The New York Times continued to spread skepticism about the decision by a grand jury in Ferguson, Mo., not to seek criminal charges against a white police officer who shot a black teenager. The Times hypocritically upended its own liberal sensibility by suggesting that a little more prosecutorial zeal, instead of letting jurors decide for themselves what if any charges to bring, would have been a good thing -- in this particular case anyway. And a lead editorial likened the Ferguson police to "an alien, occupying force that is synonymous with state-sponsored abuse."
Wednesday's long front-page story, "Amid Conflicting Accounts, Trusting the Officer," questioned the "objectivity" of the grand jury process in Ferguson.
In the end, it seems, it all came down to Officer Darren Wilson himself.
In four hours of vivid testimony before the St. Louis County grand jury in September describing his shooting of Michael Brown, the officer said Mr. Brown, 18, had looked “like a demon” when he first approached him.
The officer described himself as utterly terrified when, he said, Mr. Brown reached into his police vehicle and fought him for his gun. Mr. Brown was so physically overpowering that the officer, who is 6-foot-4, similar to Mr. Brown, said he “felt like a 5-year-old holding on to Hulk Hogan.”
But the failure to bring any charges against a white officer who shot an unarmed black teenager in murky circumstances has set off a new storm of protests and questions about the objectivity of the grand jury process.
In an unusual step, Mr. McCulloch had said he would present all known witnesses and evidence and instead of recommending an indictment, as is usually the case, let the jurors decide for themselves what if any charges to bring.
The officer’s testimony, delivered without the cross-examination of a trial in the earliest phase of the three-month inquiry, was the only direct account of the fatal encounter. It appeared to form the spine of a narrative that unfolded before the jurors over three months, buttressed, the prosecutors said, by the most credible witnesses, forensic evidence and three autopsies.
But the gentle questioning of Officer Wilson revealed in the transcripts, and the sharp challenges prosecutors made to witnesses whose accounts seemed to contradict his narrative, have led some to question whether the process was as objective as Mr. McCulloch claims.
Prosecutors did not seem to shy from pointing out the discrepancies between multiple interviews of a single witness, or at some points exploring the criminal history of some witnesses, including Mr. Johnson, Mr. Brown’s friend.
Though the prosecutors did not press Officer Wilson and other law enforcement officials about some contradictions in their testimony, they did challenge other witnesses about why their accounts had varied.
Matt Apuzzo sympathized with liberal Attorney General Eric Holder in "As Protests Take a Turn, Holder Finds It Harder to Ease Racial Tensions This Time."
Watching television from home as vandals smashed windows, set fires and looted, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., saw that the streets of Ferguson, Mo., had changed since this summer when he helped soothe tensions there after the fatal shooting of an unarmed black teenager by a white police officer.
The protests had begun in August as racially charged but mostly peaceful demonstrations, and Mr. Holder, the nation’s first African-American attorney general, was comfortable in his role as peacemaker. He spoke of his experiences as a victim of racial profiling and called for greater understanding between minority neighborhoods and the police.
Apuzzo portrays Holder as both helpless and heroic, and defended him against the local prosecutor, whom the paper clearly dislikes. (Why, he even criticized journalists"!)
Ferguson has become a personal issue for Mr. Holder, who announced his resignation in September and is staying on until the nominee to succeed him, Loretta E. Lynch, is confirmed by the Senate. He was struck during his trip there by the stories of the police abusing suspects, disproportionately stopping black residents and using tickets in black neighborhoods as a way to raise money. But Mr. Holder now finds himself with limited options to ease the city’s racial tensions.
Despite the looting and fires, federal officials in Missouri told Mr. Holder that violence and mischief Monday night were limited and reported no widespread criticism of the local police response to lawful protesters. Mr. Holder was upset, however, at the way the St. Louis County prosecutor, Robert P. McCulloch, made his announcement, aides said.
Justice Department officials had hoped that Mr. McCulloch -- a controversial figure among many protesters -- would simply issue a statement explaining the grand jury’s decision, rather than hold a televised news conference that would put the focus squarely on him. In calls with federal officials Tuesday, Mr. Holder was bewildered, aides said, that Mr. McCulloch had announced his decision late at night, a time when clashes between demonstrators and police have been at their worst.
