Ferguson St Louis

Protesters march through downtown St. Louis, Wednesday, Nov. 26, 2014. Since a grand jury’s decision was announced Monday night, Nov. 24, not to indict a white Ferguson, Mo., police officer who killed Michael Brown, an unarmed black teen, protesters in cities throughout the country have rallied behind the refrain “hands up, don’t shoot,” and drawn attention to other police killings. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

In the wake of the Nov. 24 decision by a Missouri grand jury to not press charges against the White officer responsible for killing an unarmed African-American teen, a coalition of civil groups presented a unified front in its denouncement of the decision and its call for systemic changes to the American justice system.

“We are profoundly disappointed with the miscarriage of justice that occurred last night,” Barbara Arnwine, executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said during a press call on Nov. 25.

Although the Ferguson grand jury did not indict Darren Wilson, she added, “There was an indictment of our unjust criminal justice system…there was an indictment of the Ferguson Police Department’s conduct of this investigation into the shooting of Michael Brown; an indictment of Prosecutor McCulloch, for the way in which he has conducted this entire investigation, including the decision to have Officer Wilson testify before the grand jury; and an indictment of law enforcement in Missouri which has been disgraceful in its over-militarization its rampant disregard for our constitutional rights.”

Arnwine voiced the shared concerns of civil rights leaders over the way McCulloch handled the presentation of the grand jury’s decision—the lateness of the press conference, his vilification of pro-Brown witnesses and the overall combative tone.

“We found that Mr. McCulloch’s presentation of the decision was incendiary and inflammatory, that was designed to inflame…and provoke an angry response from the Ferguson community,” Arnwine said.

The group shared several short-term and long-term strategies for moving forward, beginning by calling on the Department of Justice to continue its investigations into Darren Wilson and the Ferguson Police Department.

Cornell Brooks, president and CEO of the NAACP, said the organization was “deeply disappointed” with the outcome and announced the organization’s own plans to effect long-term change.

“We stand with so many all across this community who the conclusion of this process as a legal absurdity wrapped in a moral outrage. This is simply a matter of pouring salt into a brutal wound of injustice,” Brooks said.

The NAACP, he said, will undertake a 100-mile, seven-day march from Brown’s home in Ferguson to Gov. Jay Nixon’s home in Jefferson City, Mo., commencing Nov. 29.

“We believe we have to fundamentally change our policing in this country,” he said. “We intend to march for systemic reform and to do so until such time as we get that reform.”

Laura Murphy of the ACLU outlined some long-term reforms, many of which were included in a list of recommendations sent to the president by the civil rights groups in August after Brown’s killing. Those recommendations included: the compilation of data on police stops, searches, arrests, excessive use of force, justifiable homicide, etc. into a national database to aid advocacy and policymaking; the creation of a national model for community policing that involves civilian review boards, diversity in recruitment and diversion programs; demilitarization and better accountability for the use and distribution of military weapons among law enforcement and enforcing widespread use of body cameras and dash cameras by police.

“We have seen that cameras have a way of making all parties in a police interaction more accountable,” Murphy said.

The group also called for the Congress to pass the End Racial Profiling Act and for President Obama to update and re-issue guidance on use of race in federal law enforcement, which Murphy said is riddled with loopholes.

“We need to send a powerful message that racial profiling is unconstitutional, ineffective and undermines creating safe communities,” Murphy said.

Sherillyn Ifill, director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, said there also needs to be a focus on transforming the culture of law enforcement. Even in diverse police departments, she said, “we still see problems of police abuse and misconduct that goes unchecked and that is because of the culture of policing and that is because of the way in which African-American communities are often viewed by police.”

Ifill suggested leveraging federal dollars via the Justice Assistance Grant Program to effect that needed transformation.

“We give $400 million a year in federal money to local police jurisdictions around the country…. and yet we do not condition that money on requiring real change in policing. And that’s what we are proposing this year,” she said.

Among the needed reforms is police training in areas such as in dealing with the mentally ill, deescalating fraught situations and dealing with implicit bias, she said.

“If you hear some of the testimony of Darren Wilson and the way he talked about Michael Brown, describing him as a ‘demon,’ describing him with almost supernatural powers…he seemed to get larger as he shot him…. All of those descriptions are deeply racialized,” Ifill said.
“It is time that we compel those who have sworn to protect and serve and whom we have given a legal weapon to do so trained on a routine and ongoing basis on how to address, engage and manage their own implicit biases against the communities they serve,” she added.

All of the leaders said they were pleased President Obama was responsive to the recommendations provided by civil rights community, a stance reflected in his statements. They also called on Americans nationwide to add their voices to the social movement precipitated by Brown’s death.

“We have reached a crisis of epic proportions that demands a different response from our nation,” Arnwine said. “It cannot be business as usual.”