TIME justice

Surfers Beat Billionaire in Landmark California Beach Case

A surfer hops the gate at the top of Martins Beach Road, crossing property owned by venture capitalist Vinod Khosla in order to get to Martins Beach on August 7, 2014. Katy Steinmetz for TIME

The latest ruling in the ongoing battle over a northern California surf spot is a blow to venture capitalist Vinod Khosla

A California court issued a milestone ruling Sept. 24 that may restore public access to a beach that requires traveling across privately owned land, the latest turn in a multi-year legal frenzy that has pitted the surfers who cross the property against the billionaire who owns it.

Judge Barbara Mallach of San Mateo Superior Court ruled against venture capitalist Vinod Khosla, a co-founder of Sun Microsystems, who was sued by the nonprofit Surfrider Foundation after his property manager blocked the public from accessing a beloved seaside spot known as Martins Beach.

At the center of the controversy is a low-slung metal gate that sits at the top of Martins Beach Road, an offshoot of the Pacific Coast Highway that is the only way to access Martins Beach from dry land. The road snakes across 53 acres that Khosla bought for $32.5 million in 2008. For two years, his property manager allowed the public to occasionally visit a stretch of sand where locals have gone smelt-fishing and surfing and picnicking for decades. But Khosla allowed the gate to be closed permanently in 2010 after his property manager received a letter from the county demanding that it stay open every day.

The conflict comes at a time when an influx of tech wealth has sharpened class tension in northern California. “[Kholsa] believes that he can find a way to use his wealth and power to strong-arm the situation,” says Chad Nelsen, environmental director of the Surfrider Foundation.

Khosla doesn’t own a home on the land and says he has no plans to build one. The decision to shut off access to the road was a way to take a stand about what he felt were his basic rights. “This is a case about private property,” Khosla told TIME in an email. “We need to assert our rights and get the courts to clarify them.”

Khosla’s lawyers say they are considering appealing the verdict. “We will continue to seek protection of the constitutional rights of private property owners that are guaranteed by the U.S. and California Constitutions and that have long been upheld by the United States and California Supreme Courts,” his attorneys said in a statement.

Surfrider’s argument rested on a seemingly bureaucratic detail. The organization claimed that under the 1976 Coastal Act, which gave a statewide Coastal Commission jurisdiction over beachfront land, Khosla needed to apply for a development permit in order to close the gate. The commission will often only grant development permits, typically to build a home or another structure, if the public gets an established right of way in return.

“Because they’re in charge of beach development, they’re allowed to do this quid pro quo,” says Arthur McEvoy, a professor at Southwestern Law School in Los Angeles. “They can ask you in trade to dedicate a little easement, if the development threatens to impede public access.”

The tricky matter is that while beaches are widely considered public, people don’t necessarily have a right to cross private property to get there. Cases such as this one set precedents that resonate up and down California’s 840 miles of coastline.

The view of Martins Beach from the bottom of Martins Beach Road includes a rock formation known as the “shark’s tooth.” Katy Steinmetz for TIME

It’s easy to see why Martins Beach is beloved. Its sands wrap around a cove with cliffs jutting out on either end, creating a rare surfing spot protected from the wind and also preventing people from walking to the beach from the north or south. Secluded and full of wildlife, its dramatic rock formations are often blanketed by birds. Seals pop their heads up between surfers and the beach.

For decades, cars that wound their way down the road from Highway 1 paid a small fee to the landowners for parking and frequented a snack shop that has fallen into disrepair. A now-defunct sign advertising $15 parking, the amount Khosla’s employees charged when visitors were allowed, still lays on the ground.

Steve Baugher, Khosla’s property manager, testified at the trial that it was his decision to close the gate. He also testified that he hired security guards to “deter trespassers”; their presence prompted five surfers to defiantly march past them last October to proclaim their right to be on the beach. Known as the “Martin’s 5″ the surfers were arrested by the county sheriff but the District Attorney declined to prosecute–inspiring more surfers to take advantage of this legal limbo and hop the fence with abandon.

In California, public access to the beach is protected by the public trust doctrine, a common law that can be traced back to the English crown proclaiming rights to all submerged lands, in order to let the public use the water above them for fishing and navigation.

“Our culture abhors private beaches, and generally speaking our law abhors private beaches as well,” McEvoy said. “And any landowner is going to want to keep people away from their beach.”

