Return to Transcripts main page

CNN Newsroom

Why Violence Erupted in Ferguson; Analysis of Evidence and the Grand Jury's Decision

Aired November 25, 2014 - 10:00   ET


CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Igniting outrage in Ferguson.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What are you saying? That our lives are not equal? Our lives are not worthy?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We've had enough. Enough racism. Enough bigotry.

COSTELLO: Windows smashing, fires burning. Tear gas billowing. CNN reporting in the thick of it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's tear gas.

COSTELLO: The president acknowledging the scope of this decision.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: We need to recognize that this is not just an issue for Ferguson, this is an issue for America.

COSTELLO: Also, Officer Wilson's testimony to the grand jury.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He felt like a five-year-old holding Hulk Hogan, the big wrestler.

COSTELLO : We're poring over the transcripts.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All of the forensic evidence actually backs him up.

COSTELLO: And reviewing the photos taken of Officer Wilson after he shot Michael Brown.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think the system should be indicted. It's problematic when you only have one side.

CROWD: No racism ...

COSTELLO: Do you think justice was served? Let's talk live in the CNN NEWROOM.


COSTELLO (on camera): And good morning. I'm Carol Costello, thank you so much for joining me. Outrage and unrest in Ferguson, Missouri after a grand jury says it will not indict Officer Darren Wilson in the death of Michael Brown. 21 people arrested, stores looted, buildings go up in flames, police firing tear gas in an attempt to disperse the crowds. And this morning, the Missouri Governor Jay Nixon ordering more National Guardsmen to Ferguson to provide security at the local police department. But the outrage wasn't limited to Ferguson. More than 120 vigils have been organized nationwide, including this one at the White House. There was another one in Chicago and still more demonstrations are expected to take place today.

One protester telling CNN "People have a real grudge against the police. It's not going away." CNN's Don Lemon on the ground in Ferguson all night, he joins us now this morning. Good morning, Don.

DON LEMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to you, Carol, and what a night it was and what a morning it is and will be for people who are - who are just waking up here and assessing the damage to their homes, their businesses and really their communities. A community that really needs every single bit of business and good will that they can muster. A lot of that really undercut last night by the violence and the chaos that you saw playing out here in Ferguson.

Let's talk about this and what went on and the undercurrent here, whether it's racism or whatever it is. I want to go now to the Reverend Jesse Jackson who is the president and CEO of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition. He joins us now from Chicago. Reverend, good morning. Awful what we saw playing out on television last night.

JESSE JACKSON, PRESIDENT, RAINBOW PUSH COALITION: Good morning. Well, it was wholly chaos, but the looting preceded the shooting. You know, we were there earlier in the year, it was very clear that that the unending consistent pain leads - and neglect leads to anarchy and justice leads to peace. We must have some plan beyond focusing on Ferguson to just know how national this crisis is and how ugly this pattern is. It's Brown in Ferguson, it's Diallo and Louima in New York, it's Rodney King in L.A., it's Trayvon Martin in Florida. We need a real commitment for a plan for urban reconstruction to end the violence on both ends.

LEMON: Reverend, listen, I don't disagree with you and I don't think most people around the country will disagree with you that we - that something needs to be done about urban reconstruction. But can we stick to what happened here? Because I don't think anyone is in agreement with what played out and for the good people of Ferguson and the good people who are around the country, there are many who say justice played out, it didn't play out the way you may have wanted it. It went in front of our legal and judicial process and the outcome was the outcome and we must abide by it. The lawlessness and the violence is really -- it should not have happened and there should be no excuses made for it.

JACKSON: The reason I abhor violence, number one, bricks cannot beat bullets as a practical matter. Secondly, violence diverts attention from the real subject matter. The subject matter is the need for more jobs, and more education, more justice and violence has a way of leaving no room for redemption, so I understand that very well. But there is a body of people who after a long train of abuses, Don, people simply explode. You remember we were down there for nine days before they would release the name of Mr. Wilson. But the three hours before they released his name, they released a video about Michael, about Michael and the cigarillos and the store laying the ground work.

