In the wake of the Ferguson grand jury’s determination that there was no probable cause to indict Officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown, incensed rioters took to the streets of that Missouri city and neighboring towns where they burned and looted a number of local businesses.
Those riots were preceded by an anguished speech delivered by Brown’s mother who tearfully lamented the grand jury’s decision before a crowd of supporters. She was joined by her husband and Michael Brown’s stepfather, Louis Head, who expressed his grief in a somewhat less constructive way.
“Burn this s*** down!” Head exclaimed as the crowd of supporters grew more agitated. “Burn this b**** down!”
The videotape of these remarks soon went viral and was featured on a variety of news websites and cable news networks. Some who were present for Head’s comments claimed that the crowd’s disposition changed after these remarks, and they may have precipitated some of the violence that marred that night. “I think he was expressing a sentiment that a lot of folks in that crowd felt,” St. Louis Alderman Antonio French told Jake Tapper. “When he said those words, though, the mood did change and things got a little bit out of control.”
Those remarks have also caught the attention of local law enforcement. Authorities announced on Tuesday that Head will face a formal investigation for those comments and the role they may have played in sparking riotous violence.
“No charges have been filed against Louis Head in the incident, but police have interviewed people who know Head and who were with him November 24, the day a prosecutor announced that Officer Darren Wilson (who has since resigned) would not be indicted in the August 9 shooting of Michael Brown, Police Chief Tom Jackson said,” CNN reported. “Police have not spoken to Head about his actions, but they intend to do so, Jackson said, adding that multiple law enforcement agencies were involved in the investigation.”
Jackson revealed that his department planned to look into Head’s remarks in an interview with Fox News host Sean Hannity, but he did not classify it as a formal investigation at the time.
“We can’t let all that happened in Ferguson and Dellwood and the community die. Everyone who is responsible for taking away people’s property, their livelihoods, their jobs, their businesses — every single one of them needs to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” he told the Fox News host after calling Head’s remarks “indefensible.”
Considering the charged environment surrounding this event and the unrest the Ferguson grand jury’s decision has sparked across the country, investigating Head for potentially inciting violence has to be a relatively low priority for law enforcement.
During a speech in Atlanta on Monday, Attorney General Eric Holder was interrupted by protesters. Holder insisted that the group of protesters shouldn’t be criticized, according to CNN.
“There will be a tendency on the part of some to condemn what we just saw, but we should not,” Holder said. “What we saw there was a genuine expression of concern and involvement. And it is through that level of involvement, that level of concern and I hope a level of perseverance and commitment, that change ultimately will come. And so let me be clear, let me be clear, I ain’t mad atcha, all right?”
It is entirely possible that insufficient evidence exists to charge Head with incitement. The state would have to prove that Head intended to ignite violence with his comments, and even a casual viewing of the video of his remarks does not leave the viewer with the impression that it was his premeditated intent to start a riot. Given the Justice Department’s concerns, however, it seems unlikely that Head will be a target of any federal investigation and local authorities will be informed that their actions in this inquiry could spark further unrest. And nobody wants that…