Saying prosecutor Robert McCulloch wrongly created the appearance of unanimity on the grand jury that declined to indict a white Ferguson, Mo., police officer for the killing of an unarmed black man, a member of the jury is suing for the right to speak out. Freeing the juror to speak would help promote a much-needed public airing of issues of police and prosecutorial conduct in a case that has come to symbolize the country’s continuing struggle with race, and the request should be granted.
Under Missouri law, grand jurors are banned from speaking about the secret proceedings. But in a complaint filed Monday in federal district court in St. Louis, “Grand Juror Doe” said such a ban is a clear violation of the juror’s constitutional right to free speech.
On national television on Nov. 24, McCulloch declared, “Twelve people made a decision that, based upon all that evidence, that as tragic as this is, it was not a crime.” But the juror made it clear that not all 12 agreed with either the process or the result over the shooting of Michael Brown by Darren Wilson. Juror Doe said in the filing that evidence was provided to the jury in a muddled, untimely, and slanted way, “with the insinuation that Brown, not Wilson was the wrongdoer.”
Although McCulloch promised a transparent process, heavily redacted transcripts made it anything but; a court decision that freed the juror to talk openly about his or her impressions might open the way for a productive dialogue about what really transpired in Ferguson last August.
The grand juror, supported by the American Civil Liberties Union, does not intend to reveal the views of others in the jury room, and rightfully argues that a lifetime ban on discussing the case is unreasonable. That is especially true on an issue that racially divides the nation: polls repeatedly show that a majority of white Americans trust the police, while the majority of African Americans say police are not held accountable for misconduct. McCulloch’s handling of the grand jury was seen by many as maintaining that divide. The grand jury’s decision not to indict Wilson was troubling enough. A state secrecy law should not further poison America’s sense of justice. The juror should be allowed to add to the public’s understanding of a fateful decision that set off protests all around the nation.