On Monday evening, Nov. 24, the week of Thanksgiving, the St. Louis County prosecuting attorney released the findings of the grand jury in the case of Officer Darren Wilson’s shooting and killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. As expected, the grand jury chose not to indict Wilson, and, predictably, there were massive demonstrations against police brutality across the country on Tuesday, Nov. 25.
In Minneapolis there were a couple of hundred demonstrators in front of the Third Precinct station at Lake and Minnehaha. The crowd was large enough that some of the demonstrators spilled over onto the street. Traffic moving east on Lake Street was driving around the demonstrators using the left lane. There was a white van stopped in the right lane. There were four lanes for eastbound traffic: a right turn lane, a right lane, a left lane, and a left turn lane.
Jeffrey Patrick Rice, 40, driving a blue Subaru station wagon, pulled up behind the white van. Instead of detouring around the van to the left, Rice drove into the right turn lane and directly into a crowd of demonstrators. He bumped them, hit them with his car and knocked them down. He drove over the legs of a 16-year-old demonstrator. He stopped. Demonstrators beat on his car to stop him from driving his rear wheels over the demonstrator. Rice drove forward again, hitting more demonstrators. Breaking free of the crowd, still in the far right lane, he almost collided with another car in the intersection. He changed lanes in the intersection and continued driving down Lake Street to St. Paul. He called 911 to report damage to his car from the demonstrators. The police came. In their initial report the police called Rice the victim in the incident.
KSTP had been filming the demonstration, and almost immediately a film of the incident got onto YouTube and went viral https://www.youtube.-com/watch?v=pn79ClrnY_0. It is ironic that KSTP started the Pointergate scandal by accusing Mayor Hodges of using gang symbols when she was encouraging young blacks in North Minneapolis to vote in the last election. At the time, many people thought KSTP was unfair and contributed to racist stereotypes. But, now, KSTP presents critical evidence of injuries to people protesting racial injustice. Soon after it had become obvious that everyone knew exactly what had happened, the police changed their report to list Rice as a suspect.
The police have presented their evidence to Mike Freeman, the Hennepin County attorney. Freeman will assemble the evidence and determine whether laws have been broken. He will then have the option of either dismissing the matter or presenting a bill of indictment against Rice to a district court, or he could present the facts in the matter to a grand jury to see if they return a bill of indictment.
Of course, the function of a grand jury is to give credence to a decision that’s already been made by a prosecuting attorney. A good lawyer never asks a question for which he doesn’t already know the answer, and a district attorney won’t bring a case before a grand jury if he doesn’t already have a clear idea what the verdict will be.
The prosecuting attorney in the Ferguson case had merely to establish that Darren Wilson felt his life was in danger. If Officer Wilson could convince a grand jury that he believed his life was being threatened by Michael Brown, then a grand jury would be bound to support an officer’s right to defend himself. Wilson made a fundamental procedural mistake in not waiting for backup and pursuing on foot a dangerous suspect, but if a grand jury can believe that Wilson acted on a belief his life was in danger, then the grand jury will not indict him.
This is an important similarity to the Rice case. Mike Freeman and/or a grand jury will have to determine what Jeffrey Rice was thinking on Tuesday afternoon, Nov. 25. Rice will claim he didn’t know what was happening. In an interview in the StarTribune, Rice’s mother has already said he was coming home from work and “didn’t even know what was going on.” And when he stopped and the demonstrators pounded on his car, he continued driving to protect himself. Like Wilson, he could claim self-defense.
One of the first questions a prosecuting attorney must ask Rice is where does he work? What time did he leave work? Was it logical for him to be on Lake and Minnehaha at that time? Or, was his accident with the demonstrators planned and premeditated?
Did Rice believe that since Wilson got a free pass to kill young black men, then, like George Zimmerman killing Trayvon Martin and Darren Wilson killing Michael Brown or the Minneapolis Tactical Squad killing Terrance Franklin, all you had to do was claim you feared for your life and you were free to murder the monster that frightened you?
People who live in the shadow of a mountain do not understand the darkness. When the sun has risen for the rest of the world, they are still in night. But if they look back and watch the sun come over the mountain, they can see the shadow of the mountain grow smaller. They have that moment to understand their darkness and their mountain.
Racism is a mountain of ignorance in the white community. Hatred and fear of black people causes white people to fumble around in darkness, make serious mistakes in judgment and strike out at anything unknown or different. We all have a responsibility to move that mountain.
Message to demonstrators: You went to the demonstration to change the world. Well, changing the world doesn’t happen in one day. It’s a long process. It’s a lifetime commitment. We need you to stay in the struggle for the long haul. If you want to work for justice in Ferguson, then you have to be willing to work for justice in Minneapolis, and that means contacting the County Attorney’s Office and providing evidence and testimony aiding in the prosecution of Jeffrey Rice. If you were at the demonstration, if you saw what happened, or if you were struck by Jeffrey Rice’s car then please call the Office of the County Attorney and testify to the truth of what happened: 612-348-5561.