Getting at what Matters

Human Behavior, Politics, Social Issues

The tragic death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri should never be forgotten, especially the circumstances leading up to it. Although it has been said before, there was much more than race involved in that terrible event. These problems strike at the heart of what it is to be human. In such moments, the darkness and confusion that so often pervades the recesses of our consciousness is given dangerous, yet necessary, audience. The real nature of conflict and the origin of confusion is revealed. We must be very diligent in these moments to shine a bright halogen light on the issue and dissipate the darkness.

There has been much confusion regarding the facts of this incident. Although we may never have a satisfyingly definitive account of what occurred, there has been much talk about the available evidence. As I read the Department of Justice’s report on their investigation of the shooting, I found language that directly counters claims that Michael Brown had his hands up, that he said “Don’t shoot”, and that he was shot in the back. Unfortunately, the physical evidence corroborates many of the damning claims by Officer Darren Wilson, such as that Brown reached inside Wilson’s vehicle and for his gun, that Wilson shot Brown as he was charging towards the officer, and that Brown’s hands were either never up or were only so for a split second and not as a sign of surrender. To be 100% honest, I find it shameful among my fellow advocates of empiricism that I am something of a lone voice, and even worse a lone black voice, for highlighting the evidentiary strength of Wilson’s narrative over the distortions of the Black Lives Matters movement. Yes, this is that serious.

It is already well known that Witness 101, the gentleman of weaved/dreaded hair who was with Brown at this scene, was also with him during the convenience store robbery, and that this person was interviewed on TV and claimed that Brown had only been trying to protect himself. But this same person is seen in the video acting complicit in the robbery, and was recently arrested for interfering with an arrest. Yes, that footage was released in a provocative manner, as it was strongly indicated that it was meant to specifically counter the witness’s claims. A move like that is not always the wisest for those who are trying to maintain peace, but it is undeniable evidence that Brown can be menacingly aggressive, and that Witness 101 is not particularly credible.

There has not been enough talk about the findings of the three autopsies. According to the report:

The autopsy results confirm that Wilson did not shoot Brown in the back as he was running away because there were no entrance wounds to Brown’s back. The autopsy results alone do not indicate the direction Brown was facing when he received two wounds to his right arm, given the mobility of the arm. However, as detailed later in this report, there are no witness accounts that could be relied upon in a prosecution to prove that Wilson shot at Brown as he was running away. (7)

No one has presented any compelling reason to doubt their findings. But what about the claims of his hands being raised? The physical evidence strongly suggests he may not have had his hands in that position, due to where they ended up when he was on the ground:

Prior to transport of Brown’s body, the SLCME medicolegal investigator documented the position of Brown’s body on the ground. Brown was on his stomach with his right cheek on the ground, his buttocks partially in the air. His uninjured left arm was back and partially bent under his body with his left hand at his waistband, balled up in a fist. His injured right arm was back behind him, almost at his right side, with his injured right hand at hip level, palm up. (17)

There is a strong case here, and supported by the interviews, that if his hands had been up when he was shot, they would be in that kind of position when he fell, especially given the kind of lethal injuries from so many shots. It is hard to believe that his hands would fall down in front of him and then he fell, as opposed to his hands being in that sort of position at the start.

The report’s main purpose was to investigate whether or not there was enough evidence to prosecute Darren Wilson:

As detailed throughout this report, several witnesses stated that Brown appeared to pose a physical threat to Wilson as he moved toward Wilson. According to these witnesses, who are corroborated by blood evidence in the roadway, as Brown continued to move toward Wilson, Wilson fired at Brown in what appeared to be self-defense and stopped firing once Brown fell to the ground. (7)

The determination of whether criminal prosecution is appropriate rests on whether there is sufficient evidence to establish that any of the shots fired by Wilson were unreasonable, as defined under federal law, given the facts known to Wilson at the time, and if so, whether Wilson fired the shots with the requisite “willful” criminal intent. (10)

The report’s conclusion is that they simply don’t have enough evidence to do such a prosecution. The bulk of the report focuses on the witness interviews, most of which provide the “hands up, don’t shoot” narrative, but the first few strongly corroborate Wilson’s story. The strongest support probably comes from Witness 102:

Witness 102 thought that he had just witnessed the murder of a police officer because a few seconds passed before Wilson emerged from the SUV. Wilson then chased Brown with his gun drawn, but not pointed at Brown, until Brown abruptly turned around at a nearby driveway. Witness 102 explained that it made no sense to him why Brown turned around. Brown did not get on the ground or put his hands up in surrender. In fact, Witness 102 told investigators that he knew “for sure that [Brown’s] hands were not above his head.” Rather, Brown made some type of movement similar to pulling his pants up or a shoulder shrug, and then “charged” at Wilson. It was only then that Wilson fired five or six shots at Brown. Witness 102 stated that Wilson only fired shots when Brown was coming toward Wilson. (27)

