Good to know, because it certainly looked different last week when the grand jury decision got announced. Now faced with an investigation into possible incitement charges, Louis Head has issued a belated explanation for his “burn this b**** down” exhortation to an already angry crowd in Ferguson, Missouri. The husband of Michael Brown’s mother offered an apology for letting his emotions get the best of him, in a statement to NBC, but says that Governor Jay Nixon also deserves blame for “sending a message of war”:
The stepfather of Michael Brown said Wednesday that his emotions “got the best of me” when he urged a crowd in Ferguson, Missouri, to “burn this bitch down” after a grand jury declined to indict a white police officer for shooting his stepson to death.
In a statement obtained by NBC News, Louis Head, who is married to Brown’s mother, apologized to those “who read my pain and anger as a true desire for what I want for our community. It wasn’t.”
Head said that Nixon started it:
But to place blame solely on me for the conditions of our community, and country, after the grand jury decision goes way too far and is as wrong as the decision itself. To declare a state of emergency and send a message of war, and not peace, before a grand jury decision was announced is also wrong.
Head’s not the first to criticize Nixon for declaring a state of emergency nearly a week before the grand jury completed its work. The White House and Department of Justice expressed their unhappiness as well. The way events unfolded may have vindicated Nixon had he actually deployed the National Guard to Ferguson on November 24th as the city awaited the announcement of the decision. Instead, Nixon inexplicably refused to take the mayor’s calls and kept them out of Ferguson until the next morning, when it was far too late. Both the mayor and the Lieutenant Governor accused the White House of pressuring Nixon into that decision, but so far no one’s taking responsibility for that except the governor himself. Had Nixon actually followed through and deployed the National Guard, Head’s outburst might have just been a footnote.
Don’t expect much to come from the investigation into possible incitement charges, though. There is a very high bar to clear for the prosecution, and CNN reports that local law enforcement doesn’t believe that they can clear it:
Don’t expect any charges to come from the Ferguson and St. Louis County Police probe into Head’s comments, local law enforcement officials tell CNN.
The officials say the investigation isn’t likely to go anywhere, in part because it would face a high bar to prove that his words actually caused any rioters to act.
One law enforcement official was frustrated by Jackson’s comments, which officials view as inflammatory at a time when they’re trying to calm the situation.
“We just wish he would just shut up,” the law enforcement official said.
Even if the investigation into Head’s comments doesn’t result in charges, the police probe could still cause problems for him. Federal court records indicate he is on probation for a previous drug charge.
That was enough to step on the speech rights of the auteur of the video “Innocence of Muslims,” right? It shouldn’t have been, though, and it shouldn’t be here either unless evidence emerges of a specific intent to cause a riot. We risk much by attempting to prosecute speech that doesn’t cross bright red lines. Causality isn’t enough, and in this case causality may be a point of reasonable doubt; given the circumstances, the riot would have happened even if Head had said nothing. It takes specific intent to deliberately incite, and with the obvious personal anger and grief involved in a reaction to the grand jury, there would be plenty of grounds for reasonable doubt for an argument that this was extemporaneous (and irresponsible) venting rather than a deliberate attempt to incite a riot.
Besides, even if the DA wanted to pursue a case, good luck getting a grand jury to indict. Would nine out of twelve members of the St. Louis community find a “true bill” against a grieving stepfather reacting to a grand jury decision not to indict the man who shot his stepson, no matter how justified that decision might have been? I’d bet on a Powerball ticket ahead of those odds.
Update: This one definitely qualifies for prosecution, at least for the one specific threat:
A Washington state man was arrested on Tuesday on charges he made multiple online death threats against Darren Wilson, the white police officer who shot and killed an unarmed black teenager in Ferguson, Missouri, federal officials said.
Jaleel Tariq Abdul-Jabbaar, 46, of the Seattle suburb of Kirkland, made an initial appearance in federal court on Tuesday to face three counts of making interstate threats, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Washington. …
He is accused of posting a string of threats to his personal Facebook page targeting police officers, specifically Wilson. The criminal complaint quoted one of the postings as saying: “We the oppressed people need to kill this white cop.”
In another posting, he wrote: “We MUST arm ourselves against the white oppressors who wear guns and badges,” the complaint said.
The second posting shouldn’t be prosecutable, but the first definitely goes over the bright line between free political speech and incitement.