Commentary by Jay B Gaskill, Attorney at Law


Yesterday was Thanksgiving.  I am thankful for all the African American friends and colleagues that I have been honored to know over the years, attorneys (both defenders and prosecutors), police officers, deputy sheriffs, and judges, whose respect for the judicial fact-finding process would never have permitted them to take to the streets or the megaphones to proclaim the guilt of a police officer before the all evidence had been sifted and reviewed.  I am proud of them all.

Imagine my surprise when, on the evening of the third day after a Missouri grand jury cleared officer Wilson of all criminal liability for shooting and killing suspect Brown, my wife and I were stopped in traffic by a clutch of police cars, flashing red and blue lights, attempting to manage an angry crowd of Oakland demonstrators.  Ferguson, MO and Oakland, CA are separated by one thousand seven hundred miles, but, culturally, the distance is about 5 minutes…or so it seems.


From my professional career, I know Oakland and the criminal justice system all too well.


The Ferguson Grand Jury did its job. The conclusion that suspect Brown, who had just performed a strong arm robbery (no, it was not a mere shoplifting) of a nearby store, initiated forcible contact with police officer Wilson before the shooting was obvious from the evidence.  That young Brown – a giant man weighing in at about 300 pounds – was charging a uniformed and armed police officer when he was shot by that same officer was established by the preponderance of credible evidence. 


No reasonable doubt of the officer’s legal innocence remained.  Case closed.


In an earlier post, I labeled the immediate newsfeed and chatter about this tragic incident a media lynching; and I urged everyone to chill and let the legal process unfold. Justice did unfold, but some of the media’s behavior has remained irresponsible until very late in the game.


This was a triple tragedy:


1.      Young Brown, had his life been spared, might have been turned from a nascent thug into a redeemed life, a good example to his peers. 

2.      Officer Wilson, who emptied his clip in panic, and probably destroyed his law enforcement career in that moment, would have been better off had he ignored Brown altogether.  But, then, he would have not been doing his duty. 

3.      The complicit (& naďve) media, the pandering politicians, the race-baiting activists, and all those confused and misled protesters would have been spared embarrassment (those among them capable of embarrassment); and everyone who jumped into hair trigger judgment mode would have been spared the loss of credibility.


Officer Wilson was neither Dirty Harry nor Bull O’Conner. He was a comparatively green cop faced with a dangerous situation that got out of hand. Young Brown was neither a gentle giant nor a giant demon. He was a behaviorally ambivalent giant, an immature lad in which elements kindness and thuggishness were both active. Most such kids, in my professional experience as a career public defender, never got themselves shot and killed; and many of them eventually grew out of their worst inclinations.  But I have studied death penalty defendants whose early profiles were much like Mr. Brown’s, and I know of the success stories of men whose lives started out about the same as Mr. Brown’s. 


This is why the Ferguson incident was a tragedy.


Enter the drama queens and the faux outrage predators whose false narrative led to the anger, disappointment and violence when justice actually prevailed.  The ensuing sorry media episode was like one of those brutal date rapes, where the perpetrator’s expectations were aroused to the point where a “no, please stop” was not honored. Violence followed. The false bad-racist-cop narrative was given such force and apparent credibility in the Ferguson event that the inevitable “but this time, it was not true” outcome sparked anger and violence.


The “rape” enablers were the media mavens and the race-ideologues who live in an evil-white-man’s-world narrative and are constantly trying to bend facts to fit that narrative. 


While the immediate riots in Ferguson itself are improper (thinking especially of Martin Luther King’s example), they were understandable and could not easily have been prevented. But after that immediate outburst, the moment long ago arrived when responsible opinion leaders needed to campaign for restraint and respect for the judicial system’s fact-finding process.


The riots and angry demonstrations across the USA in the last week were a direct response to media irresponsibility and neglect of its duty to the truth.  The costs from the fires, the damage to property and the diversion of police resources were very high.  I’d send certain media figures, opinion leaders, and activists the bill.




Copyright © 2014 by Jay B Gaskill, Attorney at Law

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The author served as the chief Public Defender for the county of Alameda, CA, headquartered in Oakland for 10 years, following a long career and an Assistant Public Defender. More about Jay Gaskill at this link: