A St. Louis County grand jury has decided to not indict Darren Wilson, a White Ferguson, Mo., police officer, in the death of unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown in a shooting that sparked ongoing protests and highlighted America’s deep racial divide.
The 12-member panel—9 White jurors and 3 Black jurors—convened three months ago to decide if there was probable cause to charge Wilson with a crime in the Aug. 9 shooting death of the unarmed 18-year-old. Brown, 18, was unarmed when Wilson encountered him walking in the street with a friend. A scuffle ensued and Brown was shot multiple times. Witness accounts of what happened varied, with some saying they saw Brown raise his hands in surrender before he was gunned down by Wilson.
The shooting sparked widespread protests over the use of excessive force by law enforcement in the Black community. Most of the protests were peaceful, but violent clashes did occur in which Ferguson stores were looted and property was destroyed. Hundreds were arrested amid clashes between protesters and heavily armed police officers–some in hulking military vehicles.
Wilson, an officer in Ferguson for three years, has been on paid leave since the shooting. He reportedly told investigators that he feared for his life and felt justified in fatally shooting Brown. He said Brown assaulted him inside his patrol SUV and tried to take his gun. But the teen’s family and some witnesses say that Wilson was the aggressor and ultimately killed Brown as he raised his hands in surrender, giving birth to the rallying call, “Hands up! Don’t shoot!”
To the ire of some protesters and some civil rights leaders, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon last week activated the state’s National Guard and declared a state of emergency. The governor’s order directs police to “to protect civil rights and ensure public safety in the City of Ferguson and the St. Louis region.”
Critics say Nixon’s response underscores the racial gulf in America as some civil rights leaders called the preparations insensitive and an overreaction. But some Whites cite Black-on-Black crime in Ferguson and cities across the nation as the root of the problem.
Amid all of the finger-pointing Michael Brown, Sr., the teen’s father, called for calm.
“No matter what the grand jury decides, I do not want my son’s death to be in vain—I want it to lead to positive change,” the father said in a public service announcement. “I thank you for lifting your voices to end racial profiling and police intimidation, but hurting others or destroying property is not the answer.”
Brown graduated from high school in May and was planning to start trade school on Aug. 11, two days after he was shot. He was buried Aug. 25 in St. Louis County, reports say.
Missouri governor Jay Nixon, in a press conference Monday evening, said churches will provide safe havens and mental health professionals will be on hand to help members of the community. He also said the National Guard will be on hand at key locations.