In his grand jury testimony, he shares an experience of talking with someone who does not have the story right:

Witness 102 later learned via a “friend” on Facebook that his voice was inadvertently captured on another bystander’s cell phone recording. Federal prosecutors reviewed this recording and Witness 102 identified his voice on the recording when he testified before the county grand jury. In it, Witness 102 can be heard correcting someone else who was recounting what he heard from others, that Wilson “stood over [Brown] and shot while on the ground.” (28)

The next two witnesses give very convincing testimony as well:

[Witness 103] saw Brown punching Wilson at least three times in the facial area, through the open driver’s window of the SUV. Witness 103 described Wilson and Brown as having hold of each other’s shirts, but Brown was “getting in a couple of blows.” … Witness 103 did not see Brown’s hands up. (29)

Wilson did not fire his gun as Brown ran from him. Brown then turned around and “for a second” began to raise his hands as though he may have considered surrendering, but then quickly “balled up in fists” in a running position and “charged” at Wilson. Witness 104 described it as a “tackle run,” explaining that Brown “wasn’t going to stop.” Wilson fired his gun only as Brown charged at him, backing up as Brown came toward him. (30)

In the end, their story is the most coherent and consistent. The testimonies from witnesses in the following sections are extremely informative in that there is clearly a consistency in what they say in so that you learn the origin of a particular narrative, one that simply doesn’t match the physical evidence.

Several of these statements recount a horrific execution. Witness 137’s initial statement is the most exaggerated example:

The officer fired “every round” into Brown, killing him “execution” style. Witness 137 explained that the officer shot Brown in the lower abdomen, chest, and then the “head shot.” Witness 137 stated that after Brown fell forward, “the officer stood over him and finished him off.” Witness 137 stated that the officer shot Brown in the head both when he was still standing and then when he was on the ground. (67)

Some of the witnesses exhibited a remarkable kind of hostility themselves:

According to Witness 126, she suffers from memory loss and is under psychiatric care. … When the FBI told Witness 126 that her account was contrary to the evidence, she became belligerent, grabbed the recording device, shut it off, and would not return it to the agents. (66)

But there was no question that this was the most shocking statement:

Witness 128 also admitted that he spoke to Brown’s mother on the day of the shooting and shared details of the shooting. Witness 128 told Brown’s mother that Wilson shot Brown at point blank range while his hands were up, and that even after Brown fell to his death, Wilson stood over Brown and fired several more times. Witness 128 also told several neighbors his inaccurate version of what happened, as they were gathering in the minutes and hours after the shooting. Several individuals identified Witness 128 through description as someone who was going around spreading a narrative that Brown was shot with his hands up in surrender. (70)

The report is probably most clear in a footnote:

The media has widely reported that there is witness testimony that Brown said “don’t shoot” as he held his hands above his head. In fact, our investigation did not reveal any eyewitness who stated that Brown said “don’t shoot.” (83)

The testimony of the last set of witnesses was one of the most informative pieces of literature that I have ever read in my life. Their words might have been the most educational in this whole tragedy. So many things are said in their statements that they would surely find difficult to overtly say, but the sum total of their experiences tells an undeniable story.

This report makes clear that the majority of people who came forward to talk about Michael Brown where either not direct witnesses or had a very specific story in mind: his hands were up and he said “don’t shoot”. Looking back, and it’s great that we finally can now, that story stuck, and anyone who doesn’t actually look at the details would understandably believe the popular false narrative.

It is very likely that Michael Brown spoke with close friends about troubling thoughts and was remarkably different that day. When he charged towards Darren Wilson, he was risking everything and I would not say he had the best mentors available.

Michael Brown is someone who lived a life of great dignity and accomplishment. I would like to know more about his life, and it is sad his actual experiences have been overshadowed by noble but dishonest attempts to make him a martyr.

It is clear that his parents were manipulated into believing this story in the aftermath. I remember seeing that video of Michael lying in the street and all of the chatter, where anyone would think that this crazy cop shot a guy for no reason, maybe even while he was on the ground for all we knew.

As I’ve said before, the issues surrounding what shrouds the truth and what inspires us to stand up for our community, however well-meaning the cause and irrational the means—these are problems we have to resolve outside of race. We need to better understand how to use tools common to all people to solve our common problems. We should meet each other at a respect for logic, reason and good arguments.


What say you?

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