Justice Department Hurls Charges at Ferguson Police, but Clears Officer Wilson

Eric Holder is on his way out as U.S. attorney general, but he wants to leave a reminder of his legacy. Unfortunately, it is a legacy of racial polarization heavily driven by his ally, Al Sharpton. The Department of Justice (DOJ) today released a report concluding that police in Ferguson, Mo., the St. Louis suburb where a fatal shooting last August by a white officer, Darren Wilson, of a violent black youth triggered repeated rioting, has exhibited patterns of bias. Released in summary form earlier this week, the study accuses Ferguson police of systematic targeting of blacks. Yet the accusation is flimsy, a vindictive response to a state grand jury’s sensible refusal last November to indict Wilson for murder. Its motive is even more obvious in light of DOJ’s decision today to clear Wilson of civil rights violations.

National Legal and Policy Center has been on this from the start. In two separate articles last August (here and here), and in Chapter 20 of my new book, Sharpton: A Demagogue’s Rise, I explain at length that the case against former Ferguson Officer Darren Wilson (he resigned only weeks after the incident for his own personal safety) was entirely politically driven. Had Officer Wilson been black and/or Michael Brown been white, this incident would never have made national news. Indeed, it barely would have qualified as local St. Louis news. The elevation of the “unarmed” Michael Brown into a saintly gentle giant, his life was cruelly robbed by a racist white cop, was the default “civil rights” narrative. The storyline inevitably collapsed once material evidence accumulated. It had no basis in fact.

To recap, around noon last August 9, Officer Darren Wilson, a six-year veteran of the Ferguson police force, while riding in his squad vehicle, confronted two young black men, Michael Brown and Dorian Johnson, jaywalking in down a local street. Wilson briefly got out of his car and told the pair to move to the sidewalk. It was a reasonable directive. Walking along the middle of a street is potentially dangerous to pedestrian and motorist alike. There was no reason, moreover, to believe Officer Wilson would have behaved any differently had the pedestrians been white. Michael Brown thought differently. Rather than comply, he explosively charged at Wilson, who had returned to the inside his squad car. The 18-year-old Brown, 6’4” and 292 lbs., then sucker-punched a seated Wilson and then tried to steal his service revolver. By any reasonable account, Wilson faced a life-threatening situation. But he managed to hang on to his gun. Then, when Brown ran away from the scene, Wilson got out of his car. Brown then wheeled around and charged at Wilson at top speed. Having to act quickly, Wilson shot Brown several times, the last round fatally. Initial accounts, especially from Brown’s friend, Dorian Johnson, indicated that Wilson had shot Brown from behind, and worse, did so while Brown was raising his hands in surrender.

A great many people, well-meaning and otherwise, chose to believe this. In short order, “Hands up, don’t shoot” became a protest chant across the country. Radical activists launched demonstrations in cities around the country. Local blacks in Ferguson did more than  demonstrate; they rioted. Ferguson, Missouri, a heavily black community of about 20,000 people in the north St. Louis suburbs, suddenly found itself in the role of national symbol for anti-black oppression. Benjamin Crump, one of the black attorneys for the Brown family, declared: “We know that this was an execution.”

St. Louis County prosecutors, under tremendous pressure from the U.S. Justice Department and allied civil rights activists to concur, rapidly convened a grand jury. Less than two weeks after the shooting, Attorney General Holder visited the St. Louis area in a disingenuous attempt to generate sympathy for Brown. His close ally, the Reverend Al Sharpton, in fact, visited the area several times during the months immediately following the shooting. His eulogy for Michael Brown at a St. Louis church attracted an overflow crowd of nearly 5,000 supporters. Sharpton wasn’t just acting out of conviction. According to the popular blog site Politico, he was serving as the Obama White House’s unofficial street emissary. It was high irony. Here was Al Sharpton, a man with a long history of fomenting riots in his native New York City, now assigned by a sitting president to prevent them somewhere else. The gambit did not succeed. Sporadic black rioting erupted for two weeks after the incident.

