The violence may be a memory, but there is now a welcome reminder of the consequences. Last Thursday, December 8, a St. Louis County, Mo. jury found a young black male, Jeffrey Williams, guilty on six criminal counts related to the malicious gun wounding of two unnamed police officers in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson in March 2015. The incident occurred during a street rally organized by the radical social media network, Black Lives Matter, to protest the shooting death of an “unarmed” black male, Michael Brown, by a white Ferguson cop the previous August. A grand jury months later had decided the evidence was insufficient to indict the officer, an announcement that triggered destructive rioting. Reprehensible as the rioting and shootings were, the Obama administration tacitly encouraged this behavior.
If any one event underscores the futility of achieving a ‘post-racial’ society in contemporary America, the death of Michael Brown qualifies as a prime candidate. National Legal and Policy Center has been on top of this incident from the start. It was around noon, August 9, 2014, in Ferguson, Missouri, a community of about 20,000 people in north suburban St. Louis. A white Ferguson police officer, Darren Wilson, was driving his patrol car when he noticed two young black males jaywalking in the middle of the street. He got out of his car and asked them to move to the sidewalk. Wilson’s words and tone did not suggest he would have behaved any differently had the pair been white. And jaywalking, though a minor offense, is still illegal. Discouraging it is a matter of public safety. One of youths, Michael Brown, 18, somehow took grievous offense. Rather than comply with the directive, he suddenly approached Officer Wilson, who had gotten back inside his vehicle, reached through the driver’s side open window, and sucker-punched him. Brown, who stood at 6’4” and nearly 300 lbs., was just getting started. In the next moment, he attempted to steal Wilson’s service revolver, with the obvious intention of shooting him. Fortunately, Wilson was able to hang onto his gun and fired off a shot that superficially wounded Brown in the hand. Brown then quickly exited the scene. Wilson got out of his car again. At that point, Brown, instead of continuing to move away, suddenly wheeled around and violently charged at Wilson. Once again, Officer Wilson faced death. And he acted as any cop, white or black, would have acted. He fired off several rounds that hit Brown, but without slowing him down. Then he got off a kill shot. Michael Brown soon lay dead in the street. Though it was not known at the time, but just prior to this incident Brown had ripped off merchandise at a nearby convenience store and assaulted the clerk who tried to get him to pay, an encounter caught on video camera. Police were hesitant to remove Brown’s body, as a growing and potentially violent crowd had gathered.
The rumor mill, however, went viral on the Web: A racist white cop murdered a helpless unarmed young black male. According to initial eyewitness accounts, including that of Michael Brown’s companion, Dorian Johnson, Officer Wilson shot Brown from behind, not from the front. Moreover, he did so while Brown was raising his hands in surrender and pleading, “Hands up, don’t shoot.” To “anti-racist” activists, those words served as a metaphor for police oppression everywhere in America. Demonstrators, many of them from outside the St. Louis area, descended upon Ferguson and set up camp in the streets for two weeks or more. Some of the protestors got out of hand, burning down a pair of convenience stores, including the one Brown had robbed only minutes before his fatal encounter. Reverend Al Sharpton, right on cue, arrived for an extended visit. He spoke to large gathering at a St. Louis church to memorialize Michael Brown and to demand the arrest and identification of the police officer who shot him. The Ferguson police department fecklessly obliged him on the identification part, thus putting the life of Officer Wilson, soon to be former Officer Wilson, in real danger. Attorney General Eric Holder, Sharpton’s friend and ally, arrived in Ferguson to speak at Florissant Valley Community College. “I am the attorney general of the United States,” remarked Holder. “But I am also a black man.” Meanwhile, news outlets around nation pounded away at the injustice of it all. The image of a trigger-happy white cop gunning down an “unarmed” young black male, a sweet gentle giant, in broad daylight might not have been in synch with the facts, but it made for dramatic moral theater.
