Activists connected to the Leadership Coalition for Justice (formerly called the Justice for Mike Brown Leadership Coalition) and the African People’s Socialist Party announced Friday that they are convening a symbolic grand jury in January to decide for themselves whether former Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson should be charged with a crime for killing Michael Brown.
The group organizing the symbolic grand jury is called the International People's Democratic Uhuru Movement, a group that seeks to liberate and empower people of African descent around the world.
“In the face of the inability of the justice system to work for our people and our community, in the face of the grand jury’s inability to see what the whole world has been able to see about the murder of Mike Brown on August 9th … clearly it is time for African people to begin to take matters in our own hands,” said African People’s Socialist Party leader Omali Yeshitela. “In that regard I’m here to announce that on January 3rd and 4th black people will have our own grand jury.”
According to Yeshitela, the grand jury will be selected based on their reputations as upstanding members of the community and will make their decision following existing laws after being presented with the same evidence and testimony given to the official grand jury.
But, said Yeshitela, the “Black People’s Grand Jury” will be open to the public and will look at the death of Brown in context of “the history of black people in this county, in this country, and see whether or not it is likely that Darren Wilson or any instrument of state power in this country would murder an 18-year-old unarmed teenager.”
When asked about the goal of this grand jury, given that it will have no power to arrest or discipline Wilson, Yeshitela said that highlighting that lack of power was the whole point.
“The only thing that makes a difference in what the grand jury did in St. Louis County—the legal colonial grand jury—and what we will do here on January 3rd and 4th is that if in fact we indict Darren Wilson we don’t have guns. The government has guns and it has state power and authority over our people. What it does is educate and inform our people that two bodies came together, examined the same set of evidence and were able to come to different conclusions. Therefore the only thing standing between us being able to carry out the will of the people is to change this relationship that exists between us and the armed state apparatus that controls us,” Yeshitela said.
Yeshitela was joined Friday by Kennethia Miller and two other St. Louis women affiliated with Yeshitela’s Uhuru Movement, which seeks (among other things) to put black people in charge of the hiring of police in communities where mostly black people live.
“We think it’s extremely urgent that we hold the black people’s grand jury and build a campaign for black community control of the police,” Miller said. “As a mother, I’m outraged and deeply concerned about the ongoing law enforcement-based violence that’s taken the lives of our children.”
When asked whether the Uhuru Movement planned to use the electoral process to achieve that control over police, Yeshitela said, “we’ll add that to our suggestion box.”
Zaki Baruti of the St. Louis-based Universal African Peoples Organization also joined the news conference to show support for Yeshitela and the symbolic grand jury.
“I’m in total agreement with (Yeshitela’s) statements,” Baruti said. “This situation with Mike Brown is reflective of a whole culture that targets black men and women across this country, as well as the legal cover-ups that comes as an extension of the murders of black men and women.”
Baruti also said that more needed to be done to put civilian police review boards in place and to make police forces representative of the communities they police. When asked about the measures underway in Ferguson and St. Louis to implement review boards and increase police force diversity, Baruti said those efforts were insufficient.