What if we all had a Ferguson prosecutor?

08808ef0-719b-11e4-b1e4-1352c745cfc9_court_house_Darren_WilsonI wonder how history will write the tale of Ferguson, Missouri, and the story of Mike Brown. Will it be a footnote of injustice, such as the murder of Emmett Till? A catalyst for rage, such as non-guilty verdicts for the officers who brutalized Rodney King? I think history serves as a poor template in the 21st century due to our advanced telecommunications. It is harder and harder for injustice to be carried out in the shadows, yet with such widespread awareness: what might it lead to?

Too much chatter creates a danger that learners cannot separate the wheat from the chaff. A study showed, for instance, that viewers of Fox News Corporation were less informed on news issues than people who don’t even watch the news. This is because of the active disinformation. Its important to read George Orwell’s “1984” with America in mind, and consider Aldous Huxley’s statement: “The worst thing that happened to literature is the price of newsprint going down.” Thus, with the Internet, any old person (including me) can put forth their blah blah blah… but that doesn’t mean it will advance the community to a better place.

Darren Wilson killed Mike Brown, a teenager. It is not disputed. Mike Brown was unarmed. It is not disputed. The list of all the damning facts against Darren Wilson are long, all of which would go to a normal grand jury. His indictment on murder or manslaughter would be easy for any law student to procure. The only question the jurors have to answer at this preliminary stage is if there might be a crime, if there is “probable cause” to proceed with a trial.

When I was indicted, they used all sorts of lies and rumor to pad the circumstances about how and why I killed Charles Russell. My lawyer was not allowed to dispute them, and I was not allowed to tell my side of the story. This is how it works. But not in Ferguson, not when the killer is a cop, and not when the prosecutor is Robert P. McCulloch.

Every indicted person in St. Louis county should file a motion to dismiss their charges, citing “Equal Protection,” because they want the same grand jury treatment that Darren Wilson received from McCulloch. They want the jurors to hear all the exculpatory evidence and a chance to tell their side of the story free from any cross-examination about the story’s inconsistencies. They want the jurors to know about self-defense because it’s not like Darren Wilson is the only person who ever shot someone claiming they were afraid, or where someone was moving towards them.

If I had McCulloch, I would have never gone to prison and my life would have been free to be a lawyer, a writer, or a .com billionaire over the past twenty years, rather than the struggling and ostracized ex-con after twelve years in hell. But only if I worked for the police, of course.

The criminal justice system has exposed a major flaw with its inability to police themselves. If a doctor, nurse, or teacher does something terrible with a patient or student, we don’t ask their colleagues to prosecute the crimes. The prosecutors and police are both members of the Executive Branch, of law enforcement, with the police serving as the investigators for the prosecutors. Every prosecutor should recuse themselves whenever the defendant is one of their investigators, whether they personally know them or not. Ethical rules and recusals are in place not just because of actual corruption, but also for the appearance of impropriety. It looks bad, so don’t do it. A prosecution to the full extent of the law would certainly strain the professional relationship between prosecutors and police. So don’t do it.

Missouri has plenty of civil rights attorneys who could serve as special prosecutors on the Wilson case. In fact, if the court ordered them to fulfill the role they are bound to do it, as “officers of the court.” In some districts, it is not unheard of for prosecutors to be defense lawyers because the area lacks a full public defender system. The reality is, prosecutors literally don’t know how to prosecute someone in law enforcement.

McCulloch has certainly strived to assemble juries who are pro-state, flag wavers, where police are the holiest of holies. Often a case will come down to the word of a police officer, so it is important for prosecutors to have jurors who are inclined to believe, not doubt. Consider that atheists and religious adherents truly don’t understand the other’s mind. From an atheist or agnostic perspective, the story of Jesus looks like some crazy death cult with an ancient holy book full of contradictions and varied interpretations. To say that to a Christian is blasphemy. This is the same disconnect some people have between the righteousness of police officers, especially when the dispute includes a young Black male like Mike Brown. In such a scenario: the hero worship of an officer elevates Wilson’s story, while the structural racism Americans are born into depreciates Mike Brown’s humanity and the legitimacy of his actions. The gap widens.

I am hopeful that cities push for ordinances requiring Special Prosecutors be appointed. A civil rights attorney is accustomed to finding jurors who question the righteousness of government officials. These lawyers know how to cross-examine a cop and, just as importantly, know how to speak as favorably about the life of Mike Brown as the prosecutor can speak about Darren Wilson. A civil rights attorney would never frame the victim for their own demise. But in Ferguson, like in Trayvon Martin’s corner of Florida, the unarmed victim was deemed the culprit. And the guy with the gun was portrayed as the victim.

Last night people protested around the country and many police forces have been in full preparations. Funny how they don’t prepare for the inevitable violence when a sports team wins or loses and drunken White people start smashing and burning things. Voices are being heard. Opinions are being leveled. And for some people, that opinionated voice will be heard through their actions. It took decades of consistent opinions, and facts, for the sanctimonious pillar of the Catholic Church to crumble from its own shaken foundation.  It took that long for the public to collectively condemn, and the Church to acknowledge, the systematic problem of child molestation. Police misconduct represents a similar blind spot in our culture.

Foreign nations are condemning our human rights record. Some of us are awaiting the federal government’s action, as they can still indict Wilson on federal charges just as they do to some drug case defendants who avoid state prosecution. Did Eric Holder submit his resignation because of a dispute over this case? He is still the Attorney General, and he appeared to be ready to prosecute. It is amazing how some people can’t separate the skin tone of Obama, Holder, Wilson, and Brown from two facts: Darren Wilson shot Mike Brown. Mike Brown was unarmed.

Darren Wilson said he has no regrets. He would shoot Brown again. This must make him a hero to violent White Power racists, the type who are outspoken with tattoos and literature to back up their positions and preparations for “the Race War.” I was locked up with such racists, and I came to respect their honesty even if we disagreed. They told me that the “race traitors” will be first to die in the Race War, so they can better know the enemy on sight- such as the reason African slaves were more easily identifiable than Irish indentured servants, or the challenge of picking out European Jews during the Holocaust. So I would reply to the open threat by acknowledging the marching orders they just gave me: I would have to kill them first. I respect them more than the closeted type.

We often hear about how police officers’ primary duty is to go home to their families. Actually, it’s not. Their duty is for everyone to go home to their families, to keep the peace. Club bouncers are more effective than typical police officers. They face drunk belligerent and dangerous people all the time, and are constantly frisking people for weapons. Bouncers don’t enjoy the structural intimidation of the State, and are constantly challenged to fights. Yet I would bet far more cops kill people than club security kills. I want a stat to back that up, but I need to get to work and it feels like exhausting research to find out. We need cops trained by bouncers, and by social workers, mental health workers, and violence interrupters.  If Wilson is just a guy with a gun, he will act like a guy with one tool to solve all his problems.

If police want the respect from all people, they can’t circle the wagons every time. They can’t stand in solidarity with someone, armed and wearing the badge, while that killer has not yet had a trial. Darren Wilson is just some regular dude. He lives on a street. He’s married. He’s 6’4” and 210 pounds. He went to kindergarten. He has been divorced, and is just as capable of being an idiot. So many people I know convicted of murder got caught up in a situation and made a wrong turn and, just like that, it was too late to change things. Wilson is bold enough to say he wouldn’t even change the outcome. He may as well just urinated on the front lawn of Mike Brown’s mom.

McCulloch is either a terrible lawyer or corrupt. He has a duty to get this charge to a trial, to treat it like the others (unless he will claim that all the other indictments were handled in a “one-sided” manner, although that is the point). Someone should file a Bar complaint against him for acting unethically and bringing public embarrassment to the profession. He has also never indicted an officer and his dad was a cop shot in the line of duty. So he did a good job if he was representing himself rather than the Brown family and the people of Ferguson. Instead he represented Wilson, a guy who used to work for a corrupt police force in Jennings, Missouri.  He represented part of his legal team.

McCulloch represented his people, clearly and effectively. Other defendants won’t get that treatment. Not unless they are law enforcement. The message heard by the people of America is ‘Yes we shot the kid, and we will do it again.’ I’m not sure that is the best strategic decision to build a strong community, but I’m just part of the chatter. History will decide.

About Bruce Reilly

Bruce Reilly is the Deputy Director of Voice of the Ex-Offender in New Orleans, LA. He is a graduate of Tulane Law School and author of NewJack's Guide to the Big House. Much of his writing can be found on www.Unprison.org.
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