On Thursday, United States St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Wesley Bell stated in a news conference that no charges will be brought against Darren Wilson, a white former police officer, over the shooting and death in 2014 of Michael Brown, a Black teenager.
According to a 2015 report by the Justice Department, Brown was 18 when confronted by Wilson on a quiet residential street. Wilson testified later that he was responding to a complaint against theft when he approached Brown.
A struggle ensued near Wilson’s vehicle that led to a chase down the street, culminating in Wilson shooting Brown at least six times and killing him. Wilson later claimed it was in self defense. However, multiple witnesses reported that Brown had his hands up when he was fatally shot.
Brown’s body was left in the street for hours by the authorities after he died.
“Hands up don’t shoot”
Brown’s killing led to months of protests in Ferguson, a suburb of St. Louis, and launched the Black Lives Matter movement amid the nationwide attention the killing brought to systemic racism in law enforcement.
“Hands up, don’t shoot” became the rallying cry of the movement.
The decision to not press charges against Wilson comes as the nation is once again drawn to the issues of the Black Lives Matter Movement, this time ignited by the June 25 killing of George Floyd, a Black man, by Derek Chauvin, a white former police officer.
Bell’s predecessor, Robert McCulloch, also pressed no charges against Wilson, passing the case to a grand jury, which in turn did not indict Wilson.
The Justice Department’s 2015 report lambasted the St. Louis police department’s “pattern of unconstitutional policing” and its actions that “reflect and exacerbate existing racial bias” but found no charges against Wilson.
When Bell replaced McCulloch in 2019, Brown’s family and civil rights advocates pressed for the case to be reopened again. Bell reopened the case earlier this year.
Following a five-month independent investigation, Bell determined on Thursday that no charges can be pressed against Wilson, citing lack of evidence in witness statements, forensic reports and other documents.
In the news conference, Bell said, “Although this case represents one of the most significant moments in St. Louis’ history, the question for this office was a simple one. Could we prove beyond a reasonable doubt that when Darren Wilson shot Michael Brown, he committed murder or manslaughter under Missouri law?
“After an independent and in-depth review of the evidence, we cannot prove that he did.
“This is one of the most difficult things I’ve had to do as an elected official,” Bell added. “Michael Brown’s death exposed to the nation a deep-seated and long-standing pain felt by the greater St. Louis community and the entire country.”
Bell noted, however, that the investigation “does not exonerate Darren Wilson”, meaning the decision does not indicate Darren committed no wrongdoing.
“There are so many points in which Darren Wilson could have handled the situation differently, and if he had, Michael Brown might still be alive.”
The decision attracted criticism from activists.
Brittany Packnett Cunningham, Ferguson activist and member of former President Barack Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing tweeted, “I’d have to believe the criminal system was ever built to protect Black people in order to be disappointed.”
“I finally just sat down from running around, and it hit me that I’ve got no more shock left. #MikeBrown’s family deserves so much more.”
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