Several federal officials said they also were frustrated by Mr. McCulloch, who criticized journalists and recounted the evidence without ever mentioning that Mr. Brown had been unarmed.
Mr. Holder was particularly angry, Justice Department officials said, that Mr. McCulloch invoked his name when announcing the local investigation’s findings. “As promised by me and Attorney General Holder, there was a full investigation and presentation of all evidence,” Mr. McCulloch said.
Mr. Holder had worked for months to establish the Justice Department as a credible, independent investigator. He refused repeated entreaties to join local officials in Ferguson. They had hoped that if Mr. Holder simultaneously announced his findings, it would reassure the African-American community and help prevent unrest.
Benjamin Weiser also fanned the flames of suspicion with "Mixed Motives Seen in Prosecutor’s Decision to Release Grand Jury Materials." The text box stirred the pot: "Neutrality, or a move to ensure no indictment?"
A day after the St. Louis County prosecutor took the rare step of releasing thousands of pages of grand jury testimony in the Michael Brown case, his move prompted a sharp debate among legal experts, some of whom charged that what looked like the prosecutor’s transparency and neutrality cloaked his real goal -- to ensure that no indictment of the police officer occurred.
Normally, a grand jury is led forcefully and selectively by a prosecutor seeking an indictment, but in this case, the prosecutor, Robert P. McCulloch, made it clear from the beginning that his office would present everything to the grand jurors, including contradictory evidence, regarding the officer who killed Mr. Brown, Darren Wilson.\And even if the grand jury declined to return an indictment, Mr. McCulloch had said, his office would take the highly unusual step of releasing publicly everything that had been presented in the confidential grand jury proceedings.
But by taking a stand of apparent neutrality, the critics argued, Mr. McCulloch was really steering the jurors away from an indictment.
So much for judicial objectivity.
On Monday, after the grand jury voted against bringing charges, Mr. McCulloch released thousands of pages of testimony as well as exhibits and photographs that the jurors had reviewed, and scholars, prosecutors and columnists began wading through them -- with mixed reactions.
Weiser went to unlabeled liberal Jeffrey Toobin for confirmation.
But a critic, Jeffrey Toobin, in a post on the New Yorker website on Tuesday, suggested that Mr. McCulloch’s air of neutrality was a ruse. “There is little doubt that he remained largely in control of the process; aggressive advocacy by prosecutors could have persuaded the grand jurors to vote for some kind of indictment,” Mr. Toobin wrote.
And the paper's lead editorial Wednesday, "The Meaning of the Ferguson Riots," likened the Ferguson police to "an alien, occupying force that is synonymous with state-sponsored abuse."
James Taranto at Opinion Journal eviscerated the editorial:
Even if one accepts the premise, describing the local police as “an alien, occupying force” is the kind of overwrought and inflammatory language that the Times would condemn, with some justification, if it were used by Tea Party activists to describe the federal government. The editorial is oddly equivocal about the accuracy of the claim, which is only “strongly suggested” to be true. And the link goes not to one of the referenced news reports but to a September Times editorial praising the Ferguson City Council for reforming the practices described -- reforms that go unmentioned in today’s editorial.
The Times’s indulgent attitude toward the Ferguson rioters stands in marked contrast with the paper’s attitude toward actual peaceful protesters that disagree with its politics, namely the Tea Party. Who can forget the paper’s infamous editorial of Jan. 10, 2011, two days after the massacre in Tucson, Ariz., in which Jared Loughner killed six people and gravely wounded then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords:
Taranto quoted from that "infamous editorial":
It is facile and mistaken to attribute this particular madman’s act directly to Republicans or Tea Party members. But it is legitimate to hold Republicans and particularly their most virulent supporters in the media responsible for the gale of anger that has produced the vast majority of these threats, setting the nation on edge. Many on the right have exploited the arguments of division, reaping political power by demonizing immigrants, or welfare recipients, or bureaucrats. They seem to have persuaded many Americans that the government is not just misguided, but the enemy of the people.