On the eve of Thanksgiving, are we witnessing the Requiem For American Democracy? I do not ask this question flippantly either. It is something that we need to answer this holiday season, or we will certainly face the real possibility of our freedoms and liberties going the way of the dodo bird.
Two days ago, in Ferguson, MO. the county prosecutor made his announcement that Officer Darren Wilson would not face any charges for the shooting death of Michael Brown. This announcement, unfortunately, was totally anticipated by anyone who has been watching the tragedy playing out for nearly four months.
The also anticipated rioting happened within hours of the announcement. Depending on what network you watch, these riots are either the result of a few “outsiders” who went to Ferguson to cause trouble, or it is the result of an entire race of people who do not believe in law and order. I think you can guess which networks are saying what without even turning on the TV.
The riots in Ferguson are deplorable. I have always believed that protests are the only way that ordinary people have to get their voices heard. However, I have always deplored violence. Violence, as they say, begets violence. Additionally, in such circumstances, it is extremely hard to determine who is actually causing the violence. For example, on the first night, I was watching and saw the police firing smoke bombs at protesters. I don’t know why they were firing smoke bombs either. It appeared that the protesters at that point were peaceful.
As the confrontation continued, violence became more of the norm and the situation escalated out of hand. That is the problem with rioting. You don’t know how it all starts. Plus, you don’t know which tactics are helping or hurting the situation. As Mayor Richard J. Dailey said during the 1968 Convention Riots in Chicago: “The police are not there to cause the riots. They are there to preserve the riots.”
But, it isn’t the rioting in Ferguson that makes me ask the question. There have been riots before, and I believe there will probably be riots in the future. What makes me ask the question, is the way the county prosecutor handled it from the beginning. A Grand Jury hearing is NOT a trial. It is only used to keep control of the prosecutorial process. In a Grand Jury, they are supposed to look at evidence to see if there is sufficient evidence to charge a person with a crime.
In normal Grand Jury hearings, the whole process is controlled by the prosecutor. The prosecutor is using the Grand Jury to support his belief that a crime was committed and that there should be a public trial of the case. Defendants, or the accused, are usually not present, and do not testify at the hearing. Again, this is not a trial. It is a secret hearing to protect the Jurors and allow them to make a fair judgement of whether or not there is sufficient evidence to press charges.
Unfortunately, in this case, the Grand Jury hearing was not a Grand Jury hearing. It was basically a “secret trial” of the accused. And, that is very troubling to me. If you don’t believe it was a “secret trial” just listen to the noise from those who supported Wilson. They are calling this decision an acquittal. How can it be an acquittal if there was no trial?
The prosecutor said that he would release all of the transcripts of the hearing to prove his point. I find that extremely dubious at best. Let’s face facts. Whenever a person reads anything, they add their personal biases in their readings. Plus, you do not hear the voice inflections of the person testifying or the person asking the questions. Verbal testimony at trials is critical because we can hear those inflections and see the body language of the people involved.
Those inflections and body language often allows us a visual to help determine if the person is telling the truth. It also allows us to determine if the question is a “softball” intended to help the witness or a “hardball” intended to poke holes in their testimony. Nor, are we able to tell which witnesses were treated as “friendly” or “hostile” which can make a lot of difference as well. Simply reading the transcript will not give us those “signals” of truth or fabrication.
I know, for example, that anyone reading this article, will determine whether or not they agree with me based on their biases. If someone is prone to “lean left” there is a real possibility they will agree with me. If the reader is more prone to “lean right” I doubt this article will sway them. And, that is fair enough.
As a result, we are still faced with the fact that this was a “secret trial” which the prosecutor did not want to go public. Which makes me wonder why the prosecutor did not want to take the trial public. I once lived in the area near Ferguson for three years. I had a few police officers as friends. Most were honest hard-working officers in the true pursuit of protecting the public. Others were simply driven by their power over certain “classes” of people. I suppose that is true everywhere.
By allowing the county prosecutor to hold his “secret trial” the Judicial System has another chink in its armor of being “equal” for all. History also shows that “secret trials” are the beginning of the end of the democratic process. By denying the family of the real victim in this case to have an open and public trial to determine the guilt or innocence of the shooter, the system has failed again.
It may have turned out that Darren Wilson would have been found not-guilty of any charges brought against him. It is also possible that he would have been found guilty. We shall never know because the county prosecutor did not want the real truth to come out in the open. He wanted to control the narrative and the justice system in defense of a police officer. This same prosecutor has taken four other similar cases of police officers shooting unarmed civilians to the Grand Jury. In all of those cases, not one single charge against a police officer was handed down.
As we sit around the table this Thanksgiving we should be asking the real question. Does this case signal a Requiem For American Democracy? Some call this case justice. Most call this case a charade. If we continue to allow prosecutors to hold “secret trials” we will never know the truth. “Secret trials” could be the real beginning of the end for our democratic way of life.