Jamelle Bouie at Slate explains why “the simple fact is that the police can kill for almost any reason with little fear of criminal charges.”
It’s extremely rare for a police officer to face an indictment for a shooting, much less criminal punishment. “The FBI reported 410 justifiable homicides by law enforcement in 2012,” noted Talking Points Memo in an August story following the events in Ferguson, “The number of indictments appear to be minimal after a TPM review of available press reports.” And it’s not just shootings; earlier this year, Georgia police mistakenly raided a home and seriously injured a young child. Prosecutors convened a grand jury, and the grand jury voted against an indictment. “The drug investigation that led to these events was hurried, sloppy, and unfortunately not in accordance with the best practices and procedures,” wrote the grand jury in its decision. Still, no one from the police force was held accountable.
In other words the police are presumed innocent and then found innocent in almost all circumstances. Police conduct is protected by a very high wall indeed.
When you add this climate of legal deference to the particular circumstances of the grand jury trial—including McCullough’s reputation for supporting police officers, and his decision to avoid a recommendation for charges—the non-indictment was almost inevitable. Barring something extraordinary, Wilson was going to walk free. The judicial system as we’ve constructed it just isn’t equipped—or even willing—to hold officers accountable for shootings and other offenses. Or put differently, the simple fact is that the police can kill for almost any reason with little fear of criminal charges.
Which is to say this: It would have been powerful to see charges filed against Darren Wilson. At the same time, actual justice for Michael Brown—a world in which young men like Michael Brown can’t be gunned down without consequences—won’t come from the criminal justice system. Our courts and juries aren’t impartial arbiters—they exist inside society, not outside of it—and they can only provide as much justice as society is willing to give.
And that’s clearly just not very much.