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Ferguson’s Next Rally: Justice for Michael Brown
Posted on Aug 24, 2014
When I first heard the reports of an unarmed 18-year-old black youth shot and killed in Ferguson, Mo., while, according to witnesses, surrendering to the police, my heart dropped.
Immediately my thoughts went to the tall, strong, handsome sons, nephews and cousins that populate my extended family from Los Angeles to Long Island. My thoughts were of concern for their safety in every innocent moment of their lives, as I was reminded again that innocence is not sufficient to ward off the unwarranted attention of the police.
In the instant I heard the reports, I was reminded that others see those very same sons and nephews not as tall, but as imposing; not as strong, but as dangerous; not as handsome, but as menacing. Once again I was reminded of the layer of fear and anxiety that lies heavy on every black family in America.
This layer of concern is one with which white families are not familiar. When I heard the reports, it served as yet another stark reminder that though blacks and whites physically live side by side, we live in two different countries: black America and white America.
The tragedy unfolding in Ferguson is made all the more sad by the cynical actions of the city’s police chief, Thomas Jackson, and all those involved in a possible cover-up of Officer Darren Wilson’s shooting of Michael Brown. From the day of the shooting, the police department has known Wilson’s account of what happened on Canfield Street, but it revealed only the part that involved the struggle at the police car and the first shot.
The frustration of the community has been palpable and begs for a full accounting of why this young man was shot to death for what appears to be the crime of jaywalking. Jackson stated at a news conference, with a straight face, that Brown was engaged by Wilson for “blocking traffic.” The only traffic it seems he was blocking was the police car Wilson was driving.
Although none of the video shot by camera phones on the scene captured the actual shooting, we still felt the same kind of frustration that we had in 1991 when Los Angeles Police Department officers were caught on tape beating Rodney King—that without these eyewitnesses and their video we might never know the true circumstances of Brown’s death.
Then, just when calm seemed to be settling in, the police chief convened another news conference to release a video of his own, an alleged incident of “strong-arm robbery” committed by someone resembling Brown.
Predictably, the Ferguson community exploded in rage and resistance at the undisguised attempt to smear the character of the shooting victim. The Justice Department had warned Jackson that releasing the photographs and video of the convenience store incident would serve only to inflame the situation. It almost seemed as if the chief intended to provoke a community reaction that would further distract from the issue of Wilson’s culpability and focus on the violence of some protesters as an extension of the violence officers wanted to claim was natural to Brown.
The police have been withholding information that would reveal the truth of what happened and have released and leaked only what would bolster Wilson’s defense. This selective dispersal of information confirms the worst suspicions of the black community, that the Ferguson Police Department has no interest in an objective investigation but is determined to exonerate its officer at all costs.
The transcript of the interview with Wilson, certain autopsy reports, official witness statements and forensic evidence have not been made public, although a grand jury began to look at the case Wednesday. The toxicology report on the victim has been leaked. And we are in the ironic position of being grateful that on Aug. 15, a local talk radio station caller who identified herself as a friend of Wilson’s finally alleviated our tortured imaginations by offering an account of the shooting from the perspective of the officer. At the same time, we are mindful that this version was provided only after the results of the family-sponsored postmortem examination were released, perhaps so that the caller’s narrative could conform with that autopsy’s findings.
However, a few facts are clear. Wilson initiated a confrontation with Brown with flimsy probable cause. He did not know anything yet about the incident at the convenience store. All he seems to have known at the time was that a young black man was walking in the street in front of his police car and did not show sufficient deference to his presence. Wilson’s order that Brown relocate to the sidewalk was ignored, and a physical confrontation ensued.
The officer’s apparent incompetence allowed a teenager to gain the upper hand in this confrontation to the extent that, according to some accounts, the officer pulled and fired his gun from within his police cruiser. Startled by the gunshot, Brown reportedly ran away from the cruiser. Apparently, Wilson, instead of waiting for backup, inexplicably exited the cruiser, pursuing Brown while supposedly firing wildly, missing his target but striking a home in the neighborhood. Then, as the fleeing Brown is said to have stopped his flight and turned around with his arms raised, the pursuing officer reportedly continued to shoot until Brown was dead.
Seemingly every witness on the scene who has spoken publicly has said that Brown was surrendering when the officer shot him to death. The family’s autopsy report shows that the final, fatal shot entered the top of Brown’s head and sliced through his brain. This most likely happened as he was falling face forward to the ground after being struck by at least five other bullets.
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