In an earlier case that went Khosla’s way, a group called the Friends of Martins Beach used a different angle to sue, testing a clause in the state constitution that declares that no entity shall “exclude the right of way to such water whenever it is required for any public purpose.” In a 2013 ruling, another San Mateo Superior Court judge said that because Martins Beach had been part of a land grant that settled the Mexican-American war in 1848, a year before the constitution was adopted, the intentions of that document were immaterial.

Beyond the ongoing court cases, two other avenues may force the drama to a close. One is a bill sponsored by State Senator Jerry Hill, a San Mateo Democrat, that would require the State Lands Commission to consider purchasing the road if negotiations with Khosla for public access fail. Meanwhile, the Coastal Commission, which has been fielding the public’s complaints about the closure of Martins Beach, is asking people to write in about how they’ve used the area in the past. That testimony may prove there’s a historic right of access that Attorney General Kamala Harris can sue to restore on the Commission’s behalf. “The Commission is trying very hard to bring it to a close,” says Nancy Cave, a commission manager who was part of negotiations with Khosla’s team that went nowhere. “We are frustrated, too.”

Khosla notes that he is not the first owner of the property to limit access, pointing out that previous owners closed the gate during certain hours and seasons and even inconvenient days. In court, property manager Baugher testified that he received a letter from the county demanding that the gates be open year round and parking be charged at the rate of $2, what beachgoers paid in 1973. Khosla has also accused Surfrider and the Coastal Commission of attempting to “blackmail and coerce him,” charges both deny. Surfrider emphasizes that Khosla has allowed changes that are far from what his predecessors did—like painting over a billboard that used to welcome people to come down from Highway 1 to the beach, turning it into a dark green slab.

Surfrider had hoped that the court would also fine Khosla for failing to apply for a permit but Mallach declined, saying that those who closed the gate had acted in good faith that they had the legal right to do so. Nonetheless, Surfrider championed the decision as a “huge victory.”

“Today’s court decision upholding the Coastal Act is an important victory for Martin’s Beach and ultimately strengthens the public’s right to beach access in California,” Angela Howe, Surfrider’s legal director, said in a statement. “The Surfrider Foundation remains vigilant to protect beach access rights, not only in this case, but also in other cases where the beach is wrongfully cut off from the public.”

TIME justice

Navajo Nation to Receive $554 Million Settlement From U.S. Government

It's the largest settlement ever received by a Native American tribe

The U.S. will pay the Navajo Nation $554 million as the result of a settlement agreement, the largest ever obtained by an American Indian tribe.

The agreement settles a 2006 lawsuit by the Navajo Nation, alleging that the American government improperly handled Indian assets for more than five decades, the New York Times reports.

The Navajo Nation, alongside officials from the Obama Administration, will formally announce the settlement on Friday, from Arizona. The Nation owns about 14 million acres of land, which the federal government oversees, though the tribe said the U.S. has not provided tools and invested the proper resources to foster economic growth.

The Department of Justice said the money will be transferred to the Navajo Nation as quickly as two months from now. The settlement is reportedly part of about $2.61 billion worth of agreements the Obama administration reached with various Indian tribes, in an effort to improve relations between the Federal government and Native tribes.

[NYT]

TIME Supreme Court

Justice Ginsburg Suggests Senate Republicans Are Keeping Her At Her Job

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg makes remarks during a forum at the Newseum to mark the 30th anniversary of the first female Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's first term on the Supreme Court in Washington, DC, April 11, 2012.
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg makes remarks during a forum at the Newseum to mark the 30th anniversary of the first female Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's first term on the Supreme Court in Washington, DC, April 11, 2012. Mike Theiler—REUTERS

A revealing interview to a women's magazine shows how politics is impacting the court

Correction appended Wednesday, 9/24

The dysfunctions and passions of modern partisan politics is not supposed to influence the behavior of the nation’s highest court, but for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the circus taking place across U.S. Capitol Plaza seems to be having an impact.

This week, Elle magazine asked Ginsburg the question on everyone’s mind: Why not step down from the court now, with a Democratic President, to ensure another left-leaning replacement? Her answer was telling, for an 81-year-old justice who was confirmed to the Supreme Court in 1993 with only three Republican senators voting against her.

“Who do you think President Obama could appoint at this very day, given the boundaries that we have?” she said. “If I resign any time this year, he could not successfully appoint anyone I would like to see in the court. [The Senate Democrats] took off the filibuster for lower federal court appointments, but it remains for this court. So anybody who thinks that if I step down, Obama could appoint someone like me, they’re misguided.”

