NEW: Michael Brown family attorneys warn violence will disrupt healing, dialogue
NEW: Governor criticized for not sending "zero tolerance" message to police
Issue of race and policing didn't begin with Brown's death, police attorney says
Counsel declined to comment on whether he thinks grand jury will indict his client
Michael Brown’s family attorneys support Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon’s call for peaceful protests once the a grand jury rules in Officer Darren Wilson’s case, but they also had some words of admonition for him Thursday.
The family implored that would-be protesters refrain from the looting and violence that marred the early protests in Ferguson, Missouri, said attorney Anthony Gray. Such behavior diminishes the opportunities for healing and derails productive dialogue, he said.
It’s equally important, though, to implore that authorities use “reasonable restraints” in dealing with protesters, the attorney said. He went on to blame assault rifles, manhandling, tear gas, rubber bullets and false arrests for agitating the protesters who took to the streets after Wilson shot and killed Brown on August 9.
“These acts of violence impacted innocent men, women and children simply exercising their rights,” Gray said, adding, “A strong message of zero tolerance should have been conveyed to all.”
Many observers have expressed concern that if Wilson is not indicted, chaos could ensue in Ferguson and beyond. Nixon this week vowed to crack down on any “ugliness,” and some criticized the governor for directing his remarks only at protesters.
Though the grand jury technically has until January to issue its decision, the ruling is expected in mid-November – any day now. Gray did not provide specifics on when the ruling might come other than to say, “We’re probably getting to the end of the witness list.”
At the news conference in front of a St. Louis County courthouse in Clayton, attorney Benjamin Crump, who also represents the Browns, reiterated Gray’s call for calm and, in a remark directed at law enforcement, said, “We would like to thank you in advance for not having a repeat of the horrific events that happened in August.”
Crump declined to discuss a widely reported story that famed pathologist Michael Baden, who is in the Brown family’s employ, was testifying before the grand jury, other than to say the prosecutor’s office extended the invitation to testify and Baden will provide “insightful analysis” that will help the grand jury make its decision.
Asked if revealing Baden’s testimony jeopardized the secrecy on which grand jury proceedings rely, Crump repeated an oft-uttered assertion: He believes there was sufficient probable cause to arrest Wilson and provide him due process transparently rather than via a closed-door grand jury hearing.
“Historically, they’re going to do whatever the prosecutor wants them to do,” Crump said of the grand jury.
Police union attorney: “It’s not about taking a side”
The Brown family’s attorneys spoke about an hour after the attorney for the St. Louis Police Officers Association told CNN that when it comes down to Wilson and Brown, “it’s not about taking a side.”
Conversations about race and how police officers conduct themselves didn’t begin after Wilson killed the unarmed teenager, said Neil Bruntrager, general counsel for the labor organization, in a brief interview.
“It’s a fallacy to assume this all just happened on August 9. There’s a lot of history here, both good and bad,” he said. “It won’t finish when the grand jury comes back. There’s a lot left to be done.”
And it isn’t about standing behind either Brown or Wilson, he said, not even when it comes to the labor organization representing St. Louis police.
“Their position is, ‘Look, justice is a process.’ They support the process,” Bruntrager said. “It’s not about taking a side. It’s about understanding the process, and they do. And they encourage everyone – everyone – to pay attention to that process because it is something that people can trust.”
Asked if the union knew Wilson’s side of the story – the grand jury consideration of which has left Ferguson and the surrounding area on edge – Bruntrager said it did not.
“What they know, of course, is what everyone has read in the newspapers, and they’re in a position where they, like everyone else, are waiting until the grand jury makes a decision,” the attorney said.
He would not comment on whether he felt Wilson would be indicted.
Ahead of what they fear could be violence in the wake of the ruling, authorities have said they’ve been in constant discussions to prepare for the response that may follow the grand jury ruling. A community group called the Don’t Shoot Coalition has issued 19 so-called rules of engagement in hopes of deterring the heavy-handed response for which police were vehemently criticized in the weeks after Brown’s shooting.
Bruntrager praised efforts to keep police and protesters safe and said the dialogue is important.
“People have tried to understand what the rage is about. People have tried to understand what the fury is,” he said.
Complete coverage of the events in Ferguson