Ferguson, and all of white America, were now on trial. The U.S. Department of Justice instantly launched a full-scale investigation of Officer Wilson’s possible civil rights violations of Michael Brown, assigning about 40 FBI agents to the case. Feeling the heat, St. Louis County prosecutors convened a grand jury to decide whether to indict Officer Wilson. For three months, members of the grand jury meticulously pored over a prodigious range of documents and photographs, and heard testimony from dozens of witnesses. In November 2014, they made the announcement: Officer Darren Wilson will not be indicted for any crime. Contrary to the prevailing wisdom, this was a wholly sensible conclusion. Eyewitness allegations that Wilson had murdered Brown proved to be sketchy, contradictory or imaginary. In particular, there was no basis for the allegation that Brown, with his back turned, had uttered “Hands up, don’t shoot.” Even a first-year law student could see that any prosecution would have collapsed. An indictment would not have approached, much less met, the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard in a criminal case.
Area activists, enraged that they were not going to get the prosecution they had counted on, responded with rioting even worse than they had inflicted back in August. Black mobs vandalized and burned a Ferguson commercial strip, including an entire row of motor vehicles at a retail car lot. The Justice Department continued its civil rights probe. After interviewing hundreds of people, the department realized that it had no case. On March 4, the department announced that it would not file criminal charges. Its report admitted: “Some of these (eyewitness) accounts are inaccurate because they are inconsistent with the physical and forensic evidence; some of those accounts are materially inconsistent with that witness’s own prior statements with no explanation. Although some witnesses state that Brown held his hands up shoulder level with his palms facing outward for a brief moment, these same witnesses describe him then dropping his hands and ‘charging’ at Wilson.” Thus, even the Obama administration had recognized the obvious.
But there was a parallel story going on. For months, the Justice Department had been conducting a separate probe in hopes of launching a civil complaint against the City of Ferguson. And it had a powerful weapon in that legal contrivance known as “disparate impact.” In other words, even if the practices of the Ferguson police department were race-neutral, the department could be sued anyway if its stops, citations and arrests produced significant differences by race. The fix was in. “Smoking guns” awaited discovery. The Eric Holder-led Justice Department initiated a top-to-bottom study of recent Ferguson police and court records. And on March 4, 2015, conveniently the same date as its announcement that it would not indict Officer Wilson, the DOJ released its Ferguson police report. The study stated: “Data collected by the Ferguson Police Department (FPD) from 2012 to 2014 shows that African-Americans account for 85 percent of vehicle stops, 90 percent of citations, and 93 percent of arrests made by FPD officers, despite comprising only 67 percent of Ferguson’s population.” It also noted: “African-Americans are at least 50 percent more likely to have their cases lead to an arrest warrant, and accounted for 92 percent of cases in which an arrest warrant was issued by the Ferguson Municipal Court in 2013.” As “direct evidence of racial bias,” the study uncovered seven emails sent by Ferguson cops during 2008-11 that it deemed racially offensive.
Attorney General Eric Holder was convinced he had the evidence to extract concessions from the City of Ferguson. Justice Department Civil Rights Division Acting Director Vanita Gupta vowed to send a team of investigators to Ferguson to talk to residents (read: black residents) about whether to reform the police department or disband it outright. A civil settlement was inevitable. And the inevitable would happen a year later. This past March 17, the Justice Department announced it had reached a consent decree with the City of Ferguson. Under the agreement, Ferguson would implement reforms to promote effective policing, promote public safety, ensure equal treatment by race, and foster community cooperation. Especially egregious were requirements for “implicit bias-awareness training of all court staff and FPD personnel,” assurances to prevent non-discrimination regarding “stop, search, citation and arrest practices,” and “re-training all officers” for all potential situations that require the use of force. By hamstringing cops, the settlement handed a blank check to the local criminal element and a mandate to police whose lives were in immediate jeopardy to stand down. Attorney General Loretta Lynch lauded the agreement this way: “The American people must be able to trust that their courts and law enforcement will uphold, protect, and defend their constitutional rights. The filing of this agreement marks the beginning of a process that the citizens of Ferguson have long awaited – the process of ensuring that they receive the rights and protections guaranteed to every American under the law.”