The implication of this is that she must wait for cooler heads and the 2016 election, when either Republicans might move to the middle or Democrats could win a larger majority in the upper chamber. It was also remarkably frank admission of something Supreme Court justices often try to avoid doing publically: Connecting the whims of Democracy to the wisdom of their collective deliberations.

Under the constitution, the political process officially has an impact on the court at two points: When the Senate confirms justices for the court in the first place, and when Justices decide to leave the court at the end of their career. In 1929, shortly after the stock market crash, Chief Justice William Howard Taft declared in a letter to his brother, “I must stay on the court in order to prevent the Bolsheviki from getting control.” Chief Justice Warren Burger famously sped his retirement out of fear that Republicans would lose control of the Senate in 1986. Justice Harry Blackmun famously scribbled notes to himself the day after President Clinton was elected in 1992, debating when he should now retire.

In recent years, Chief Justice John Roberts, a Republican appointee, has made a point of trying to build unity in the court amid the growing national division outside the building’s walls. In the last term, 60% of the cases were decided unanimously, the highest percentage in decades. But on the biggest issues, from union dues to Obamacare to religious freedom, divisions are still deep and wide.

From Ginsburg’s view, the recent rightward drift of the court will end, if not reverse itself, with time. On the question of abortion, she told Elle, the court has gotten “about as conservative as it will get.” But when asked about the pendulum swinging left again on the larger issues of women’s rights, she pointed to the same body that she suggests is keeping her in the job. “I think it will,” she said, “when we have a more functioning Congress.”

Correction: The original version of this story incorrectly described the group Ginsberg said took off the filibuster for lower federal court appointments. They are the Senate Democrats.

TIME 2014 Election

Voting Rights Rally Students As North Carolina Senate Battle Heats Up

N.C. House Speaker Thom Tillis, left, talks with voter Donald Parrott of Charlotte outside Precinct 75 at Holy Covenant UCC in Charlotte, N.C., on May 6, 2014 Jeff Siner—The Charlotte Observer/AP

Students at Appalachian State University are among a coalition of folks pushing back against the threat of disenfranchisement in North Carolina

Boone, North Carolina

Correction appended Sept. 24

Appalachian State University played host to Rock the Vote’s 2014 National Voter Registration Day rally and concert on Tuesday, with an eclectic mix of students and local politicians gathered amid brisk September winds on Duck Pond field, a grassy valley near the stadium where the Mountaineers football team plays. “We’re here celebrating our constitutional right to vote,” said Andy Ball, mayor of the town of Boone. “We want to encourage everyone to speak out in this election.”

The message was familiar, but North Carolina is in a unique position this time around. The state is ground zero of the ongoing battle to protect voting rights and the students Appalachian State, nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains of the Tar Heel state, are the test cases. A sweeping 2013 state voting law that will be in place for the first time during a statewide election, eliminating same-day registration and out-of-precinct voting, and shortening the early voting window by ten days, all changes that could disproportionately impact young people.

“We’re worried,” says Rachel Clay, 21, a student at ASU. “But, there’s a big pushback from grassroots organizations on campus to get students engaged and address misinformation.” Clay is helping to organize a march to the polls during the early voting period, and plans to vote on the first day the polls open—Oct. 23. She was one of many students who voted at the campus’ polling site in 2012, which has been moved by the local board of elections from the centrally located student union to a site further away from undergrads on main campus. The GOP-controlled Watauga County Board of Elections also recently rejected a proposal to have the campus serve as an early voting site, though the campus was home to an early voting site every year since 2008.

On Tuesday, students trickled in and out of to rally ahead of the 2014 Midterm election. They were drawn to the event for different reasons—many had come from grabbing a bite to eat at the nearby student center and were drawn to the music. Others were truly concerned about protecting their right to cast a ballot, and wanted to make sure every student at ASU had the opportunity to have their voice be heard.

Republicans in the state have called the voting law a common sense reform that will help prevent fraud at the state’s polls. In 2016, additional rules are scheduled to take effect that would prevent students from presenting their student identification cards as proof of residence when casting a ballot, as is currently permitted. Voter rights advocates worry the laws changes to early voting and same-day registration will place an undue burden on certain voting blocks including African Americans, low-income voters, the elderly, and young people.

