November 25, 2014

Wilson's testimony in Ferguson shooting

Today we learned the grand jury decided not to indict Officer Darren Wilson for shooting Michael Brown in the Ferguson case. This outcome raises many questions about racism and bias in our legal system. These questions apply to Indians and other minorities as well as blacks, so they're worth examining at length.

First, some postings on Wilson's testimony to the grand jury.

What do the newly released witness statements tell us about the Michael Brown shooting?

By Laura Santhanam and Vanessa DennisHere’s a breakdown of the data we found:

  • More than 50 percent of the witness statements said that Michael Brown held his hands up when Darren Wilson shot him. (16 out of 29 such statements)

  • Only five witness statements said that Brown reached toward his waist during the confrontation leading up to Wilson shooting him to death.

  • More than half of the witness statements said that Brown was running away from Wilson when the police officer opened fire on the 18-year-old, while fewer than one-fifth of such statements indicated that was not the case.
  • Making Sense of Darren Wilson's Story

    By Josh MarshallI went into Monday uncertain whether Michael Brown's killing was murder or a legally (if not morally) justified shooting into which the rage and righteous indignation over generations of police killings of black men--continuing right up to today--was being poured. After reading Wilson's testimony, I felt pretty confident that Wilson was a liar--at least about critical elements of his story.

    That was my first reaction. The second was tied to the imagery Wilson used to describe Brown and the intense fear he recalled feeling during the minute or two when he and Brown's life intersected.

    First, not believing Wilson.

    I'm going to set aside all the questions about just how far apart Wilson and Brown were when the fatal shooting occurred, the angle of Brown's body, whether his hands were up. Lots of people have parsed the evidence on that a lot more closely. Those points are technical and accounts are conflicting.

    It's Wilson's description of how the incident began that just does not ring true. To believe Wilson, you have to believe that Brown, an 18 year old, is stopped by a police officer on a street in broad daylight. The police officer is armed. He's in an SUV. And Brown's immediate reaction is to begun screaming and cursing him, physically attacking him and before long literally daring him to shoot him.
    Wilson's version of events simply doesn't sound credible. It's too over-the-top. It sounds like it's out of a movie. It sounds like the far-fetched version of events you'd tell to explain or justify what was at best a terribly handled situation.

    Put it another way, I can see a lot of ways that this could have started. And it could have been driven by Brown's actions. I just don't buy this maximal account. It's not credible. At best it's gilding the lily and more. The fatal shooting that happened a few moments later could have been justified or not justified depending on what happened after this confrontation in the car. But Wilson's claims about how the confrontation began strike me as so unbelievable that it gives me little reason to believe anything else he said about what happened later.
    ‘Fanciful and not credible’: CNN legal analyst destroys Darren Wilson’s testimony

    By David Edwards“It appeared to be … very fanciful,” Hostin said. “When a prosecutor has a prospective target, a suspect, a defendant—a prospective defendant—inside of the grand jury, that’s the prosecutor’s chance to cross-examine that person. These prosecutors treated Darren Wilson with such kid gloves.”

    “Their questions were all softballs, he wasn’t challenged, he wasn’t pressed,” she continued. “It was just unbelievable to me the way they treated him in front of that grand jury.”

    Hostin pointed out that Wilson was never required to provide a statement to the police, meaning he had a month to think about his testimony, and prosecutors had nothing to compare it to.

    “He talks about Michael Brown reaching into his waistband,” the CNN analyst noted. “Yet when one of the grand jurors asked him whether or not Michael Brown had a gun, he says, ‘I didn’t really think about that.’”

    “He talks about this aggression from the very beginning, which seems odd,” Hostin pointed out. “He talks about being hit so forcefully two time he thought the next hit would be fatal. Yet you look at his injuries, they don’t seem to be consistent with someone 6-foot-6, 300 pounds punching you with full force.”

    “There are just so many discrepancies with his testimony.”

    The "giant Negro" stereotype

    One aspect of Darren Wilson's testimony against Michael Brown was especially telling:

    The terrifying racial stereotypes laced through Darren Wilson's testimony

    By Lauren Williams[N]ow that a grand jury has declined to indict Wilson in Brown's death, and St. Louis County prosecutor Robert McCulloch has made publicly available all of the evidence presented to jurors, the picture has become clear. We have Wilson's version of the truth, and it's the version that will doubtless be codified as the account of record: Brown was no gentle giant. He was a "giant negro."

    The Ferguson story is entirely about race

    It's imprecise to call race the subtext of this story or an underlying complication. It defines it. Race has woven its way through every aspect of the drama, from the shooting of a black teen by a white officer, to the glaring racial disparities in the St. Louis suburb at the center of the incident, to the protesters' demands that the criminal justice system recognize that "black lives matter."

    Although the demonstrators have been explicit, this theme of racism doesn't have to be spelled out to be understood clearly and painfully. Reading Wilson's characterization of Brown in transcripts from his interview with detectives and his grand jury testimony is like taking a master class in the gross racial fear-mongering that has pervaded our country for centuries.

    Darren Wilson's Michael Brown

    Throughout his testimony and post-shooting interview with detectives, Wilson emphasized the size disparity between him and Brown. He tells detectives, "never at any point did I have control of him. I mean … he manipulated me, while I was in the vehicle, completely."

    Wilson, who testified that he is 6'4 and around 210 lbs, told the grand jury that when he tried to grab Brown, "the only way to describe it is that I felt like a five-year-old holding onto Hulk Hogan." At one point, he said Brown looked like a "demon." He also expressed concern that Brown could have possibly killed him with a punch to the face.
    Darren Wilson’s testimony: Michael Brown looked ‘like a demon,’ was as big as Hulk Hogan

    Comment:  For more on Ferguson, see Killing Blacks = "Perfect Crime" and White Privilege = "Willful Blindness."

    Below:  More of the racist attitudes that led Wilson to confront and shoot Brown.

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