A Preliminary Look at the Michael Brown Shooting

© Josh Sager – August 2014

As everybody who follows the news has already heard, last week a Ferguson Missouri police officer shot and killed an 18-year old black teenager. This shooting has provoked a massive response by the public and has become the rallying cry for a movement protesting police brutality and the criminalization of African Americans.

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Personally, I have been following this story since it occurred, but have not written about it until now for the simple reason that the police have refused to release any relevant information—they have withheld the autopsy, toxicological report, ballistics report, official witness statements, and virtually all other official investigative documents. What we knew about the shooting was largely given to us by eyewitnesses who approached the media. Fortunately, the preliminary autopsy report was just released, giving us some ability to assign credibility to certain witnesses.

Here is what we do know: On the afternoon of August 9th, 18-year old Michael Brown was walking down the street in Ferguson, Missouri, with his friend Dorian Johnson. They were traveling back to Brown’s family home after stealing a $49 box of cigarillos from a local shop, when Darren Wilson, a Ferguson police officer, stopped them for walking in the street. After a short confrontation which led one shot to be fired in the police car, Brown ran away from the car and Officer Wilson followed. Almost immediately after leaving the car, Officer Wilson fired between six and eight shots into Brown, striking him in the arm multiple times, chest once, and head twice—all bullets hit Brown from the front, except for the final shot to the head, which impacted from the top of the skull downward (showing that Brown was either kneeling, charging, or falling forward).

MAIN--Michael-Brown-and-Darren-Wilson

Within these events, there are details which determine whether the shooting was justified, and what the fate of the officer will be.

According to Dorian Johnson, Officer Wilson was extremely combative when he pulled up next to them and swore at them while demanding that they leave the street. When Brown said that they would get out of the street but are almost home, Wilson turned the car around, pulled up beside the teens, and grabbed hold of Brown’s neck. Brown, being a very large teen was able to pull away from Wilson, and Wilson pulled his gun. After seeing the gun, Brown ran down the street while Johnson took cover by a nearby car. When he got out of his vehicle, Wilson fired at Brown, causing him to stop running, and turn around with his hands up—at this point, Wilson fired the shots which actually struck and killed Brown.

According to the police, Brown lunged into the police officer’s car when he was stopped, tried to grab Officer Wilson’s gun—striking him several times—and, when he failed, he took off running. The police then allege that by the time that Wilson left the car, Brown was 35 feet away, at which point he decided to run back towards the car in order to attack Wilson. To stop Brown from charging him, Officer Wilson fired at Brown, shooting him multiple times and killing him.

While there will be a trial that determines the facts of the case, I think that the police story is simply ridiculous and that they are grasping at straws to justify the shooting of an over-aggressive and under-trained police officer. The idea that anybody (never mind a college-bound teen with no criminal record) would try to grab a police officer’s gun to avoid being caught jaywalking is patently absurd, as is the idea that Brown would run dozens of feet away from the car, then charge back through gunfire to harm the officer.

Several witnesses who have talked to the media have accounts that match up with Johnson’s descriptions of the events leading up to the shooting. They do not report seeing Brown charge the officer, nor do they confirm the assertion by police that Brown struggled for the officer’s gun. Additionally, the preliminary autopsy doesn’t show any sign of a struggle over a weapon, and concluded that the shots were fired from a distance.

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Personally, I think that Officer Wilson felt disrespected by Brown when his orders to get out of the street were not immediately followed, thus he decided to throw his weight around. He grabbed Brown through the car window in order to intimidate him, but underestimated how strong Brown was and panicked when Brown pulled away. This panic led him to draw his gun and fire, causing Brown to run away in fear. By the time that Wilson got out of the car, Brown was 30 feet away and Wilson started firing—the first shot either missed (Brown was not shot through the back) or grazed his hand, leading Brown to turn around with his hands up. Because he was caught up in the situation, Wilson failed to recognize Brown’s surrender, and continued to fire, shooting and killing Brown.

If my reading of the situation is correct, the officer is guilty of 2nd degree murder and should be brought up on charges immediately.

Failed Attempts at Mitigation

In response to the public outcry over the Michael Brown shooting, the police have attempted to mitigate the responsibility of their officer in several underhanded ways—these methods are used to poison the jury pool and assassinate the character of the victim in the public eye.