LEMON: But Reverend, Reverend, Reverend, with all due respect, if people need jobs in the community, why would you burn down a store or a place where you could possibly get work? What does one have to do with the other? What does lawlessness have to do with lack of jobs? If you want a job, if you want to be educated then you go look for a job, you go look for an education. What does that have to do with burning down your neighbor or burning down a store that someone needs for their livelihood? Someone needs the income from that store. That is their job. Someone needs that income to pay their bills. What does that - what does one have to do with the other?

JACKSON: Well, sometimes pain can lead to irrational conclusions. Sometimes when people are in pain they cry out. For example, if you have what, 55 police, three African-American in the same - in the fire department, if you had a fairer distribution of those jobs you may have had an amnesty of peace in the first place. So there is an irrational dimension to pain. To be locked out of police department, fire department, contracts and schools, those factors matter and that's why I hope, Don, we will not just look at Ferguson except as a metaphor for the abandonment -- 120 cities marched last night. 120 cities because there's a sense that there's a neglect of urban America that must be addressed, whether it's in Ferguson, Missouri, Newark, Chicago or L.A.

LEMON: So, again, reverend, I think you're right, but if you want change, part of it is you have to be change. If you want to change the political system in your area, you must get out and vote. By going in -- and, again, this is not by any stretch of the imagination the majority of the people who live in Ferguson or any community. But by going and looting someone else's property, that doesn't help you get a job. That doesn't help any sort of political change in your community. What it does is dilute the message or dilute the issue that you need help in your community. If you are doing what you're doing and the whole - hang on - the whole world is seeing that they're going to turn off and they're going to go "Why should I pay attention to that if that person is robbing someone else, a fellow citizen who lives in their own community?"

JACKSON: The whole thing starts with an unarmed teenager shot in his own neighborhood six times and left to rot in the street in the hot sun for four and a half hours. That is the beginning of this origin. The origin didn't start with looting, it started with shooting. And therefore both ends of violence must end, both - both the shooting and the looting must end. Then we might move toward tranquility.

LEMON: It's awful that anyone loses their child for whatever reason and that Michael Brown's body laid there for four and a half hours. No one is denying that. I don't even believe the people who support Officer Darren Wilson denies that that is awful and no parent should have to deal with that. But even the parents of Michael Brown have been pleading for weeks if not months for peace ... JACKSON: I think the right opportunity ...

LEMON: And no one seems to be -- how can you make excuses for that?

JACKSON: Well, you shouldn't make excuses for it. I tell you what, the jury concluded that the killing of Michael Brown was justified. That's a lot to swallow. The jury considered the killer of Emmett Till and Meg Abrams (ph) and Trayvon Martin was justified. Don, that is a lot to swallow. Most people are not going to digest it. There must be justice as the key to peace and fairness and police, of all people, who are sworn to oath with a gun and badge must carry honor and trust. Right now there's the crisis of trust in that community - around the nation.

LEMON: Reverend, I don't want people to get the idea, and maybe -- listen, I don't want to speak for you, that you're making excuses for the bad doers. But, again, justice has played out here, maybe not in the way that people want it. So what do you want to leave with people? What is your message going forward?

JACKSON: I am not making excuses. I'm not making excuses. I'm giving an analysis that compounded injustice leads to anarchy and justice leads to peace. I'm saying why am I against violence? One, because bricks and bullets cannot match on a practical level. Secondly, bricks divert attention away and looting from the real issue which is the need for urban policy. And then there's no redemption in violence. I understand -- I am fundamentally an advocate of non- violence, but I understand how pain plays out when it's compounded and it is a long train of abuses. We're looking at this is a part of our American history, Don, I'm afraid, and I think the coroner commission report must be revisited which gives analysis and recommendation, analysis of crisis of crisis for the New York, Watts, Chicago, Detroit as well as recommendations for how they end this in the long term. Don, thank you.

