November 26, 2014

My Middle Aged White Lady Perspective: Juries Do Their Best

No indictment for Officer Darren Wilson, but a huge indictment of our justice system?  It might have been the right decision, or it could have been the worst decision in recent memory?  So many questions, still, after the announcement that there was no probable cause to charge Wilson with any of five different crimes in the death of Michael Brown.

My middle-aged white lady perspective is that when you get into an altercation with a police officer, such as the one that was described by Wilson and witnesses, you stop being merely 'an unarmed teenager' and start being a criminal. And should such an altercation occur, and the suspect were to flee, I would expect the officer to pursue and arrest the perpetrator. The district attorney, who would have the clear intent of obtaining an indictment against the person who assaulted the officer, would present evidence to the grand jury, and if it got that far, a jury trial could occur.

I've been on juries three times, never a grand jury.

One was an attempted murder with related felony charges. I was a kid, only in my twenties. The families of the victim and the alleged perpetrator were going at each other, shooting comments back and forth during jury selection. They were staring and glaring at us as we sat during voir dire, mumbling comments about us, and continuing their snarking back and forth at each other.

After several admonitions from the judge, which fell on deaf ears, the spectators were removed; there was a physical altercation outside as everyone left. When we were excused for the lunch break, we were harassed in the hallway by the perpetrator's family, more comments and dirty looks, and we were escorted down the hall by the court attendants. The people harassing us were all black. Most of us were white. We all were scared.

We came back after lunch to find out that that the two sides had settled during the break and that our services were not needed.  On our way out after being excused, the two families were going at it, and we were hurried out of the way again by the court attendants.  Once we were outside, we all expressed gratitude that we didn't have to see it through, although emboldened by not having to, we all were very confident that we could have done it.

My second criminal trial was a felony DWI case. The DA did a horrible job presenting his evidence; the defense attorney did a good job presenting his, and we found the gentleman not guilty.  After being excused, we were harassed in the hall outside the court room.

By the DA. Who told us we were idiots because clearly this guy was a drunk and we should have locked him up because he was a threat to humanity. And while that might have been the case, the evidence did not show that and we told the DA that.  He ended up being shoved down the hallway, still growling at us, by others from his office.

We did what we were supposed to do as trial jurors, and decided the case based on the evidence presented, even though we all suspected that he was a repeat offender (hence the felony charge) and there was a good chance he had been drinking that night. In the interest of full disclosure, after the trial, the defense attorney bought us all a drink.

The third one was a civil trial involving a fender bender in the parking lot of an ice cream parlor, much less glamorous, but again, based on the evidence presented, the six of us made our decision and assigned blame to both parties proportionally.

In Missouri v. Darren Wilson,  the grand jury was not presented a case where the clear goal was to obtain an indictment; to me it was more of an investigative effort. They heard evidence from not only witnesses, investigators and the alleged perpetrator, Officer Wilson himself, but they also saw media reports and personal video and audio recordings. This was not a trial, and it was not intended to be one. Some seem to think that was the point, and so from that perspective, the justice system failed. I disagree.

I haven't read everything yet -- it's all online, including Wilson's incredible statement that he "felt like a five year old holding onto Hulk Hogan" during the altercation with Brown in the police car. That shocked me - I mean, doesn't that sound more like something a middle-aged white lady would say, rather than a comment from a cop?

There are 24 volumes of grand jury testimony alone, as well as another 24 documents labeled Reports and Forensic Evidence, and 30 Law Enforcement Interviews. There are many conflicting statements, conflicting between Witness A and Witness B, as well as conflicting between Witness A and Witness A -- the same witness making different statements at different times. And there are many statements that conflict with the forensic evidence from the crime scene itself.

Ultimately, that is why I think the grand jury did what they did.  Asked to make a decision as to whether Darren Wilson murdered Michael Brown, based on all the evidence presented, they said no.

It doesn't make them racist.

It doesn't mean they're glad Michael Brown is dead.

No one is, including this middle-aged white lady.