Tuesday, November 25, 2014

It must have been a Missouri turkey sandwich

"You can indict a ham sandwich," every lawyer I know, including one prosecutor, has told me. Indeed, when I served on a grand jury from December through March this year, albeit not in Missouri, I was surprised just how easy it was to indict, even on the basis of what, to me, was clearly a casual remark of a hothead to a police officer.

This is why the Ferguson shooting grand jury baffles me. Someone shoots someone else dead and it's not even involuntary manslaughter? What exculpating evidence did the grand jury have that we don't have?

Of course, there is the matter of skin color and ethnicity.

When I was a grand juror in a city that is about half African-American, I saw that only 1 percent of the cases involved a white defendant. The overwhelming preponderance of people accused of crimes that I saw were black; disproportionately so.

For this reason, among others, I intend to refuse to serve in a grand jury at any time in the future as a matter of conscience and fairness. I cannot be complicit with a system designed in such a way that what passes for "justice" is meted out only to African-Americans.

I suspect, but I do not know for a fact, that this influenced Officer Wilson to shoot Michael Brown. In his experience, most people he was trained to be on the lookout for and to regard as part of a dangerous criminal class would be African-American.

Why the grand jury accepted that a police officer can shoot a defenseless teenager with impunity is part mystery, part stupidity.

The mystery today, and when I served, is why the average Joe on these panels accepts the word of prosecutors and police at face value. I suspect this is part of the get-out-of-jail free card handed out to Wilson, again, my surmise only.

The stupidity part is something one encounters with depressing regularity in a grand jury, to the point that I coined what I thought should be a criminal charge: "felony stupidity." Yes, the overwhelming majority of crimes are not resolved by the intelligence of the police, which is something of an oxymoron in many cases, but by the sheer stupidity of people whose behavior comes astoundingly close to begging to be arrested.

Wilson and others in law enforcement, no doubt, encounter it frequently enough that they probably assume things of certain types of people in certain circumstances. He may have thought Michael Brown fit the bill, but why did the grand jury buy that erroneous assumption? Why, to the point of excusing causing the death of another person?

In this picture in which hues seem to play a role, color me baffled.

No comments: