This witness was scared. He had Googled himself and found the phrase: “Snitches get stitches.”
He was scared that black neighbors would find fault with his description of what happened when a white police officer, Darren Wilson, shot dead an unarmed black man, Michael Brown, in Ferguson, Mo.
He was scared that white supremacists would accuse him of hurting Wilson’s case. “I do think of the Ku Klux Klan. I do,” he told investigators.
From the first day a grand jury met, it is clear that fear and anxiety played major roles in the struggle to paint a precise picture of what unfolded between Wilson and Brown on Aug. 9.
The jurors’ decision not to indict Wilson prompted prosecutors to make public more than 4,700 pages of transcripts and reports in hope of quashing suspicions that Wilson got away with murder. The tactic did not work, and rioting erupted in Ferguson this week.
But the documents do provide a look at what some witnesses went through as they wrestled with the fallout of witnessing a controversial killing.
Some feared saying something that would upset neighbors if it did not match other witness accounts.
“You never know how people react to certain things,” testified one man, who did not speak to police until 13 days after Brown’s death but whose version of events bolstered the view that Brown had his hands up and was not posing a threat when Wilson shot him.
Some were so distrustful of police that they did not offer information until investigators knocked on their doors.