LEMON: Reverend, listen, part of your legacy is that you marched with Dr. King peacefully, non-violent protests. Most of those protests were during the day, and they were even in the teeth of the most terrifying odds, as James Baldwin says, even in the most obstinate opposition, they still - you and Dr. King remained peaceful. What has changed in our culture and our society that people result -- resort to things that played out here last night in Ferguson?

JACKSON: You do know that when Dr. King was alive we had the Watts riot and the Newark riot and the Detroit riot and Chicago. And there was a comprehensive reset of that - it determined that a body of pain and fuel of poverty which is a weapon of mass destruction precipitated by police action triggered those riots and that police behavior should -- the police should have blacks and whites, men and women to be credible. They should reflect in the judges, Don, as well. But beyond that, the issue of unemployment, unemployment for blacks is three times the national rate. That matters. Blacks are ten times more likely to be arrested. That matters. And for juries to look in the face of killed young blacks and say that juror was justified in letting them go free, that's a bitter pill to swallow. I hope that we will have enough rational sense to speak above our pain and be non- violent, and be disciplined, but also be consistent, and persistent and be real (INAUDIBLE) until we get some relief from Congress and the White House to relieve our misery.

LEMON: Reverend Jesse Jackson, thank you for joining us here on CNN.

JACKSON: Thank you, Don.

LEMON: We'll be right back.


COSTELLO: I want you to hear what happened the day Michael Brown died from Officer Wilson's perspective. His testimony to the grand jury was made public after the panel decided not to indict him. These are pictures of Officer Wilson, they are part of the documents that were released last night. The medical report says Wilson was diagnosed with a bruised face after his confrontation with Brown. Wilson told the grand jury he fired his weapon 12 times. His gun held a maximum of 13 bullets. Here's more of Officer Wilson's grand jury testimony.

Officer Darren Wilson in his own words taken from the transcript of his grand jury testimony. The initial confrontation between the two started when Wilson, inside his police car, asked Brown and a friend to use the sidewalk. Wilson says the conversation turned profane when Brown told him "F what you have to say." The confrontation quickly turns physical when Brown allegedly punches Wilson in the face through the car window. Wilson, who is 6'4", 210 pounds, says he felt dominated by the 6'6" teenager. "When I grabbed him, the only way I can describe it is I felt like a five-year-old holding on to Hulk Hogan. Hulk Hogan, that's how big he felt and how small I felt just from grasping his arm." In the three minute confrontation, a lot of confusion, shouting and shattered glass. Wilson says Brown's face contorted with anger that he looked like a demon.

Then in the moments leading up to the gunfire, Wilson testifies he was punched several more times and told Brown "Get back, I'm going to shoot you." "He, Brown, grabs my gun and says you're too much of a (EXPLETIVE DELETED) to shoot me." The gun goes down into my hip and at that point I thought I was getting shot. I could feel his fingers try to get inside the trigger guard with my finger and I distinctly remember envisioning a bullet going into my leg. Wilson says his gun went off twice inside the car. That's when Brown ran and Wilson went after him. At some point Wilson says Brown turned and charged at him. "I tell him, keep telling him to get on the ground, he doesn't. I shoot a series of shots. I don't know how many I shot, I just know I shot it." Wilson then says "I know a missed a couple, I don't know how many, but I know I hit him at least once because I saw his body kind of jerk. And the face that he had was looking straight through me, like I wasn't even there. I wasn't even anything in his way."

And as you know, Michael Brown died at the scene. Let's talk more about Officer Wilson's testimony because there were other witnesses there who testified as well. HLN legal analyst and criminal defense attorney Joey Jackson is with me along with CNN commentator and legal analyst Mel Robbins. Mel, you have been poring over the grand jury documents and you found something very interesting. MEL ROBBINS, CNN COMMENTATOR: Yes, and you know, it's something that

I think the entire country needs to look at and needs to understand and that is we can take a look at what Darren Wilson said, but the one thing that you cannot dispute is what physical evidence says. And the physical evidence in this case corroborates what Officer Wilson says. And, in fact, I found a piece in the transcript that I think is extremely important. It's on November 21, it's on page 87 of the transcript.