Durham-based advocacy group Democracy NC says the law blocked more than 400 voters from casting ballots during the primary because of the changes to same-day registration and out-of-precinct voting, disruption they predict will be bigger during the Midterm election. That is, however, unless civil rights organization’s last-ditch attempt at judicial intervention proves fruitful. On Sept. 25, the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, the American Civil Liberties Union will represent a collection of North Carolinians in an expedited appeal hearing before the 4th Circuit Court.

In the meantime, the issue of disenfranchisement has become an election issue in the close federal senate contest. Incumbent Democratic Senator Kay Hagan asked the federal government to investigate the new voting law last year, and has created a list-building website encouraging people to vent their frustration about the new law. Her campaign has criticized the Republican nominee Thom Tillis for working to pass the new voting law as speaker of the state House. Tillis defends his vote for the new law as part of an effort to restore confidence in the voting system.

“The mistake the extremists in state legislature made is that their actions have energized people,” says Rev. William Barber president of the North Carolina Chapter of the NAACP and leader of a statewide movement to galvanize voters.

It may take until after the election to find out if this enthusiasm will offset the decline in voter participation because voting will be less convenient this time around. “I’m not a political scientist,” says Anita Earls, the Executive Director of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, “but I think we’ll see a jump in students voting this year because of their frustration that someone is trying to take their vote.”

Correction: A previous version of this story named the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People among the groups being represented by the Southern Coalition of Social Justice. The NAACP is involved in a separate suit against the state’s voting law.

TIME Military

WikiLeaks Source Chelsea Manning Sues Govt Over Hormone Treatment Request

Artist rendering of how Chelsea Manning sees herself. Alicia Neal—Chelsea Manning Support Network

Manning was diagnosed by military doctors with gender dysphoria after her arrest

Chelsea Manning, who is serving a 35-year sentence at Fort Leavenworth military prison for leaking classified government documents to WikiLeaks, has sued U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel over the government’s refusal to pay for gender reassignment treatment.

“The government continues to deny Ms. Manning’s access to necessary medical treatment for gender dysphoria, without which she will continue to suffer severe psychological harms,” Chase Strangio, an ACLU attorney and co-counsel with Manning’s long-term civilian lawyer David Coombs, said in a statement. “Such clear disregard of well-established medical protocols constitutes cruel and unusual punishment.”

Manning first expressed her intent to live as a woman before she was arrested in 2010 for perpetrating what at the time was the largest leak of classified information in American history. Since her arrest, she has been diagnosed by military doctors with gender dysphoria, the term used by the medical community to describe someone who does not identify with the physical gender he or she was assigned at birth.

Since her incarceration, Manning has requested that the military pay for hormone therapy consistent with treatment others receive for gender dysphoria.

Providing treatment for gender dysphoria is not uncommon in civilian prisons, but the Pentagon’s policies differ from other prisons.The Defense Department considered moving Manning to a civilian facility in May, a move critics charged was an attempt to avoid confronting the decision of whether or not to provide treatment to military prisoners suffering from gender dysphoria.

“I am proud to be standing with the ACLU behind Chelsea on this very important issue.” said the civilian lawyer David Coombs. “It is my hope that through this action, Chelsea will receive the medical care that she needs without having to suffer any further anguish.”

TIME justice

3 Charged With Attacking Gay Men After Twitter User ID’ed Suspects

The Philadelphia District Attorney has charged two men and one woman over the September 11 attack

Two men and one woman were charged in Philadelphia Tuesday in connection with a violent attack on two gay men after Twitter users helped cops identify the suspects.

The suspects were charged with aggravated assault, simple assault, conspiracy and reckless endangerment after they allegedly attacked two gay men in the Center City area of Philadelphia September 11. The beating left one of the men hospitalized with multiple fractures, NBC Philadelphia reports.

The names of the three suspects are Philip Williams, 24; Kevin Harrigan, 26; and Katherine Knott, 24.

At around 10:45 p.m. on Sept. 11, the 27 and 28-year-old victims were walking from a local restaurant when the three alleged assailants, who witnesses described as visibly intoxicated, approached them. One of them asked “Is this your [explicative] boyfriend?” The group then attacked the two men with punches and kicks to the face head and chest, police say.

