CommunityFDL Main Blog

Waiting in Ferguson, While McCulloch Tries to Avoid Responsibility

St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch

Here in KC, folks have been preparing for the first winter storm of the season. Make sure you’ve got your groceries in, gas in the car, know where your shovel/snowblower/ice melt are, etc. Now it looks as if the worst of the storm is sliding to the north, so most of the preparations will not be needed this weekend. But another storm will come, so it’s good to be ready.

Across the state, the folks in metro St. Louis are preparing for another kind of storm, predicted to arrive on the heels of any announcement from the grand jury considering whether to charge Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson with a crime for shooting Michael Brown. Residents around the area are stocking up on things or planning to be elsewhere. Businesses are doing what they think they need to do. Rams fans wonder about attending the next home game downtown, and principals of area schools wonder about getting kids home safely if the announcement comes our when kids are at school.

While some folks are preparing to stay out of the way, others are preparing for being in the middle of whatever happens. Police are preparing as well, to be ready for whatever comes. So to are protest organizers, who are holding training sessions on non-violent resistance, knowing your legal rights, providing medical assistance in the midst of protests, and all the other things that serious protestors need to be ready for. I’m encouraged by this:

Since August, the police chiefs [of St. Louis County and the City of St. Louis] said their officers have participated in several thousands of hours of training, including de-escalation training.

“We hope that when this starts, and when we have our peaceful demonstrators that peaceably assemble, police officers are going to look similar to what they look like at a Cardinal game: We’re just hanging out, making sure that everybody’s safe. We’re going to be there for them and for their ability to exercise their First Amendment rights.”

Both chiefs said that their officers will be wearing name badges. In the past, some departments and officers have not, a common complaint among protesters and journalists.

This part, though, is more mixed:

When the grand jury decision is announced, the police chiefs said they expect protests and the police presence to look different. Last week, a group called the Don’t Shoot Coalition released a list of 19 proposed rules of engagement. Dotson said the chiefs agree on many of those proposed rules.

“Life safety — how could life safety not be everyone’s number one priority? Allowing access to the Internet — how could that not be a priority for everyone? So there’s a lot of more in common,” he said.

But those proposed rules also ask law enforcement to promise they won’t use tear gas or rubber bullets.

“We didn’t use rubber bullets,” Belmar said. “(If) they’re actually rubber bullets, they’ll kill you. We did use tear gas. We did use smoke. We did use pepper balls — different things such as that. We did use armored trucks. But you know what? We didn’t use those on peaceful protesters. We used that on unfortunate criminal activity that spun out of the protest.”

Protesters immediately disagreed, flooding the “St. Louis on the Air” Twitter account with notes, photos and links to videos showing protesters and journalists caught in tear gas, pepper spray or smoke. [tweets at the link]

Cities are also preparing — not only Ferguson, but also St. Louis, Clayton (where the County government offices are located and the grand jury is meeting) and other suburbs around Ferguson.

And meanwhile, the grand jury keeps working. They keep doing the work that St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch should be doing — sifting through evidence, listening to witnesses, and trying to come up with a coherent story of what happened back in August, so that they can then decide if charges should be brought against Darren Wilson. Let me say that again: they are doing the prosecutor’s job for him. The grand jury’s job is not to investigate, but to evaluate. Has the prosecutor done his or her job well enough to be able to file charges, or would the proposed charges be a waste of the court’s time?

Instead, McCulloch has tried to evade his responsibility.

Let me be clear: in whatever happens when the grand jury concludes their work, people are responsible for how they react, whether they are protestors, police officers, mayors, residents, business owners, or visitors to the area. But McCulloch has created the conditions to make whatever happens exponentially worse.

If the grand jury fails to indict Wilson, the irregular way in which McCullough has worked with the grand jury will inevitably be held up as problematic. “The fix was in from the start, and McCulloch worked to get the killer off the hook.”

If the grand jury does indict Wilson, the anger will still erupt. Protesters will say “We told you so, but you didn’t believe us. We told you so on Day One, but you dragged your heels and tried to derail things by swamping the grand jury. We told you so — what the hell took so long?” Supporters of Wilson will likely raise the shouts that the grand jury simply caved to fear of violent protests. Inevitably, these two groups will meet, and the results will not be pretty.

