Organizers behind the months of emotionally raw protests in Ferguson are bracing for the possibility that the police officer who shot and killed Michael Brown in August may not be indicted or charged with civil rights violations in fatally shooting the unarmed teen.
Leaders of the movement expressed shock and disappointment Saturday in response to reports that Officer Darren Wilson told investigators that he feared for his life during a scuffle with Brown and that the teen reached into the vehicle attempting to take the officer’s gun.
The testimony, first reported by The New York Times, is the first public account of what Wilson told investigators of the Aug. 9 shooting, and varies little from the narrative provided by police shortly after Brown was killed. The only new information, coming from FBI forensics tests, shows Brown’s blood on the barrel of the officer’s gun after Wilson shot at the teen twice, hitting him in the arm the first time and missing the second.
That government officials familiar with the civil rights investigation into the shooting are leaking information to the media on Wilson’s side of the story, however, suggests the Justice Department will not be pressing civil rights charges against the police officer. It also calls into question whether the St. Louis County grand jury, tasked with determining whether Wilson committee a crime, will indict him.
“Many of us are shocked. This feel likes a coordinated media campaign to prepare us for a no indictment decision,” Deray McKesson, an organizer for the protests in the wake of Brown’s death, told msnbc Saturday. “The timing of this article suggests there will not be even a civil rights filing, which is dangerous.”
Brown’s killing sparked months of demonstrations and clashes with law enforcement officials, unearthing deep-rooted racial tensions in the St. Louis suburb where raw emotions at times turned to violent protests and an aggressive police response.
Organizers say they are forming a contingency plan should the grand jury panelists choose to not indict Wilson, an event likely to spark a fresh round of outrage for the protesters demanding that the officer be arrested.
“All of us are meeting to figure out how we will respond in the event the county prosecutor doesn’t indict,” Ashley Yates, found of the group Millennial Activists United, said through an email Saturday. “The federal government has a major role to play – the real question is how will they respond to the climate of injustice created in Ferguson and St. Louis?”
Multiple eye-witness accounts contradict the police narrative of what led Wilson to shoot Brown at least six times. Police said Wilson ordered Brown and his friend to move to the sidewalk after they were walking in the middle of Canfield Drive, and that the incident took a turn after Brown attempted to reach into the officer’s Chevy Tahoe and take his weapon.
But according to Dorian Johnson, the friend who was with Brown at the time, the officer initiated the altercation by grabbing the teen by the neck and pulling him into the car. Several witnesses said they saw two in a physical struggle through the window of the SUV, but that Brown eventually broke free and began running away. Nearly all witnesses say the saw Brown turn to the officer and bring his hands up to his side as Wilson fired several shots.
The grand jury, convened by St. Louis County prosecutor Bob McCulloch, has been meeting since late August and have until the end of the year to make a decision. McCulloch has said he expects that decision to come by mid-November.
But civil rights and faith leaders on the ground in Ferguson say it is still unclear whether the public will hear from grand jury before then. In denouncing Wilson’s testimony, Rev. Al Sharpton said he would lead a four-day event in the St. Louis suburb starting on Oct. 31, symbolic of the four hours that authorities left Brown’s body laying in the street. Others say they will continue rallying the community in demands for answers.
“Leaked testimony from Officer Darren Wilson contains nothing more than the same tired tropes of menacing black rage that have been used for centuries to brutalize black youth,” the Rev. Osagyefo Sekou, from the Fellowship of Reconciliation, said in a statement. ”This community will continue to do what it has been doing since day one: demand answers and justice for another fallen black child, led by the brave young people who have refused to bow down even in the face of tanks, tear gas and the cross hairs of snipers.”