According to police, the suspects were identified after police posted a surveillance video of the three. A civilian then used Twitter and Facebook Graph Search to identify the suspects before alerting the authorities. That series of events would be a welcome departure from a trend among some social media users to attempt to solve crimes and identify the wrong suspect, which has led to serious harassment of innocent people in the past.

https://twitter.com/PPDJoeMurray/status/512057192292573184

[NBC Philadelphia]

TIME justice

Federal Prison Population Drops By Nearly 5,000

(WASHINGTON) — Attorney General Eric Holder says the federal prison population has dropped this year by roughly 4,800 inmates, the first decline in decades.

Holder is speaking Tuesday at a criminal justice conference in New York City.

According to excerpts of his speech, the Justice Department expects to end the current fiscal year next week with a federal prison population of roughly 215,000 inmates.

That 4,800 drop is compared with totals from last year. It’s the first time since 1980 that the federal prison population has declined during the course of a fiscal year.

With more population drops expected in the future, Holder says law enforcement needs to measure success by more than just prosecutions and convictions.

TIME justice

The Surprising State Leading the U.S. in Prison Population Growth

Furniture Makers Prison
A New Hampshire prison inmate works in the wood shop inside the prison in Concord, N.H., April 18, 2013. Jim Cole—AP

Live free or be incarcerated

In the past two decades, New Hampshire’s crime rate has remained steady. It has one of the lowest violent crime rates in the U.S., and the state’s population has only grown by about a fifth.

But over that period, the number of state and federal inmates in New Hampshire has almost doubled. Its main prison in Concord is routinely overcrowded. And last year, the prison population grew at a faster rate than any other state in the country.

As the number of incarcerated Americans inched up for the first time in four years, the prison population in small, largely rural New Hampshire grew faster than any other state. The 8.2% increase in the Granite State topped second-place Nebraska’s 6.8% rise and far outpaced the 0.3% national increase in the number of inmates, according to figures released Sept. 16 by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Many state experts and public officials trace the rise not to a spike in crime or a recent population boom, but to the alteration of a bill initially designed to reduce New Hampshire’s prison population. In 2010, the state adopted a law that freed all inmates who had served 120% of their minimum sentence. If an inmate was sentenced to 5-10 years, for example, he or she would automatically be released by the sixth year. It also required prisoners to walk free when they were within nine months of their maximum sentence. Within a year of the law’s enactment, almost 300 prisoners were released as a result.

The bipartisan effort was meant to cut a prison population that had been growing for decades. According to the New Hampshire Department of Corrections, state prisoners increased from 287 in 1980 to 1,250 by 1990 and 2,847 by 2008. A policy called Truth in Sentencing, which reduced early releases for inmates based on good behavior, contributed to that growth. The Justice Reinvestment Act, as the 2010 law was known, undid many of those guidelines.

“It was a wholesale change to the department of corrections,” says Dennis Delay, an economist at the New Hampshire Center of Public Policy.

But the political timing was terrible. The law became effective in October 2010—one month before local elections—and it became an easy target for candidates seeking to look tough on crime, says Donna Sytek, chairman of the New Hampshire Adult Parole Board. It didn’t help that the first few inmates released under the program were violent criminals and rapists, raising the specter that dangerous people were being returned to the streets.

“It was initially embraced by everybody, Democrats and Republicans,” Sytek says. “But it became a political football.”

The following year, the state legislature effectively gutted the bill. Instead of mandatory release nine months before the end of a maximum sentence, for instance, inmates were now just granted a parole hearing. The state’s prison population has swelled ever since. In 2013, New Hampshire had 3,018 inmates.

Experts cite other factors contributing to the increase, such as the state’s gradual population growth and judges handing down stiffer sentences for drug crimes. But the change to the 2010 law appears to be the main culprit.

“I can tell you that many New Hampshire stakeholders are extremely concerned that the current prison population exceeds its capacity,” says Ted Kirkpatrick, a professor of sociology at the University of New Hampshire. “I am uncertain, however, what will come out of that concern.”

TIME justice

More Than 1,000 Search for Missing Student Hannah Graham

The first wave of volunteers spread out around Charlottesville, Virginia, on Saturday to search for a missing University of Virginia student who disappeared a week earlier.