This settlement, quite simply, was a shakedown. It was based entirely on a report reflecting the authors’ determination to punish the familiar straw man of “white racism.” Civil rights activists and reporters gloated over the findings as “damning,” “devastating” and “scathing,” but in fact they were nothing of the sort. Conceived in a pique of vindictiveness following the St. Louis County grand jury decision not to indict Officer Wilson, the study was for all intents and purposes worthless. For all its shock and dismay that blacks comprised disproportionately high percentages of arrests, traffic stops and citations, it is noteworthy that blacks constituted two-thirds of Ferguson’s population. And pushing the percentages beyond the two-thirds mark was the simple reality that blacks as a whole exhibit far higher crime rates than whites. It is hard to believe, given recent events, that Ferguson was an exception to the rule. Even in their driving behavior, blacks violate traffic laws more than whites do, according to studies in New Jersey and North Carolina.
Thus, before the public were two simultaneously-released Justice Department reports, respectively, a decision not to prosecute an innocent white Ferguson cop and a self-fulfilling prophecy masquerading as concern for individual rights. Taken together, they would serve as catalysts for a new round of push-button collective rage. A week after their release, on the evening of March 11, 2015, Black Lives Matter-inspired demonstrators gathered in the streets of Ferguson to protest police “racism,” celebrate the resignation of Police Chief Thomas Jackson and demand the resignation of Mayor James Knowles III (who, to his enormous credit, refused to step down). This would be no ordinary protest. Shortly after midnight, just as things were winding down, shots rang out. The crowd panicked and fled. A partisan journalist on the scene, Bradley Rayford, recalled: “We heard, like a firework – we thought it was a firework – it was loud. You couldn’t even see where it was coming from, but you saw the muzzle flash from up the hill. The bullets went right past my head.” Unfortunately, two of the bullets hit a pair of cops providing security. One worked for St. Louis County; the other for the south county municipality of Webster Groves. The former officer was shot just below the eye, with the bullet lodging in his ear. The latter officer was shot in the shoulder with an exit wound through the back. Both were rushed to a local hospital, where they were treated for non-life-threatening wounds and were released in short order.
There remained the issue of who did the shooting. County police embarked on an intensive manhunt. From recovered shell casings, they concluded that the shooter used a .40-caliber handgun and that the bullets traveled more than 100 yards. On Saturday night, acting on a tip, police got what appeared to be the culprit, a 20-year-old local black male named Jeffrey Williams, who at the time was on probation for possession of stolen property. According to St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Bob McCullough, Williams was a frequent participant at Ferguson anti-police rallies. The cops proceeded to charge him with two counts of first-degree assault, one count of firing a weapon from a vehicle, and three counts of armed criminal activity. Bond was set at $300,000. In a recording of at least one phone call from jail obtained by the Associated Press, Williams could be heard saying that he fired at one or more persons with whom he was having a personal dispute, not the officers. “Nobody aiming at no police,” he admitted. “I ran up the hill and he (an unidentified person) shot at the car…I shot back.” Jeffrey Williams was less than stellar in other ways. A high school dropout who lived with his grandmother, he did not hold a steady job. He also had two children with a third on the way; apparently he was a real ladies’ man. Williams would be indicted by a grand jury in May and arraigned in June. He pleaded not guilty.