It is during a time when a detective, the one who investigated the shooting, is questioned not through the first time but for the third time. He is asked for almost 100 pages, questions by the grand jury as they attempt to establish what happened. And they ask him this, which I find to be extremely important. They say: so, as far as physical evidence, we have the blood on the ground that was about 21 or 22 feet from where Michael Brown ended up. So we know for a fact that's a minimum distance. He might have advanced from eyewitness testimony. The officer then confirms that, yes, based on the physical evidence what we know to be true is that Michael Brown advanced at least 21 feet toward the officer, which is exactly what the officer said and exactly what the witnesses said. The grand juror isn't done. He then goes on or she goes on on page 88 and says: wait, so if I did the calculation that was 21 and a half feet? Yes, sir.

So what this is telling us is that the grand jury was focused on corroboration of what happened and we've got blood evidence that shows at the scene that Michael Brown traveled away from the officer and then traveled back toward him at least 21 feet. That is what three witnesses have said, that is what the officer has said.

COSTELLO: So, let's talk about the law now. So if an officer tells you to get on the ground and you turn around and you come back toward the officer, according to the law, what is the officer able to do?

JOEY JACKSON, HLN LEGAL ANALYST: All right. This is where it starts, Carol. When Darren Wilson testified, he had to do two things in accordance with the law to convince that grand jury that what he did was lawful. What are those two things? The first thing he had to demonstrate was that he was in imminent threat. That he was in immediate fear for his life. That's step number one.

How do you do that and how did he do that? He did that in a couple of ways, apparently, according to what the grand jury believed. He did that through what we just heard, the clip that you just played in terms of what happened and he also represented, Darren Wilson did in his testimony, about the neighborhood itself. It's a drug activity neighborhood. It's a crime neighborhood. Now, is that proper or appropriate? That was his thoughts. But why it's appropriate to him is because it goes to his state of mind. Darren Wilson then, Carol, mixed that, his impressions about the neighborhood and the prior activities with the neighborhood, about the incident itself, the event itself and the fact that according to Darren Wilson that Michael Brown was approaching him, advancing towards him, looking like a demon, having a crazy look in his eyes. Not responding to commands to get on the ground. Did it happen? Did it not happen? There are 70 hours of testimony here, we have to understand, in

addition to 60 witnesses who testified. But then after you get through the immediate threat that Darren Wilson had to convey, you have to then convey to the grand jury, Carol, that his actions were reasonable, that he acted reasonably under these circumstances to engage in the actions he did. And apparently, according to what the grand jury decision that has been reached, he did that by demonstrating that he acted as any reasonable officer would do in like circumstances and that's a Supreme Court standard legally.

COSTELLO: Another important point in what you found in the transcripts was fantastic. The other thing to point out also in those transcripts are two other witnesses who heard the officer tell Michael Brown to get on the ground. Or "Don't move or I'm going to shoot you." Other witnesses heard the officer say that and I think that's a very important point as well.

ROBBINS: Well, I guess what we see happening here is when you isolate the analysis just on the grand jury, I understand that there are all other issues that we need to discuss ranging from the timing of the decision, ranging from the response to the protesters, ranging from the historic wounds that are really bubbling up to the surface here and the need to address the militarization of the police. But if we take a laser focus and we look at what this grand jury did, it seems evident when you take the time to actually read the transcript, what you will see is you will see a grand jury that is looking for factual and physical evidence to corroborate what happened and when you have an officer say "I was assaulted" and you have wounds on his face.

Now, they may not be huge wounds but they are evidence that there was an assault. You also have witnesses saying the officer was assaulted. Then you have this blood pattern that corroborates what the officer and several witnesses say, which is that Brown ran away, he stopped, he turned, then he ran back at least 21 feet which seems to corroborate what the officer is saying, which is he was charged.

COSTELLO: But you know what some people are going to say? Some people are going to say the officer at this point knows Michael Brown was unarmed. He didn't have a weapon. So, so what that he turned and ran to him?

