BlackAgendaReport.com executive editor Glen Ford discusses the latest in banning the often-flawed grand jury process in police brutality cases


Story Transcript

JARED BALL, PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome back everyone to the Real News Network. I’m Jared Ball here in Baltimore. In a Mother Jones piece by Allie Gross last week we read California this week became the first state to ban the use of secret grand juries when deciding whether to indict police officers in cases of deadly force. The bill, signed by Gov. Jerry Brown, was a response to the unrest that followed the grand jury decisions in Ferguson, Missouri and in Staten Island, New York not to indict the officers who killed Michael Brown and Eric Gardner. To discuss the importance of this step and the impact on the process generated by people in the streets is BlackAgendaReport.com founder and executive editor Glen Ford. Glen, welcome back to the Real News. GLEN FORD, BLACK AGENDA REPORT: Thank you for the invitation. BALL: So what is the value of this decision as you see it? And the state of California being the first domino to fall, so to speak, in banning grand juries in this process? FORD: Well, that actually remains to be seen, since California is the first. We all know that getting a grand jury to indict a cop, the odds against that are astronomical. So the question is, how does getting the grand jury out of the system change the results? And the sponsors of the California bill say that getting rid of the grand jury will lead to what they call more transparency and accountability, which is a polite way of saying that the prosecutors won’t have the grand juries to hide behind as if the resulting non-indictment is just, well, what the grand jury decided rather than, the facts always show, rather than the result of manipulation of the grand jury or by the prosecutor. So getting the onus, getting rid of the grand jury, puts the onus on the prosecutor and his decision whether to indict or not to indict based upon the evidence. And supposedly he would have to answer to the public and his peers with that kind of decision. But we need to put this bluntly. The grand jury system is a fraud. It does what the prosecutors want them to do. And prosecutors have a million ways to tell the grand jury what kind of indictment or lack of indictment that it wants. In fact, in the case of Darren Wilson, the cop who killed Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri the prosecution cited incorrect law in trying to manipulate this grand jury. A district attorney, the assistant district attorney, told the grand jurors that it was lawful for cops to shoot a fleeing suspect even if the suspect was unarmed and hadn’t been involved in a violent crime. But that doctrine had been ruled unconstitutional back in 1979, which every third year law student should know. This gross misinstruction to the grand jury would have remained a secret, as most of those proceedings are. Secret, except that the prosecutor in this case because it was extraordinary and the whole country was watching allowed the minutes to be made public. But otherwise, it would have been secret. Supposedly if you get rid of the grand juries, the prosecutor will have to answer for that decision. As I said, I don’t know if that would work. But we need to oppose the grand jury system anyway. They are tools of the prosecution. That means they are tools of the state. The targeted persons, who [aren’t] even called defendants in most cases, don’t have any rights in the grand jury process. Their lawyers can’t even question or challenge witnesses against them. And in practice the grand jury system amounts to the exact opposite of what it is purported to be, which is a protection against the abuses of the system by the state. But really, it’s just another tool. Another arrow in their quiver. BALL: You know, Glen, for those–I’m wondering what you think. I mean, some might want to look at this as a people’s-inspired response by the state, recognizing or even admitting, as you’ve said, that there’s a fraudulent nature to the grand jury process. But perhaps there’s something else going on here given that this, at least according to the Mother Jones article, was not a response to Oscar Grant’s killing, which did occur in California, but to the killings of Eric Garner in Staten Island and Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Two states where we’ve not seen this step taken. So how best do you think it is that people interpret this decision, its origins, and I’ve sort of asked already, what might come next? FORD: It is a response to popular demand. The popular demand kept growing after Oscar Grant, after Trayvon Martin. And finally reaches a kind of crescendo, I hope it’s not the full crescendo, after Michael Brown, to the point that the president himself had to address the general situation. So this is a reform, its effectiveness has not yet been proven, but a reform that is in response to public demand. The real problem of course is that the prosecutors, and that’s federal as well as state, have no intention of indicting police. They work hand-in-glove with the police. They interpret the law as meaning that it is impossible to get convictions of police, even if you got beyond a grand jury. That’s because prosecutors deliberately interpret the law in ways that raises the bar so high they can claim they can’t get over it. BALL: Well Glen Ford, thanks again for joining us here at the Real News. FORD: Thank you.

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Glen Ford

Glen Ford is a distinguished radio-show host and commentator. In 1977, Ford co-launched, produced and hosted America's Black Forum, the first nationally syndicated Black news interview program on commercial television. In 1987, Ford launched Rap It Up, the first nationally syndicated Hip Hop music show, broadcast on 65 radio stations. Ford co-founded the Black Commentator in 2002 and in 2006 he launched the Black Agenda Report. Ford is also the author of The Big Lie: An Analysis of U.S. Media Coverage of the Grenada Invasion.

Jared Ball

Jared A. Ball is a father and husband. After that he is a multimedia host, producer, journalist and educator. Ball is also a founder of "mixtape radio" and "mixtape journalism" about which he wrote I MiX What I Like: A MiXtape Manifesto (AK Press, 2011) and is co-editor of A Lie of Reinvention: Correcting Manning Marable's Malcolm X (Black Classic Press, 2012). Ball is an associate professor of communication studies at Morgan State University in Baltimore, Maryland and can be found online at IMIXWHATILIKE.ORG.