As protesters flooded the streets of Ferguson, Mo., a grand jury in St. Louis County tonight announced veteran Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson would not be charged in the shooting death of Michael Brown, 18.
The decision comes after months of consideration from the 12-person panel in the case that sparked violent protests and riots in the town of 21,000. The grand jury deliberated over two days and heard testimony from 60 witnesses, some of whom gave inconsistent accounts.
In a lengthy statement detailing what the jury considered, St. Louis prosecutor Robert McCulloch announced the decision not to indict Wilson, 28, beginning shortly after 9 p.m. ET. He said of the grand jury:
They determined that no probable cause exists to file any charges against Officer Wilson.
In a statement, Brown’s family asked those protesting to remain peaceful despite the grand jury’s decision:
We are profoundly disappointed that the killer of our child will not be face the consequences of his actions. While we understand that many others share our pain, we ask that you channel your frustration in ways that make a positive change. We need to work together to fix the system that allowed this to happen.
News broke earlier today that the grand jury had reached a decision about the case, in which Wilson fired six shots that struck Brown.
“Now is the time to show the world we can act without being destructive,” St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley said in a press conference tonight.
The Department of Justice Civil Rights Decision continues to investigate the case at the urging of Attorney General Eric Holder. Reports, however, suggest the government does not have a case against Wilson.
Officials in cities across the country braced themselves for protests following the grand jury’s decision, and Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, declared a state of emergency and activated the National Guard. Because of the growing fears of violence in the wake of the decision, Ferguson-area schools were closed today and will remain closed tomorrow.
“In Ferguson, Missouri, it is vital that President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder stand up for the rule of law and the orderly administration of justice by telling the nation that we must respect the decision of the grand jury,” Hans von Spakovsky, a senior legal fellow at The Heritage Foundation, told The Daily Signal. He added:
Violent protests and threats against law enforcement, members of the grand jury, and Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson have no place in an ordered society and can never be justified. General Holder should issue an explicit warning about immediate prosecution of those who would engage in such misbehavior.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri said Brown’s death spoke to a larger issue of how law enforcement officials treat people of color.
“The grand jury’s decision does not negate the fact that Michael Brown’s tragic death is part of an alarming national trend of officers using excessive force against people of color, often during routine encounters. Yet in most cases, the officers and police departments are not held accountable,” said Jeffrey Mittman, ACLU of Missouri executive director. He added:
While many officers carry out their jobs with respect for the communities they serve, we must confront the profound disconnect and disrespect that many communities of color experience with their local law enforcement.
In the days leading up to today’s announcement, Obama and Nixon called for calm and respect for the rule of law.
“Well, I think, first and foremost, keep protests peaceful,” the president said in an interview with ABC News, adding:
You know, this is a country that allows everybody to express their views, allows them to peacefully assemble to protest actions that they think are unjust. But using any event as an excuse for violence is contrary to the rule of law and contrary to who we are.
Earlier this month, the Missouri governor said the “ugliness” that occurred in Ferguson after Brown’s death would not be tolerated, whether the grand jury decided to indict Wilson or not:
This is America. People have a right to express their views and opinions. Violence will not be tolerated. The residents and businesses of this region will be protected.
St. Louis officials joined in the governor’s calls.
Don’t let fear or violence further divide our city. Reject both. Pray for peace. Work for justice. Push for change.
— Antonio French (@AntonioFrench) November 24, 2014
Violent protests and riots erupted in the St. Louis suburb after Wilson, 28, shot and killed Brown, 18, on Aug. 9.
Holder responded to events in Ferguson, visiting the town, and instructed the agency’s Civil Rights Division to step in. He also directed the Federal Bureau of Investigation to investigate.
Protests raged for weeks, and businesses in Ferguson boarded up doors and windows after looting occurred. A QuikTrip convenience store was burned to the ground.
Police in Ferguson and St. Louis County responded to the protests with armored trucks and riot gear, which prompted outrage from both the left and the right over the militarization of police. Images from those dispatched to Ferguson showed police officers wearing ballistics vests, deploying tear gas and carrying semi-automatic rifles.
As debate over the militarization of police grew, the White House called for a review of the program that allows law enforcement agencies to obtain excess military equipment: the Department of Defense’s excess property program, also known as 1033.
The Obama administration continues to look into the program.
Brown’s autopsy showed that he was shot six times, and the report from the St. Louis County medical examiner supports Wilson’s claim that there was an altercation in his police car. Brown also had marijuana in his system at the time of his death.
The grand jury convened in mid-August to consider multiple charges, including first-degree murder, and whether Wilson would face criminal charges. The panel considered the facts of the case for weeks.
Though Wilson will not be brought up on criminal charges, he decided to resign from the Ferguson Police Department and will not return to his post.
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