ROBBINS: How does he know that?

JACKSON: Let's talk about a couple of things.

COSTELLO: Because he tried to grab the officer's gun apparently in the car.

JACKSON: Right. In any case, though, that you have, you always have conflicting witness testimony and we should also say that Darren Wilson as a matter of law is an interested witness. He's interested in the outcome and as a result of that, you look at his credibility suspect. That's what the law says. If you're an interested witness, we're not going to trust you, we're going to rely upon other witnesses. And in this case, clearly, there were witnesses who saw certain things and different things. He had his hands up, Michael Brown did. He didn't have his hands up. He advanced towards the officer, I never saw him advance towards the officer. And so the grand jury certainly had to assess that and apparently in looking at everyone's credibility and looking at the conflicting statements they decided to credit Darren Wilson's testimony in terms of the imminent threat and the reasonableness of his behavior.

ROBBINS: Well, they also credit ....

COSTELLO: I have to stop you guys right there. And this is a fabulous conversation, a fantastic conversation, but I have to take a break. So, we're going to continue our conversation on the other side. I'll be right back.


COSTELLO: All right. Welcome back. We want to continue our conversation about Officer Darren Wilson's grand jury testimony. Mel Robbins, one of our legal analysts, and Joey Jackson, too, our HLN legal analyst. They have both been poring through these transcripts and Mel came up with an interesting find. And I want you to tell our audience your find once again. So let's set it up a little bit. So Officer Wilson claims that Michael Brown punched him in the face while he was still inside the car, the gun went off at least twice inside the car and then suddenly they were outside the car. Michael Brown was running away, right? Officer Wilson says at some point he charged him. Michael Brown turned around and charged him. Other witnesses have said that Michael Brown was actually had his hands up and he stopped and the officer shot him anyway. So continue with what you found in the transcript.

ROBBINS: Well, what I was interested in figuring out is what has the grand jury been doing through all of this? Because they've been, you know, we've heard lots of people say that this has been an unprecedented use of the grand jury, we've heard a lot of people say that the prosecutors didn't present the case. And so I thought what's the grand jury been doing?

And so, I pored through everything to see what questions they were asking and what struck me is on November 21, the detective that was investigating this shooting testified for the third time. And over the course of 100 pages, the grand jury hammers this detective with questions. And the question that they ask on 87 is extremely telling and what they ask is they ask "so as far as the physical evidence, we have the blood on the ground that was about 21 or 22 feet from where Michael Brown ended up so we know for a fact that's a minimum distance he might have advanced and from eyewitness testimony that placed him at the corner of Copper Creek." And they go on to go back and forth and the detective says yes and then he says, "So if I did a calculation that was 21 and a half feet?" And the detective says "Yes, sir." And why this is so critical for people to take a look at is the grand jury was looking for undisputable -- indisputable evidence, which is physical evidence. Blood patterns don't lie.

And what you saw in this case is a pattern because Michael Brown was shot in the hand in the car and he takes off running and there is a blood pattern that runs away from the car then turns and comes back 21 feet. That substantiates Officer Wilson's claim and the several witnesses who testified that they saw Michael Brown charge the officer. And what this grand juror is looking for is clarification from the detective that that blood pattern of 21 feet actually represents the amount of time -- or the amount of distance, rather, that Michael Brown would have traveled back at the officer. That's huge.

COSTELLO: I'm just going to bring up something that most people- maybe some people are thinking. Why would Michael Brown do that? He's already been shot by the officer? Why would he now charge an armed officer with his gun pointing? But does that really matter in the end?

JACKSON: Well, it certainly could. But let's understand something about blood patterns. The blood pattern may not lie but the interpretation of it could certainly be questioned, and that's why trials are for, which there was not here. But just to be clear, you can have expert who interpret blood patterns, who interpret where the blood is and how it got there in different and separate ways, and so clearly the grand jury, they did their due diligence in terms of asking the proper appropriate questions, but you know, the distrust lies in the fact that when you have an actual trial, Carol, you have cross examination.