Timothy McBride, PhD, Professor, Brown School
These points may seem obvious to many people, but in reading the comments and opinions of the general public, I am not sure all of this is well understood, so I feel compelled to make them.
The Grand Jury is meeting now to decide whether to indict Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson in relation to the death of Michael Brown, and has been meeting for about two months now. Reports are that the Grand Jury may make decisions on the case soon, perhaps within the next month – or maybe it will still take a while.
There has been much debate, much of it heated and emotional, about whether Officer Wilson should be indicted. With regard to this, a few comments seem important:
- No one, other than Officer Wilson, knows precisely what happened that day and what motivated him to shoot an unarmed person, Michael Brown, given that Mr. Brown is deceased and cannot speak for his side of the story.
- The Grand Jury has seen more evidence – apparently ALL the evidence, according to the Prosecutor’s strategy – than anyone in the public has, though anyone closely following the news on this has read reports on many of the pieces of evidence, including eyewitness testimony. Some Grand Jury evidence apparently has been leaked to the public.
- If there is any reason to suspect a reasonable doubt that Officer Wilson may have been guilty of a crime in his handling of the situation, then certainly one way to proceed is to indict the officer and let a jury of his peers decide whether he is guilty or not guilty.
- This is how our justice system works.
- However, some observers seem to think that that the Grand Jury’s role is to make a definitive decision at this point about guilt or innocence, or that if the Grand Jury decides to indict the officer, then this suggests he is guilty. Of course it does not. It just means the Grand Jury thinks there is enough reason to go trial and let a carefully-selected jury decide.
- My view is that the prudent thing to do at this point is to let an actual jury decide this case. There are enough questions in most people’s minds about this that it is essential that an airing of all the evidence be done in a public forum, a courthouse, and carefully in front of a judge and a jury.
- If the Grand Jury prematurely decides to not let this go to trial, then I would ask: When and how will the public ever see all the evidence they have seen? And won’t that fuel more distrust and tension?
Michael Brown, his family, Officer Wilson, and for that matter the entire St. Louis community and nation are entitled to justice – which is a fair, careful and judicious airing of the evidence in public.