I've been in the mood to write all kinds of things. I could have written ridiculously long posts full of rants and rage and anger and sadness, but I didn't. I figure at some point you guys might get tired of all that. Plus, I live with a tiny dictator who decides when I write these days.
At least he's cute.
Anyway, last week was a rough one where I hardly touched the computer at all, and to be honest it was probably better that way. Thanksgiving is always emotional for me, plus my Dad's birthday, plus all the kids were home, plus there was all kinds of social unrest, plus someone around here had surgery (I might tell you more about that later. Maybe.) Needless to say, I was pretty damn excited for a little peace and quiet around here, even if it only last 7.3 seconds before the tiny dictator issues his newest list of demands.
Speaking of which, I'm running out of time here, people, so let's get to what we need to cover for the week.
The Kids Aren't Alright
There should be an unspoken code when it comes to the children of politicians. They should be off limits. They should be. Usually, they are, though every once in a while some one crosses a line like what happened last week.
GOP staffer Elizabeth Lauten said this on Facebook about Sasha and Malia Obama:
Dear Sasha and Malia, I get you’re both in those awful teen years, but you’re a part of the First Family, try showing a little class. At least respect the part you play. Then again your mother and father don’t respect their positions very much, or the nation for that matter, so I’m guessing you’re coming up a little short in the ‘good role model’ department. Nevertheless, stretch yourself. Rise to the occasion. Act like being in the White House matters to you. Dress like you deserve respect, not a spot at a bar. And certainly don’t make faces during televised public events.
Needless to say, it didn't go over well.
She resigned, but the problem with this is bigger than just her. It's this idea that those on the far right can disparage the Obama family in whatever way they want and it's supposed to be okay. There are the subtle racial jabs (okay, some aren't even subtle), the disgusting things said about Michelle, and now this. These girls aren't fodder for some political point you think you are making. They are kids.
Leave them alone.
Also, those in glass houses shouldn't throw stones, Ms. Lauten. ;)
The Trouble with the Grand Jury
I haven't actually watched the news all that much because I just can't bring myself to do it. The news out of Ferguson is awful. I decided that I would write about what went wrong with the grand jury at some point, I just haven't had a chance to get to it. I used to work for the district attorney's office and I can tell you one thing about prosecutors. It's this: If they want an indictment, they almost always get one. It's just reality, and honestly there's nothing to argue with me about on this point. The statistics overwhelmingly support this truth, except of course for cases where a police officer is the one accused of a crime.
The reason that one wasn't issued in the death of Michael Brown seems pretty obvious to me....the prosecutor didn't want an indictment issued.
What most people, even those talking head "experts" on television don't seem to understand is that the grand jury system isn't supposed to operate the way it did in this case. The sole purpose of a grand jury is to decide if there is enough evidence, enough of a question about the facts to bring it to trial. They aren't supposed to weigh the credibility of witnesses and they sure as hell aren't supposed to determine guilt or innocence. In a case like this, with an unarmed suspect, with the number of shots fired, with vastly different stories about what happened, with conflicting autopsy reports, there certainly was enough evidence to warrant bringing charges. Any one of those facts alone would be enough in most cases, let alone the combination of them.
There are so many problems with what happened in Ferguson without even getting into a discussion of the racially charged background it all took place in front of. From the time of the shooting, Wilson was listed as the victim even though he was still indeed very much alive. There was questionable handling of evidence, interviews that weren't performed properly and more...all of which point to the fact that police departments shouldn't be permitted to investigate cases where one of their own officers is involved in a shooting such as this one. An external investigation should be the default.
The prosecutor in this case is the President of the board of directors for an organization that supports police and other first responders. His father was an officer killed in the line of duty, shot by a black man. That smells an awful lot like a personal conflict of interest here.
This case has created some unlikely alliances in its wake. While the vast majority of the conservative media and political machine has celebrated the outcome, some very vocal opposition has come from those like Justice Scalia and Nancy Grace, both heavily critical of how the grand jury was handled. Scalia criticized the situation, discussing the propriety of Wilson's testimony and the fact that the grand jury is charged only with deciding if probable cause exists and no more.
Nancy Grace, another surprise. She has plainly said that she just isn't buying Wilson's story, that it doesn't add up.
In addition, since the issue of whether Michael Brown had his hands raised or not is one that not everyone agrees on, it's possible that the grand jury was instructed improperly. Police officers are not allowed to use deadly force on fleeing suspects or on suspects that do not pose a threat, under a 1985 Supreme Court decision. If, as some of the eye witnesses say, Brown was walking away and/or had his hands up in the air, he would not have presented a threat to the officer at the time. That question is one that should have been put to a trial jury. Instead, the grand jury here was instructed using an outdated law about the use of force, one that was found unconstitutional in certain circumstances.
There is a federal investigation of the case, though I highly doubt anything will come of it. Far more likely is a civil case brought by the family against both Wilson and the police department.
At this point, nothing will bring Michael Brown back. The best that we can do is learn from this experience and make changes going forward. Departments need to better reflect the communities they serve. Non lethal force must be the first line of defense when dealing with unarmed suspects. Profiling must end. We need to confront the uncomfortable realities of racial bias in law enforcement (and every other aspect of life for that matter), admit what is going on, and work towards eradicating it. When incidents like this occur, external investigations need to be performed. Those with conflicts of interest need to recuse themselves from these cases to avoid the appearance of impropriety. Grand juries need to be instructed properly and limited in the scope of their duties.
Until and unless all those things happen, what happened in Ferguson is destined to repeat itself. Maybe not now, maybe not there, but it will happen again.
And that pisses me off.