The Grand Jury system comes to us from England where it was implemented by Henry II in 1166. So named because there are more jurors than a normal panel of twelve (a petit jury), its proceedings are done in secret. If we were previously unaware of how these juries deliberate, that has been dispelled with the notable reportage on the events in Ferguson, MO and New York City.
One of the king’s motivations in using this secretive jury was to be able to ramrod indictments against those whom the crown wanted to prosecute. I won’t repeat the much used phrase which explains how easy it is for a prosecutor to get an indictment from such a jury for fear of offending our Muslim neighbors. That in fact, particularly in the Ferguson case, no such indictment was handed down has caused many to question the reason that occurred. It is at this point that the facts seem to separate from the emotions and some people choose to infer motivations from the actions of the District Attorneys who were involved in presenting the cases.
Surprisingly, one of the greatest claims by those who reject the St. Louis County Grand Jury’s decision is that the system does not provide transparency. Well, that is certainly true – and the system is designed in just such a manner, Attorneys for the Brown family are outraged and believe that an indictment should have been handed down and that a public trial should have been conducted. In fact, they believe the District Attorney should not have bothered with a Grand Jury but moved directly to trial. That would certainly provide greater transparency, but one has to wonder whether it would have resulted in a different conclusion.
The level of proof necessary to obtain an indictment from a Grand Jury is far lower than that to convict, “beyond a reasonable doubt.” There have been witnesses, notably Dorian Johnson who initially made the claim that Michael Brown was running away with his hands raised when he was shot in the back by Officer Wilson – testimony that was disproven by the forensics. Mr. Johnson also changed other parts of his story in subsequent interrogations. A reasonable person, even without referring to his own personal run ins with the law, might question his veracity as a witness.
On the other hand, six African-American witnesses testified to the Grand Jury that Mr. Brown was charging toward Officer Wilson when the fatal shot was fired. They further concurred that they heard the officer order him to stop on two occasions – orders which Brown ignored. Obviously, there is a vast difference between these two accounts.
For the sake of argument, let’s assume that in the Brown case the DA had followed the advice of the Brown family attorneys and gone directly to trial. Given the glaring conflict in witness testimony, there are two possibilities that the trial jury would return a guilty verdict beyond a reasonable doubt – “Slim” and “None.” But the people of St. Louis County would have had to bear the expense of a trial, the cost of additional and ongoing law enforcement presence throughout that trial – and probably the same amount of damage by way of looting and burning because the only “fair” verdict that those who see themselves as being “Brown supporters” will accept is one of “guilty.”
All of this begs the fundamental question – should we be fearful of authority abusing its power over the citizenry? That is a question that exceeds the particular of race. If we accept, for sake of argument, that people of certain races are “targeted” and we allow that to continue with impunity, then we open ourselves to the possibility of belonging to some particular group which will subsequently fall into disfavor and be equally subject to that sort of persecution.
This is far more dangerous than what we saw in Ferguson or New York because it is an endorsement that people should have the ability to pick and choose the laws they wish to observe and those they choose to ignore. Sadly, that is precisely the path that both President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder have been following during their time in office. When lawlessness is endorsed in actions by those whose jobs are to ensure that we are truly a “nation of laws,” then they give tacit endorsement to others to be law breakers themselves.
Let the riots, lootings and burnings begin. Perhaps that’s what’s written on the Christmas cards the White House is sending out this year.
HO, HO, HO!