ST. LOUIS — A grand jury has cleared Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson of criminal wrongdoing in the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown.
St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch made the announcement in an evening press conference as hundreds of protesters gathered outside. He said the grand jury worked "tirelessly" to "examine and re-examine" all the evidence in the case—including, he said, 72 hours of witness testimony. McCulloch also scolded the media for its "insatiable appetite" for details of the shooting.
After hearing all of the evidence, McCulloch said, the grand jury deliberated for two days before deciding that Wilson should not be charged with a crime.
Prosecutors presented evidence to the panel of nine whites and three blacks, mostly men, for three months. Wilson was among the witnesses who took the stand in his own defense, telling grand jurors his version of how the officer came to fatally shoot Brown on August 9.
Social media in the post-Trayvon Martin era transformed the chance encounter between Wilson and Brown from a local shooting to a national flashpoint in a matter of days. News that an unarmed black teenager was shot by a white police officer, coupled with images from a Ferguson apartment complex of Brown’s corpse laying uncovered in the afternoon sun for hours sparked anger among many—especially African Americans who pointed to the shooting as proof of the police’s unjust treatment of minorities.
The outrage grew as days passed without an arrest in the case, and officials were reluctant to reveal the identity of the officer involved. Nearly a week passed before Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson named Wilson as the shooter—but by then, Wilson had been placed on paid administrative leave, most traces of his identity had been scrubbed from the Internet, and his whereabouts were not disclosed.
Early on, Brown’s family and other supporters expressed skepticism that the case would be handled with transparency and fairness by local law enforcement agencies. They took some comfort in assurances from U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, who visited Ferguson soon after the shooting, that the Justice Department would conduct a separate federal probe into the shooting and a review of the police department.
From the beginning, race has loomed large in the case. Black and white residents in Ferguson and across the St. Louis area expressed starkly different views on the shooting and protests that followed.
Concerns over Brown’s shooting soon expanded to other issues in the community, including racial profiling and a lack of political participation that has resulted in racially imbalanced local leadership. Wilson is a six-year veteran of the Ferguson police department, which has only three black officers out of 53.
For more than 100 days, protesters have fanned out across the St. Louis area to raise awareness about these issues. Many of the protesters were peaceful, though there was some looting.
But in August, ugly clashes between protesters and law enforcement dressed in riot gear and using heavily armored vehicles, tear gas, flash grenades and smoke bombs raised questions nationally about the militarization of local police departments.
The grand jury’s verdict is the legal end of a saga that has gripped a community and focused the country on Ferguson and issues of policing and race, driven largely by national media attention and kept alive by grassroots activists.
At around noon on Saturday, Aug. 9, Brown and his friend, Dorian Johnson, were walking through the Canfield Green apartment complex when they encountered Wilson. An altercation occurred, and moments later, Brown lay dead. A coroner’s report showed Brown was shot at least six times.
Johnson and family members maintained that Brown was attempting to surrender at the time he was shot, leading many supporters to adopt the rallying cry, “Hands Up! Don’t Shoot!”
A GoFundMe campaign for Wilson sympathizers raised more than $430,000 before it was shut down. Another for Brown’s family raised more than $288,000.
Activists have been creative in their efforts to highlight their cause and have remained visible on social media, providing first-hand accounts of the near-nightly protests and other activity.