Washington, DC – Legal scholar Horace Cooper of the Project 21 black leadership network is condemning a statement by Missouri Governor Jay Nixon that appears to prejudge the investigation into the death of Michael Brown.
Cooper, a former professor of constitutional law at George Mason University and co-chairman of Project 21, noted that Nixon, in a taped message, asserted that “a vigorous prosecution must now be pursued.”
In the message, Nixon had presented a two-step goal to help quell the unrest in Ferguson, which has experienced protests and nightly rioting since Brown’s death on August 9.
The governor said his first goal is “ensur[ing] that those with peace in their hearts are not drowned out by those with senseless violence in their hands.” The second part of his plan, the call for “vigorous prosecution,” said Cooper, is “ominous.”
“A hallmark of the American justice system,” said Cooper, “is that we protect the rights of all Americans, especially the accused. In this case, officer Darren Wilson deserves not only a presumption of innocence, but the right to expect an neutral and dispassionate investigation into the shooting incident in Ferguson.
“A rush to judgment by Missouri Governor Jay Nixon or any other high-ranking officials,” he continued, “demeans the justice system and the rule of law.
“People of color should be especially sensitive to mob justice and the idea that the crowd can demand and obtain a prosecution regardless of the underlying merits of the case. Appeasing noxious crowds by allowing pre-ordained prosecutions is a relic of a bygone era that Americans have hoped was in the past.
“Shame on Governor Nixon.”
Cooper noted that “A grand jury’s job is not to assess guilt or innocence, but only to determine if enough evidence exists to bring charges against a potential defendant. At that time, a prosecution can be mounted. A grand jury may not make a decision for months.”
In the wake of the death of Michael Brown and unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, Project 21 members have completed over 40 radio and television interviews.
The group frequently has also addressed other issues, including civil rights, entitlement programs, the economy, race preferences, education and corporate social responsibility. It provided regular commentary during the Trayvon Martin judicial proceedings.
Its volunteer members come from all walks of life and are not salaried political professionals. The group has been in existence for over two decades and is affiliated with the National Center for Public Policy Research, a conservative, free-market, non-profit think-tank established in 1982.