What Is The Status Of The Five Basic Demands Ferguson Protesters Are Making?
In the nearly six weeks since 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot and killed by a Ferguson police officer, demands for justice have been on the lips of thousands of protesters.
Every group has defined justice a bit differently, but there have been five common themes.
1. Officer Darren Wilson must be fired, arrested and prosecuted for the death of Michael Brown
2. St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch must recuse himself from the case.
3. The U.S. Department of Justice and state Attorney General Chris Koster must investigate any department that has engaged in racial profiling and ensure that the departments in question implement policies to stop racial profiling.
4. Missouri auditor Tom Schweich must review the finances of cities with a history of racial profiling to determine how much a city is collecting from traffic violations and how those funds are being spent.
5. Ferguson police chief Tom Jackson and Mayor James Knowles III must resign.
Here’s a look at how protestors are doing in getting their demands met.
Firing, arrest and prosecution of Darren Wilson
According to Devin James, a spokesman for the city of Ferguson, Wilson has been on leave since Aug. 9, when Brown was shot and killed. He is still receiving his $45,302 annual salary. There is no state standard for when officers may return to work after a fatal shooting, or for how long they can remain on paid leave during a use-of-force investigation.
St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch’s office continues to present evidence to the grand jury that will decide whether to indict Wilson. That term was recently extended until January, although the presentation may not take that long.
According to the Post-Dispatch, the panel is made up of one black man, two black women, six white men and three white women. The Washington Post says the assistant prosecutors handling the case are allowing the panel to decide what charges, if any, will be levied. It also reports that the grand jurors are seeing a much broader scope of the evidence than is typical for grand jury proceedings, in effect acting as co-investigators.
That smelled like a cover-up to Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank, who asserted that the grand jury process was becoming a farce.
"It is often said that a grand jury will indict a ham sandwich if a prosecutor asks it to. But the opposite is also true. A grand jury is less likely to deliver an indictment — even a much deserved one — if a prosecutor doesn’t ask for it."
McCulloch's spokesman said the office is preparing a detailed response to Milbank’s claim and that the jurors will get additional instruction on the law as the grand jury concludes.
Removal of McCulloch from the case
Protesters have had doubts about McCulloch’s objectivity from the beginning. But it’s unlikely that anyone else will prosecute the case.
Chapter 56.110 of the Missouri Revised Statutes allows a circuit court to appoint a special prosecutor in the case of a conflict of interest. But the court is not required to do so. It is also up to the prosecutor to make the court aware of the conflict – an outside party cannot do so. And McCulloch has said consistently that he believes he can do the job fairly.
McCulloch and Attorney General Chris Koster agreed that Nixon’s declaration of a state of emergency in Ferguson on Aug. 16 gave him the authority to push McCulloch aside and appoint a special prosecutor.
“I do urge all seeking my removal to express those demands to the governor and, as I have, demand that he make a decision to remove this office or not remove this office and end this distraction,” McCulloch said on Aug. 21.
Another state law – Chapter 106 – allows citizens to try to use the court system to remove an elected official they believe:
"has failed, personally, to devote his time to the performance of the duties of such office, or has been guilty of any willful, corrupt or fraudulent violations or neglect of any official duty, or has knowingly or willfully failed or refused to perform any official act or duty which by law it was his duty to do or perform with respect to the execution or enforcement of the criminal laws of this state …."
But prosecutors don’t have to take any action when they receive such an affidavit. Attorney General Chris Koster has the authority to step in, but he, like Nixon, has expressed confidence in McCulloch’s ability to be unbiased.
Department of Justice and state investigations into racial profiling
Attorney General Eric Holder announced on Sept. 4 that the Civil Rights Division would investigate the way the Ferguson police department polices its citizens, including, "stops, searches and arrests; discriminatory policing; and treatment of detainees inside Ferguson’s city jail by Ferguson police officers." It is separate from the civil rights investigation into the shooting itself.
In making the announcement, Holder said that while the review was originating with and focusing on the Ferguson police, it may not stop there.
"If, at any point, we find reason to expand our inquiry to include additional police forces in neighboring jurisdictions, we will not hesitate to do so," he said.
The St. Louis County police department voluntarily agreed to undergo a collaborative reform effort that will also look at racial profiling in stops and its use-of-force policy. St. Louis County’s police academy also trains officers throughout the region, including Ferguson.
Missouri state law requires that all police departments have a policy that prohibits officers from routinely stopping minority drivers for traffic violations in order to investigate other violations of criminal law. In addition to reporting their traffic stop data to the attorney general, departments have to watch to make sure that none of their officers engages in racial profiling. And if someone is, that officer has to be given appropriate training so it doesn’t happen again.
The 2013 traffic stop data showed that, though African Americans were just 11 percent of the state's population, they made up more than 17 percent of the traffic stops. Nearly 70 percent of the more than 600 departments that reported data had a so-called "disparity index" of more than 1, meaning that blacks were stopped at a higher percent than their population.
Nixon can withhold state funds from an agency that does not comply with the provisions of the state's anti-racial-profiling law. His office did not answer whether any department has ever lost funding for failing to have anti-bias policies in place or for failing to deal with an officer who engages in racial profiling.
Audit of city finances and municipal courts
Under Missouri state law, auditor Tom Schweich can only review the finances of a city if he’s asked by petition or ordered to by the governor. But he has the authority to audit municipal courts at any time. And it appears he’s ramping up to do so in a big way, with a new series of audits he’ll announce in October.
The reviews would focus on what’s commonly called the “Macks Creek” law, which limits the amount of revenue a city can collect through traffic tickets to 30 percent. Any revenue above that point must be returned to the state.
“We’re going to start picking five of the most suspect courts in the state each year, and check to see if they are complying with the new law,” Schweichtold the St. Louis Regional Chamber on Sept. 16. “We’re going to look at whether they’re mistreating any person of a different race or religion, and also whether they are refunding money to the state or illegally keeping money for themselves.” Ferguson is expected to be among the first five audited.
A spokesman for Schweich said because traffic fines commonly go into a city's general fund, it’s next to impossible to determine how that specific revenue is spent.
Resignation of Chief Jackson and Mayor Knowles
Ferguson mayor James Knowles III is unlikely to leave officer voluntarily.
"I will not step down from office,” he said at a forum sponsored by St. Louis Public Radio on Aug. 28. “The voters have the opportunity to relieve me when the times comes, or recall me if they so choose.”
Knowles began his second term in office in April 2014. Ferguson’s city charter prohibits recalls in the first and last six months of a political term. Though there is a special election scheduled in February 2015, opponents would have to gather the signatures of more than 1,800 registered voters in Ferguson by Nov. 25. It seems more likely that a recall effort would target the April 2015 general election.
But a successful recall does not mean that Knowles’ opponents would immediately get a candidate of their choosing in office. Under Ferguson’s charter, the mayor pro tempore, Keith Kallstrom, would serve as mayor until the next possible election.
It’s also unlikely that Chief Tom Jackson’s job is in danger. As Jason Rosenbaum noted, city manager John Shaw has control over the hiring and firing of all city employees, though council members can encourage him to make changes. Shaw has never commented publicly on the shooting of Mike Brown or the events that followed.
Follow Rachel Lippmann on Twitter: @rlippmann