“They have treated the wound of my people carelessly, saying, “Peace, peace,” when there is no peace. They acted shamefully, they committed abomination; yet they were not ashamed, they did not know how to blush.” Jeremiah 6:14-15 (New Revised Standard Version)
The Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference, a network of progressive faith leaders and congregations serving African-American communities in the United States, joins the family, friends, and neighbors of Michael Brown, Jr. and other people of conscience and moral insight in Ferguson and St. Louis County, Missouri in condemning the decision by a grand jury, led by St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch, to not bring criminal charges against Darren Wilson for killing Michael Brown, Jr., an unarmed black teenager, on August 9, 2014. The decision to not prosecute Darren Wilson for killing Michael Brown, Jr. is yet another example of the way the people who control the machinery of justice condone extra-judicial executions of persons of color. As people of faith, we are outraged that Darren Wilson will not face criminal charges and trial before an impartial tribunal after shooting an unarmed teenager to death.
Throughout human history, every society has recognized the evil of allowing people who intentionally kill their neighbors to escape the risk of sanctions. As was the case concerning the Biblical account of the death of Abel at the hands of his brother Cain, the blood of Michael Brown, Jr. “is crying out” to God for justice. But from the moment Darren Wilson shot Michael Brown, Jr. to death on August 9, 2014, the world witnessed a calculated and coordinated strategy by law enforcement and civic leaders in Ferguson and St. Louis County, Missouri to shield Wilson, the undisputed killer.
Due solely to conduct of law enforcement leaders and the St. Louis County Prosecutor, Darren Wilson’s identity as Michael Brown’s killer was concealed for almost a week after the homicide occurred. Law enforcement leaders were complicit in allowing Wilson’s incident report concerning the shooting incident to not be timely submitted and made public information. Law enforcement and prosecutorial leaders concealed the number of times Wilson fired and the number of bullets that struck Brown. And in what was an obvious attempt to deflect attention from Wilson, law enforcement officials released information aimed at portraying Brown, the homicide victim, as a thug when they clumsily identified Wilson as the killer.
We will not mince words. The St. Louis County Missouri Prosecuting Attorney has at all times had a conflict of interest that undermines any reason for trusting his impartiality or diligence concerning investigating the death of Michael Brown, Jr. at the hands of Darren Wilson. Wilson is a member of the Ferguson, Missouri Police Department. The St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney routinely works with investigators and other personnel of the Ferguson, Missouri Police Department in prosecuting criminal cases. That history alone should have prompted Robert McCulloch, the Prosecuting Attorney, to recuse and should have led Governor Jay Nixon of Missouri to appoint a special prosecutor.
Furthermore, we denounce Mr. McCulloch’s decision to refer the issue of whether to lodge a criminal charge against Darren Wilson for killing Michael Brown, Jr. to a grand jury. McCulloch has always been empowered to charge Wilson for committing a homicide. Had he exercised the power of his office, Robert McCulloch could have begun a criminal justice process that was open to public information and review. Wilson would have been arrested based on the charge McCulloch filed. Wilson would have been entitled to post bail following his arrest. Wilson would have been entitled to a public preliminary hearing before a judge who would have determined whether probable cause existed that a crime occurred when Michael Brown, Jr. was shot to death and, if so, whether Darren Wilson committed the crime. McCulloch’s decision to convene a grand jury was, for all practical purposes, a signal to the world that he was unwilling to charge Wilson with killing Brown.
Grand jury proceedings are normally secret. Though McCulloch’s office has released some of the information the world will never know precisely what information McCulloch’s office presented to, or withheld from, the grand jury. Michael Brown’s family, friends, and neighbors are now confronted by the bitter truth that the prosecutorial system of St. Louis County, Missouri has insulted them and compounded their grief by deliberate actions to prevent the man who killed their loved one from being charged with a crime. Their loved one was summarily executed without being arrested, charged, tried, or convicted. Meanwhile, his killer has been granted what amounts to a paid vacation and perhaps permanent immunity from facing criminal charges surrounding the homicide.
We also condemn a decision by the United States Department of Justice to not file criminal charges against Darren Wilson for violating the civil rights of Michael Brown, Jr. when he shot him to death on August 9. Like the state prosecutor, Mr. McCulloch, the Justice Department has complete discretion about whether to file a civil rights charge against Darren Wilson. Justice for Michael Brown, Jr. requires much more than symbolic rhetoric and sympathetic demonstrations from the Justice Department. A decision by the Justice Department to not file civil rights charges against Darren Wilson, like that by the St. Louis County Prosecutor to not file criminal charges, is as despicable as was the conduct of Pontius Pilate, the Roman official who tried to absolve himself from responsibility for the execution of Jesus by washing his hands.
Finally, we stand on Luke 19:40 and proclaim, “If they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.” We will not call for patience and calm in the face of the outrageous and unjust events surrounding the death of Michael Brown, Jr. Michael Brown, Jr. should have been arrested if he was suspected of having committed a crime, not summarily executed. He should have been afforded the due process of receiving notice of the charge for which he was accused, opportunity to consult legal counsel, the presumption of innocence until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, trial before an impartial tribunal, the opportunity to confront the evidence against him, and the opportunity to appeal if he had been convicted of committing a crime.
We refuse to be patient with this system that treats black and brown people killed by the police as villains and their killers as victims. We reject calls to be calm while police use excessive force against people of color, and especially black and brown men and boys. This unjust situation demands moral outrage, not complacency and lethargy. We refuse to treat this as a minor wound. We refuse calls for peace because there is no peace.
We reject the notion that people of color have no right to live free from police state terrorism when they stand, walk, or drive in their neighborhoods. It is shameful for the leaders of law enforcement, prosecutors, other elected officials, and for faith leaders to urge people who are constantly and deliberately wounded by callous and homicidal law enforcement behavior to accept their wounds with calm and patience.
Instead, we join the angry voices in Ferguson, Missouri and elsewhere who demand justice for Michael Brown, Jr., and every other victim of the kind of extra-judicial execution that happens whenever people in law enforcement kill unarmed civilians. That behavior is abominable, indefensible, inexcusable, and unforgettable. It causes irreparable moral, psychic, social, and physical pain that must not be concealed or muffled, but that must be exposed, given voice, and transformed into demands for justice.
Therefore, we urge faithful leaders and congregations to join the Michael Brown family and community in expressing outrage with the decision that effectively condones Darren Wilson’s conduct. We join the Brown family in their continued search for a process that will result in justice instead of a cover-up.
Instead, of our trust, the people responsible for condoning the killing of Michael Brown, Jr. and shielding his killer from prosecution deserve and will receive our outright condemnation and abiding disfavor. Michael Brown, Jr. is dead and they have chosen to treat his death lightly. That is damnable.
In the name of justice we urge all people who denounce this cruel result to join the community in an economic boycott on Black Friday in St. Louis County, Missouri and in this nation. This is but a new beginning. We must and will continue the legacy of righteous struggle against those forces which uphold the economies and political systems that allow police to slaughter unarmed people like Michael Brown, Jr. and others with impunity.