Civil rights activists recognized they had a public relations nightmare on their hands. They quickly moved into damage control mode. From their standpoint, it was crucial to cast Williams as “not one of us.” A black St. Louis-area community organizer, Bishop Derrick Robinson, said he had spoken to Williams on March 15, the day after his arrest. He denied, contra County Attorney McCullough, that Williams was a frequent protestor. “I asked him why would he say that he was a protestor because it makes us look bad – because so many things that we’ve done to rebuild our community,” Robinson said. “It sets us back like five steps to say that it was a protestor who did it, but he admitted to me that he’d never protested.” Antonio French, a black alderman for the City of St. Louis (who in fact had been arrested at a rally in Ferguson in August 2014 for disobeying a police directive), likewise was eager to explain away the shooter(s) as lone wolves unconnected to the gentle, healing spirit of the rally. “In no way are they representative of the thousands of people…who have been protesting.”
At the national level, civil rights activists offered similar rationalizations. Al Sharpton, as a guest on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” show, opined: “Let’s be real clear. We’re not saying the protestors had anything to do with the shooting or not. We don’t know. But absolutely, unequivocably, no one I know involved in the protests or the Brown family would condone shooting at police.” Earl Ofari Hutchinson, a black author and weekly co-host of “The Al Sharpton Show” on the American Urban Radio Network, gave a similar song and dance: “There is always the real fear among protestors that all it takes is the crazed act of one unhinged individual to derail the growing recognition on the part of a wide body of the public and public officials that police violence is a major legal and public policy issue that cannot be ignored.”
More reprehensible still were the responses from the Obama administration. Appearing on a taped March 12 segment ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” President Barack Obama declared that while there was “no excuse” for the shootings of the two police officers, the City of Ferguson’s law enforcement practices were “oppressive and objectionable.” The same day, Attorney General Eric Holder, in the process of making way for his successor, Loretta Lynch, also offered a disingenuous rebuke to the shooter. “What happened last night was a pure ambush,” Holder said. “This wasn’t someone trying to bring healing to Ferguson. This was a damn punk who was trying to sow discord.” The administration position was clear: The shooter was merely a renegade outlier, not a true seeker of moral justice like the rest of the crowd. Holder evidently cared far more about the potential for punishing Ferguson police slipping away than about the condition of the two wounded cops.
Jeffrey Williams decided to take his chances at a jury trial. Williams’ attorney, Jerryl Christmas, asserted that his client was not the shooter. “I think it’s impossible for him to be driving up a hill as alleged, and shooting back at the same time,” Christmas stated following the arraignment, adding that Williams is left-handed and that the window of the driver’s side of his car didn’t roll down. “He’s no marksman or anything.” That said, he didn’t have much of a case. Williams, sitting in a car passing through the protest area at the time bullets struck the two cops, claimed he wasn’t the person who fired the shots. That begs the question: Who was? According to Williams, it was someone else traveling with him. One logically would ask in response: Why wasn’t that person arrested? Was it that Williams did not know his name? And how did Williams’ claim square away with his earlier recorded admission that he had fired the shots, but was aiming at someone else? The holes in his defense were wide enough to accommodate a Mack truck. After just two hours of deliberation, the jury came back with a guilty verdict on all counts. Sentencing is set for January. Jeffrey Williams still insists he’s innocent. His attorney explains: “He continues to maintain that the actual shooter was the back seat passenger in the car.” Getting anyone to believe him will be a tough act.
Jeffrey Williams is a crude low-class punk who got the conviction that he deserved. Yet there is a larger reality here: Public officials, racial shakedown artists and a sympathetic press enabled his deed. By casting the late Michael Brown as an “unarmed” martyr for social justice, when in fact he was precisely not that, the Obama administration and its allies effectively gave a green light for Black Lives Matter foot soldiers to block traffic, vandalize, riot and assault. Whether or not Williams considers himself an actual member of Black Lives Matter is irrelevant. An enthusiast of this social media network, he thought he could make a name for himself by knocking off a couple of cops. Regrettably, such sociopaths always will be among us. What does not have to be among us are public officials who make use of their office to morally justify their acts. Hopefully, as the Obama era ends, the reign of terror posing as “civil rights” will end with it.