Neville Mitchell, Esq. – A New DA. for a NEW DAY
Michael Brown: Black American Tragedy
By Neville O. Mitchell, Esq.
The Grand Jury’s failure to indict Darren Wilson killing Michael Brown in Ferguson
Missouri is another American tragedy. With this in mind I examine the miscarriage of justice.
Frankly, the outcome was predictable. We have seen this in innumerable cases. From Amadou
Diallo to Ramarley Graham to Tamir Rice, the twelve year old child killed recently by police in
Cleveland Ohio, America- white and some black- refuses to see the young black male. The
guardians of American purity- dominant culture- never saw Michael Brown. They painted him as
a thug and strong arm robber. In life and death he was an apparition.
What did Wilson see on Canfield Drive when he encountered Brown? His grand jury
testimony depicts Brown as that apparition, America’s projections of what it sees as young, black,
and male. The apparition is a vacuous body, a walking corpse on which white society writes their
story- a narrative of obfuscation, justification and ultimately destruction. The goal is affirming
white supremacy. The body, indeed the essence of the Black man is everything this country abhors.
He is the footstool on which they stand and affirm their personhood. In 1915 D.W. Griffith
conjured up the same images to great effect and acclaim in his celebrated scandalous racist movie
“The Birth of a Nation”. Like Griffith Wilson paints Brown with his worst fears, whether taught
from childhood or drilled into him as a police officer. His testimony was:
“…he was just staring at me, almost like to intimidate me or overpower
“… And when I grabbed him, the only way I can describe it is I felt like a
five year old holding onto Hulk Hogan”.
““…he looked up at me and had the most intense aggressive face. The only
way I can describe it, it looks like a demon, that’s how angry he looked…”.
“…I see him start to run and I see a cloud of dust behind him”
“…He turns, and when he looked at me, he made a grunting, like
aggravated sound and he starts, he turns and he’s coming back towards
“… His first step is coming towards me, he kind of does like a stutter step
to start running. When he does that, his left hand goes into a fist and goes
to his side, his right one goes under his shirt in his waistband and he starts
running at me”.
“…It looked like he was almost bulking up to run through the shots, like
it was making him mad that I’m shooting at him. And the face that he had
was looking straight through me, like I wasn’t even there, I wasn’t even in
“…At this point I’m backpedaling pretty good because I know if he
reaches me, he’ll kill me”.
The only detail missing from this fanciful tortured account was that as Brown lay dying he whistled
at a passing white woman.
Brown is not human being. Rather, he is an apparition on which Wilson projects a powerful,
snarling, stomping, grunting beast; a raging black man beast. You need only close your eyes and
recite his testimony or tell it to a child. In either case the conclusion would be the same: An animal.
Brown is Wilson’s, indeed America’s, depiction of the Black male. This is not new. His
descriptions are stereotypical attributes ascribed to the Black male since he arrived on the shores
of America. It is easy to lash, brand, beat, shackle and shoot an animal, or demon. Thereafter you
can rationalize, obfuscate and lie about what happened.
The President Obama calls for building trust between the Black Community and law
enforcement. This totally misses the mark. Nor is this an issue of training. The truth is we live in
a racist culture. America must acknowledge and respect the humanity of the Black male. It requires
seeing the black man as possessed of the same attributes, frailties, dreams and aspirations, and
fears as white folks, not an apparition they imbue with characteristics originating from irrational
fears, media caricatures or notions inculcated from birth. Short of humanity and respect the very
existence of the young black man on any street, in any city, in any state of these United States is
tenuous and always endangered. The president must frame the question correctly. I don’t want
develop trust with the person who has his boot on my neck. I want it removed.
The prosecutors’ feckless examination of Wilson violated their ethical obligation to affirm
Brown’s humanity, and seek justice. Indeed they were Wilson’s defense attorneys.. They led
Wilson through his testimony, and even suggested answers. Normally in a Grand Jury presentation
the target of the Grand Jury is allowed to testify in the narrative. The prosecutor says ‘tell me what
happened”. After the witness concludes his story, he is subjected to a vigorous cross examination
of both his veracity and credibility. Wilson’s testimony was sometimes inconsistent with things he
said minutes earlier. Yet these guardians of justice were oblivious. Wilson was never really the
target of this grand jury. The prosecutors’ failure to challenge Wilson’s account manifests their
acceptance and participation in the demonizing of Brown. Squarely in their crosshairs was
discrediting any rendition of facts contrary to Wilson’s account.
In fact the prosecutor brought out – I dare say testified- that Wilson had not previously fired
his gun; that the Canfield Green community was hostile to police; that anytime any law
enforcement officer had asked to speak to him after the incident he willingly and voluntarily came
in to be interviewed and answered all questions; and that if he had omitted details in previous
interviews, it is not because he is imagining them now but because he is putting so much thought
into it now. The prosecutor even elicited the penultimate statement that Wilson thought his life
was in jeopardy. It was disgraceful.
At his press conference announcing the grand jury’s decision Saint Louis County
prosecutor Robert McCulloch released a treasure trove of information. McCullough explained
what the grand jurors thought of the evidence. Grand jury proceedings are secret. After the
presentation of the evidence only the grand jurors deliberate. No one else is allowed in the room
during deliberations, not even the prosecutor. It did not issue a report.
Consequently McCullough’s comments were his thoughts, his conclusions about the
witnesses. I know of no case where a prosecutor explained the inner workings of the deliberative
process of the grand jury, and what they thought of the witnesses’ credibility. Yet McCullough
was not questioned about the basis, or precedent for his actions or his comments about what the
grand jury found.
Regrettably his conclusions about the grand jury were probably right. They suffer from the
same American disease regarding the young black male. They – black or white- see black males
as the apparition – the vessel in which you throw all that society reviles.
This case, Wilson’s testimony, McCulloch’s intransigence and malfeasance lay bare that
America’s well is still filled with the water of dehumanization, stereotypes, fear, and caricatures
of the black male. Those who drink from it have reservations in the trash bin of history. However,
I am truly heartened by the public’s rejection of the grand jury’s finding. They see the poisoned
well, and reject the cup of water. The demonstrations and agitating continue the journey to truth
and justice. They are not deterred by the twists and turns. They are not seeking to build trust
between black males and police. The goals are the recognition of humanity and respect.
The author has been a criminal defense attorney in New York for the past 20 years.