It looks like it might be that long before a local grand jury decides whether to bring charges in the death of Michael Brown — the loud, passionate calls for swift justice notwithstanding.
The shooting of the African-American teenager by a white Ferguson, Missouri, police officer has sparked days of demonstrations and nights of often violence protests in the St. Louis suburb.
St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch told CNN affiliate KMOV that his office planned to begin presenting the case to a grand jury Wednesday. The grand jury could levy significant charges against Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot and killed the 18-year-old Brown.
But McCulloch suggested Wednesday that any action — charges or no charges — won’t come any time soon.
“The aspirational time is by mid-October to have everything completed,” the prosecutor told the station.
Granted, McCulloch isn’t the only law enforcement leader whose office could take action against Wilson. The other such leader — U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder — spent Wednesday in and around Ferguson, Missouri, talking with residents, leaders and the man charged with maintaining security in the city after nearly two weeks of unrest.
The most high-profile figure in President Barack Obama’s administration to visit Ferguson, Holder has stressed that the federal government is on the case and listening — both to protesters calling for Wilson’s arrest and for an end to what they describe as a heavy-handed police response, and to residents and law enforcement officers challenged with looting and violence from some in the crowd.
Holder joined dozens of FBI agents who have swarmed on the eastern Missouri city, as the U.S. Justice Department’s civil rights division probes the case.
But for charges and a conviction in a federal civil rights case, authorities would have to prove “racial hostility,” according to CNN senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin, should they argue that Wilson somehow targeted Brown. Holder himself acknowledged this distinction Wednesday, saying that he hoped all of the investigative work being done has a positive impact.
That said — for all the symbolic significance of a sitting attorney general visiting the site of an active investigation — what happens in the St. Louis County courts may more likely impact activists’ bottom line: justice for Brown’s family in the form of Wilson’s arrest.
For his part, McCulloch told KMOV that he wants the case to proceed through the grand jury “expeditiously” but also “thoroughly.”
“We’re not going to rush it through, and we’re not going to leave anything out,” he said. “They will have absolutely everything that there is, every piece of paper, every photograph, every bit of physical evidence, all the forensic information.”
Antonio French, a St. Louis Alderman who has been a regular fixture at the protests, believes people — already skeptical of law enforcement, including McCulloch — won’t want to wait months for a resolution.
“We’re on day 12 now,” he said. “I think the people expect to see something by now, and they’re getting frustrated.”
Holder talks to students, community leaders
Holder arrived in Missouri around midday, heading straight to Florissant Valley Community College to talk with students, most of whom are African-American.
“The future for Ferguson is blurry,” said Molyric Welch, a 27-year-old who said her brother died of cardiac arrest, allegedly after Ferguson police used a stun gun on him in 2011.
“So we just need some answers, some questions, some changes. And we need some inspiration, and by him being here now, that’s giving us some inspiration.”
Another student, 25-year-old Bro Ehsan, called what’s been happening in Ferguson “sad” while expressing hope good may come out of it.
“We want to be part of change,” Ehsan said. “This kind of thing should not be happening here.”
The attorney general then met with community leaders at the school, before heading To Drake’s Place restaurant in Ferguson. He sat down at a table with locals, before getting up to talk to Missouri State Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson, who has been charged with maintaining security in Ferguson.
“My man, you are the man,” Holder told Johnson as the two hugged.
To which the highway patrol captain replied, “Just trying to make it better.”
The attorney general also met with federal authorities involved in the case, as well as the parents of Michael Brown. There was no media coverage of the family meeting.
Water bottle sets off late-night clash
The anger among community members was almost instant after the shooting of Brown, whose dead body lay in the street for hours as people yelled out at police.
Protesters claim the police officer went after Brown, who was simply walking down the street, and ended up executing him as he held his hands in the air. While Wilson hasn’t spoken publicly, his growing legion of supporters believe he was set upon by Brown and fired out of fear for his life.
Finding the true story may take time — that’s the grand jury’s task, after all — or it may never happen. While some law enforcement have cameras on their cars or vests, that’s not the case in Ferguson. No known video of the encounter exists.
What many cameras have captured, however, is the protests and sporadic violence on the streets since the August 9 shooting.
The use of tear gas, armored vehicles and other tactics have further angered many activists. Police, meanwhile, have arrested scores and called out what they describe as “criminals” who, while they represent a very small percentage of overall protesters, they blame for the violence.
Tuesday was actually one of the most peaceful in Ferguson in some time — at least until later in the night, at which time journalists outnumbered protesters, when someone threw a bottle at police.
Officers — lined up in front of businesses, wearing helms and shields — responded by sprinting after young men.
This prompted a handful of protesters to toss more bottles, glass and plastic. Johnson later told reporters someone threw urine on police.
After the chase, the number of riot police ballooned. Officers brought out dogs. One officer used pepper spray on some in the crowd.
Protesters locked hands in front of a police line, and some urged the crowd to remain peaceful. Others, wearing T-shirts printed with the word “peacekeeper,” tried to defuse tensions.
Johnson credited them for preventing further escalation.
Police arrested 47 people, Johnson said, including a car full of people who he said were armed and had made threats to shoot an officer.
And police officer from nearby St. Ann was suspended indefinitely after pointing an assault rifle at a protester Tuesday night, according to the St. Louis County Police Department.
“A St. Ann Police Officer pointed a semi-automatic assault rifle at a peaceful protestor after a verbal exchange. It was at this time a St. Louis County Police Sergeant walked over and immediately took action, forcing the officer to lower the weapon, and escorting him away from the area,” said a statement from the county police department.
Police and protesters have blamed agitators — including many from outside Ferguson — for the violence marring the demonstrations. According to the jail records, some of those arrested Monday night came from New York, California, Texas and Alabama.
Still, many have also criticized the police response.
Russel Honore, a retired Army general, who handled crowd control in the chaos that ensued after Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in 2005, joined them late Tuesday.
Looking at crowd members through the scope of a gun sends the wrong message, he said.
“You’re there to protect people,” Honore added. “They need to sense that from you.”