More than 1,600 people gathered Friday night at the John Paul Jones Arena for a briefing on the massive search for 18-year-old Hannah Graham, who vanished a week ago after an off-campus party, said Jeffrey Stern, a state coordinator for the Virginia Department of Emergency Management. Crews said the turnout was so large that volunteers would be split into groups with different start times, according to NBC affiliate WVIR

Read the rest of the story at NBC News

TIME Crime

Grand Jury Process Raises Questions About a Ferguson Indictment

Residents Of Ferguson Continue To Call For Change Over Handling Of Michael Brown Shooting
Police block demonstrators from gaining access to Interstate Highway 70 on Sept. 10, 2014 near Ferguson, Mo. Scott Olson—Getty Images

The ongoing grand jury proceedings may suggest the prosecutor is trying to avoid backlash if Wilson isn't indicted

Officer Darren Wilson testified this week in the grand jury investigation into his shooting of Michael Brown, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The newspaper’s scoop was unusual. Unlike most criminal-justice proceedings in the U.S., grand juries are highly secretive. Leaking information about them is a criminal act.

But perhaps it should no longer be surprising to see the investigation take an interesting turn. More than a month after Brown’s death in Ferguson, Mo., the grand jury appears to be nowhere near a decision on whether Wilson should be charged. And the road to justice has been paved with strange decisions.

Several elements of the grand jury’s proceedings have been uncommon, according to legal experts surveyed by TIME. None of these decisions are necessarily improper. But together they have raised eyebrows. “This is not your regular St. Louis grand jury case,” says Susan McGraugh, a veteran Missouri criminal-defense attorney and law professor at St. Louis University.

The investigation has been fraught from the start. Residents of Ferguson, who have massed in protests each day since Brown was killed on Aug. 9, immediately cast doubt on the impartiality of McCulloch, who has been the county’s elected prosecuting attorney since 1991. McCulloch’s father, a police officer, was killed in the line of duty by a black suspect. Critics have pointed to his record of charging police-involved shootings and suggested that his background may cloud his judgment in the case. There were early murmurs that McCulloch would recuse himself or be replaced by Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon. Instead, McCulloch has delegated the task of presenting evidence to two senior attorneys in his office.

The first unusual decision taken by the prosecutor’s office, experts say, was not to recommend a specific charge for Wilson. Instead, the prosecutors are presenting evidence as it becomes available, and leaving it up to the grand jury to decide what the evidence warrants.

To some members of the community, the decision was taken as a sign that McCulloch may be trying to avoid an indictment. “To present a case to a grand jury, without any direction or instructions with regard to what you want them to achieve,” says Adolphus Pruitt of the St. Louis NAACP, “gives the best odds that an indictment will not occur.”

McCulloch has ordered that all testimony in the case be transcribed. This is rare, because it can be used against witnesses in future legal proceedings. In addition, McCulloch has pledged to immediately release full transcripts and audio recordings of the panel’s testimony in the absence of an indictment. This too is highly unusual.

The prosecutor’s office, which did not respond to an interview request from TIME, has said these decisions were designed with transparency and openness in mind. But they may also be a way to head off criticism. “It will take the heat off McCulloch if the grand jury comes back with something that the public doesn’t like,” says McGraugh.

Without a charging recommendation, the grand jury has the option to indict Wilson on either first- or second-degree murder, or either voluntary or involuntary manslaughter. “If they return an indictment for either murder or manslaughter, no one’s going to care that he didn’t have a charging recommendation,” says Jens David Ohlin, a professor at Cornell Law School. “If, on the other hand, they don’t return an indictment, he can deflect any criticism and say I presented all the evidence to the grand jury, and in their wisdom they decided.”

There is a greater chance that the jury declines to return an indictment than the public may expect, Ohlin says. “It’s a very difficult case.”

With three blacks and nine whites, the grand jury’s composition reflects the demographic makeup of the county, which is roughly one-quarter black. It was empaneled before Brown was shot, and began hearing evidence shortly after. The proceedings could prove unusually lengthy. Authorities originally suggested they expected a decision on whether to charge Wilson by mid-October. But a circuit judge recently extended the panel’s term, giving them until Jan. 7 to decide whether to charge the officer in connection with Brown’s death.

The case is complex, and justice is often slow. But within the community, there are suspicions that the protracted proceedings are a way to drag out the case until the anger on the streets fades—and, perhaps, to gain the benefit of winter weather that might deter protesters.

It won’t work, warns Pruitt of the NAACP. “If there’s no true bill,” he says, “as a community, we are going to be thrust right back into the same discontent and civil disobedience we experienced the first time around.”

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