the sharp challenges prosecutors made to witnesses whose accounts seemed to contradict his narrative, have led some to question whether the process was as objective as Mr. McCulloch claims.
Nonsense. As Ben Mathis-Lilley and even Connor Friedersdorf at Atlantic can admit, the prosecutor already exposed Witness 40 completely.
And the Times authors can write about "gentleness" despite saying in the same story:
“Yes, I personally saw him on his knees with his hands in the air,” one witness said in a recorded interview with federal officials that was played for the grand jury before he testified. The prosecutor questioning that witness did not hide her skepticism, highlighting the contradictions in his various accounts.
“Basically just about everything that you said on Aug. 13, and much of what you said today, isn’t consistent with the physical evidence that we have in this case, O.K.?” she said to him.
Er, gentle, guys? It's clear, forceful -- and devastating. What, you think the prosecutors should take the same vigilante tone that people take on Internet forums and Twitter?
I guess this is what happens when four different journalists patch together a story and some managing editor that "smooths it" with an overlay of his or her own prejudice.
Is the story as murky as the NYT says? It might be if there was no gun powder on Brown's hand, and if there was no abrasion on Wilson's cheek. The testimony of those who say he went into the car and even grabbed the gun may not hold, but the other evidence points to a confrontation and then a struggle.