It did not have to be this way. But that’s the way Bob McCulloch chose to handle things, and in whatever happens, his hands will not be clean.

In the California hills around Oakland and Berkeley back in 1991, a firestorm erupted that killed 25, injured 50 more, and burned some 3400 homes, apartments, and condos. It was initially a small grass fire that authorities thought was under control, but then the winds picked up and it soon overwhelmed the firefighters called in to fight it. Any fire in these hills is a problem, but in 1991 things were made worse by the way in which huge amounts of burnable materials (dried grass, plants, and trees) were allowed to build up right next to homes. Since then, landowners have been required to keep these things under control, so that major fires-in-waiting have less of a chance of becoming major fires in practice.

The tinder around St. Louis County has been building up for decades, and Michael Brown’s death in August started things burning. I fear that like the Oakland Hills fire, the danger is not passed and the winds are coming.

If the fire erupts, remember the name of Robert McCulloch. He knew the tinder was there, and played with matches anyway.

________

Official photo of Robert McCulloch from St. Louis County Prosecutor’s Office website.

CommunityMyFDL Front Page

Waiting in Ferguson, While McCulloch Tries to Avoid Responsibility

St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch

Here in KC, folks have been preparing for the first winter storm of the season. Make sure you’ve got your groceries in, gas in the car, know where your shovel/snowblower/ice melt are, etc. Now it looks as if the worst of the storm is sliding to the north, so most of the preparations will not be needed this weekend. But another storm will come, so it’s good to be ready.

Across the state, the folks in metro St. Louis are preparing for another kind of storm, predicted to arrive on the heels of any announcement from the grand jury considering whether to charge Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson with a crime for shooting Michael Brown. Residents around the area are stocking up on things or planning to be elsewhere. Businesses are doing what they think they need to do. Rams fans wonder about attending the next home game downtown, and principals of area schools wonder about getting kids home safely if the announcement comes our when kids are at school.

While some folks are preparing to stay out of the way, others are preparing for being in the middle of whatever happens. Police are preparing as well, to be ready for whatever comes. So to are protest organizers, who are holding training sessions on non-violent resistance, knowing your legal rights, providing medical assistance in the midst of protests, and all the other things that serious protestors need to be ready for. I’m encouraged by this:

Since August, the police chiefs [of St. Louis County and the City of St. Louis] said their officers have participated in several thousands of hours of training, including de-escalation training.

“We hope that when this starts, and when we have our peaceful demonstrators that peaceably assemble, police officers are going to look similar to what they look like at a Cardinal game: We’re just hanging out, making sure that everybody’s safe. We’re going to be there for them and for their ability to exercise their First Amendment rights.”

Both chiefs said that their officers will be wearing name badges. In the past, some departments and officers have not, a common complaint among protesters and journalists.

This part, though, is more mixed: (more…)

Previous post

Come Saturday Morning: In Which I Call Out The Solar Skeptics

Next post

Waiting in Ferguson, While McCulloch Tries to Avoid Responsibility

Peterr

Peterr

I'm an ordained Lutheran pastor with a passion for language, progressive politics, and the intersection of people's inner sets of ideals and beliefs (aka "faith" to many) and their political actions. I mostly comment around here, but offer a weekly post or two as well. With the role that conservative Christianity plays in the current Republican politics, I believe that progressives ignore the dynamics of religion, religious language, and religiously-inspired actions at our own peril. I am also incensed at what the TheoCons have done to the public impression of Christianity, and don't want their twisted version of it to go unchallenged in the wider world. I'm a midwesterner, now living in the Kansas City area, but also spent ten years living in the SF Bay area. I'm married to a wonderful microbiologist (she's wonderful all the way around, not just at science) and have a great little Kid, for whom I am the primary caretaker these days. I love the discussions around here, especially the combination of humor and seriousness that lets us take on incredibly tough stuff while keeping it all in perspective and treating one another with respect.

And Preview is my friend.