For months, Sharpton and other “anti-racist” activists had been sharpening their knives in anticipation of an indictment. Yet as the evidence accumulated, their interpretation of events became suspect. Indeed, the case in the end revealed itself to be nothing more than a web of contradictions and lies. Brown, far from being the “gentle giant” described by Sharpton, had robbed a nearby convenience store just minutes before his fatal confrontation; the incident was caught on a store video camera. The grand jury, having spent three months examining thousands of pages of documents and numerous photographs, and hearing testimony from dozens of witnesses, declined to indict Wilson. It was the right call. This was a case of police self-defense. Had Wilson not fired his service pistol, it most likely would have been him laying dead in that street. Facts, however, did not deter local blacks, who proceeded to loot and burn a portion of Ferguson only hours after the announcement — and on a much larger scale than before. The Justice Department civil rights investigation represented the last hope for the national hanging jury. But this, too, was a hard case. By federal law, the DOJ had to prove that Officer Wilson had intended to deprive Michael Brown of his rights and was not in any immediate danger.

In the end, prosecutors, whatever their political leanings, concluded this was an unwinnable case. Based on forensic evidence and testimony from 41 alleged eyewitnesses, their report concluded: “There is no evidence upon which prosecutors can rely to disprove Wilson’s stated subjective belief that he feared for his safety.” As for the witnesses claiming Brown was shot from behind and/or with his hands up in surrender, their accounts were so contradictory, and at times willfully false, as to be useless. The DOJ report stated:

Some of those accounts are inaccurate because they are inconsistent with the physical and forensic evidence; some of those accounts are materially inconsistent with that witness’s own prior statements with no explanation. Although some witnesses state that Brown held his hands up shoulder level with his palms facing outward for a brief moment, these same witnesses describe him then dropping his hands and ‘charging’ at Wilson. Those witness accounts stating that Brown never moved back toward Wilson could not be relied upon in a prosecution because their accounts cannot be reconciled with the DNA bloodstain evidence and other credible witness accounts.

The radicals at the U.S. Justice Department, led by its Civil Rights Division and, most of all, Attorney General Eric Holder, whose contempt for rule of law in the service of political activism is well-documented, had other ideas. They were putting together a separate report purportedly revealing racially discriminatory enforcement policies and practices by the Ferguson Police Department.

Yesterday, on March 4, that report was released. Supporters naturally are seizing upon it in hopes of exacting a costly out-of-court settlement upon the City of Ferguson, and even better, of inducing police departments around the country to shy away from applying basic law enforcement procedures against black suspects. Yet anyone with sound political instincts can sense that the only reason for singling out Ferguson was the lack of an indictment of Wilson. The Holder report suggests a discovery process gone wild. Federal investigators conducted hundreds of interviews, reviewed 35,000 pages of Ferguson police records and analyzed racial data for every single recent police traffic stop. The study concluded that over the past two years that blacks, who constitute about two-thirds of the local population, accounted for 85 percent of traffic stops, 90 of citations, 93 percent of arrests and 88 percent of cases in which the police used force. The response ought to be a shrug – as in “So?” Even if Ferguson police did not consciously target blacks, the fact remains that blacks as a general rule commit serious crimes at much higher rates than whites or other races. And crime rates aside, race is a legitimate marker for aiding police in the capture of a guilty party. By knowing a suspect’s race, police can cut the time and cost of an investigation, while sparing unlikely suspects the inconvenience of a police stop or interrogation.

Attorney General Holder’s supporters at the Department of Justice are bent on making Ferguson a metaphor for racial injustice throughout the nation. Yet the same sorts of results could have been obtained from any county or local police department. Taking note of the insignificance of the statistical “imbalance,” columnist Steve Sailer asked:

And how does this pattern differ from any other place in America? Can the Justice Department find just two municipalities in America where blacks don’t get into trouble with the law disproportionate to their share of the population? There might be one town somewhere in America where that isn’t true, although I’ve never heard of it, but are there two?

Eric Holder, citing the “toxic environment” in Ferguson, believes there are many such communities. And he and his army of “civil rights” zealots are determined to use the data generated by the report to apply the affirmative action/disparate impact principle to police work. The result almost certainly would be a civil suit against the City of Ferguson (in lieu of “voluntary” changes), and very likely, suits against other local jurisdictions beyond that.

Underlying this debate is the shadow of the Reverend Al Sharpton, arguably the most powerful civil rights leader in American history. How powerful is he? After Eric Holder announced his resignation last September 25, Sharpton reportedly played a major role in vetting President Obama’s eventual choice of successor, U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch (Eastern District of New York), also a black racial identity politician. It was corporate, union and other donations to Sharpton’s nonprofit group, National Action Network, that made possible his New York-to-St. Louis shuttle during the Ferguson crisis to railroad Officer Darren Wilson. That campaign failed. But he may win the larger battle to cast law enforcement agencies across the U.S. as cabals of racism. If he succeeds, the country will pay a far higher price than anything the City of Ferguson can afford.


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