Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson revealed on Friday that accused Officer Darren Wilson could plan to return to his job if the grand jury decision returns no indictment. Jackson said he is not currently aware of Wilson’s intentions, or if the officer would want to return to the force. Wilson faces possible indictment in the shooting death of Michael Brown, an unarmed Black teenager, after an altercation on August 9. Protests throughout St. Louis, the U.S. and globally have called for the officers arrest. It is not clear when the grand jury will release its decision, but news sources speculate it might be the end of this month.
Police-involved shootings are not peculiar to Ferguson, MO where Brown lost his life. Pamela Meanes leader of the National Bar Association’s “War on Police Brutality” has targeted 25 cities and 25 states for information on the number of unarmed individuals killed or injured by police. Meanes believes that “people don’t realize that this is an epidemic in the country” because there is not enough data. She rejects the idea of police-involved shootings being a result of lingering racial tensions. “It’s a blue issue…This is an effort to get rid of bad police officers.”
As the head of one of the U.S.’s largest and oldest Black lawyers groups, Meanes is pushing for additional federal legislation to provide clear and acceptable definitions for excessive force. She says right now the laws are “vague…arbitrary and capricious.” In 1994, the federal government instituted the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act which called for data to be collected regarding excessive force. Unfortunately, a pilot study demonstrated such a national database could cost up to one billion dollars and take several years to make functional.
The study analyzed police use-of-force between 1991 and 2000 and found that of the 45 million police calls during that period, 177,000 excessive force incidents were reported. While the study cost $2.5 million, only 564 of the U.S.’s 18,000 law enforcement agencies actually participated. The FBI has offered its own data on officer-involved shootings between 2008 and 2012, stating that there was an average of 400 “justifiable homicides” per year.
The likelihood of securing an officer conviction after a fatal shooting has come under scrutiny amid the latest Ferguson unrest. The reasons for this are varied, including current laws granting officers the right to use force to protect their lives and the public. Page Pate, an Atlanta defense attorney who has defended officers on trial for excessive force, says that jurors are more likely to trust an officer’s version of events. The toughness of the job often leads to deference to the officer’s testimony. The National Association of Police Organizations Executive Director, Bill Johnson, acknowledges that prosecutors trying excessive force cases have a difficult decision and that maintaining impartiality can be difficult at times.
In Ferguson, new information has been revealed as the grand jury gets closer to making a decision on Police Officer Wilson’s future with the department. Released this week, surveillance video shows Wilson leaving the police station just two hours after murdering Brown. He can be seen wearing a white T-shirt and did not seem to be severely injured to the point of needing help maneuvering. The police union lawyer and another officer appeared to be laughing and smiling with him.
Wilson’s dispatch calls from that fatal day illustrate the short amount of time that elapsed between his last radio calls and his violent encounter with Brown. Just before noon, Wilson asked if other officers needed his help locating an alleged robbery suspect. Not even ten minutes later, another Ferguson officer radioed in for assistance dealing with the scene after Brown’s murder. A woman’s cries can be heard in the background of the call.
After aggressively responding to civil disobedience in Ferguson with military-grade equipment and riot gear, Ferguson police wait for the grand jury to reveal their final decision, so they can plan their next course of action. If the Department of Justice finds police misconduct and violation of Brown’s civil rights, the entire department could be disbanded and reorganized. Even if the grand jury decides not to indict, Wilson could still face allegations that he violated Brown’s civil rights.
By Didi Anofienem
Photo By: Debra Sweet – Flickr License