First, on Friday the 15th, they called a press conference where announced that that they would be giving additional details of the shooting to the press, but instead they released a video from a local bodega showing Michael Brown stealing cigarillos. This video was given to the media in a way that suggested it was the reason why Brown was stopped, and only later did the police clarify that the robbery had nothing to do with the shooting—the officer who killed Brown had no knowledge of the robbery and actually stopped him for jaywalking.

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Put simply, this video is irrelevant, prejudicial, and a blatant attempt by the police to make excuses for their officer’s actions. As the officer had no knowledge of the robbery, it didn’t factor into his thinking, actions, or posture in the slightest (if he were confronting a robber instead of a jaywalker, he could more easily justify his aggression).

There is a very simple thought experiment to demonstrate how ridiculous this attempt at mitigation is: Imagine that a police officer is shot by a gang member while attempting to arrest him for selling drugs in a school zone. After the shooting, it is discovered that the police officer committed the crimes of rape and murder, only to escape without anybody being able to identify him at the time. While the police officer is clearly a violent criminal, does anybody argue that the gang member—who had no knowledge of the officer’s crimes or legitimate claims to self-defense for his shooting—should be able to use the prior bad acts of the officer to escape charges?

…of course nobody would argue this, as each crime is separate. A murderer who murders somebody cannot retroactively claim self-defense because he later discovers that the person who he killed did something wrong—at the time of the killing, he had no justification and legal reason to kill the victim.

The second attempts at mitigating the actions of the police came more recently, when the police released the information that Brown tested positive for marijuana at the time of his death. As this test is only accurate within a 40-day window, this positive result proves that Brown smoked or ingested pot sometime in the past 40-days, and may have been stoned at the time of his death. Regardless, this intoxication is irrelevant to the shooting, as pot has depressant effects on the human body that retard aggression rather than induce it.

By portraying Brown as a drug-using robber, the police seek to obfuscate the very real possibility that their officer gunned down an innocent kid for no legal reason after stopping him for jaywalking. Retroactively tarring the victim is an ugly strategy, but it works in many cases (ex. rape cases where rapists justify their actions by saying that the victim was dressed like she was asking for it).

Conclusion

The Michael Brown shooting is not only tragic, but it is indicative of a much larger problem in the United States. The Ferguson Police Department appears to be out of control and a danger to the African American population living in the area. The Brown shooting is only one in a series of questionable police actions in the area.

It was just a couple years ago that Ferguson police officers severely beat a handcuffed African American man named Henry Davis after wrongfully arresting him (he shares a first and last name with a person who had an open warrant), only to charge him with destruction of police property for bleeding on their uniforms. He is currently appealing the conviction, but he had to pay $3000 in fines.

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Recently, there are reports of police in the area pointing guns and random protesters marching in support of Brown, illegally arresting reporters, shooting tear gas at cameramen from Al Jazeera, and even threatening to shoot reporters for doing their jobs.

Given the actions of the Ferguson police in response to the protests, it is entirely unsurprising that one of their own would needlessly escalate a simple jaywalking stop to the point where they empty their gun into an unarmed teenager. At every turn, the police have responded with unnecessary aggression and, if they are willing to threaten established reporters with their guns while the eyes of the country are on them, I shudder to think what they are willing to do to poor African Americans when there is no media coverage shining a spotlight on them.

Regardless of whether Officer Wilson is eventually charged and convicted, his actions have illustrated an extremely disturbing problem in our police departments. The Ferguson police are not alone in their militarization and over-aggression, and low-income communities across our country face the threat of police violence on a daily basis.

10 thoughts on “A Preliminary Look at the Michael Brown Shooting

  1. Dorian Johnson is not a reliable witness. He claimed his bully buddy was shot in the back. The autopsy proves Brown was not shot in the back. So if I was on a jury, I would not trust a single word that he said. Moreover, he was an accessory to a robbery, further evidence that he is not a reliable witness.

    The other witnesses did not see the beginning of the encounter. There is not the consistency that you falsely claim.

    The robbery is not irrelevant. It demonstrates Brown’s character, and clearly suggests that he could have been the aggressor. Brown brought this entirely upon himself by failing to follow the police officer’s orders.

    If I was on a jury, I would refuse to convict the police officer for offing a future violent criminal. That’s what Brown was.

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    • You need to do a little more research.

      Johnson’s account actually was confirmed by several other witnesses, who, while not within earshot for the initial confrontation, saw that it was the officer who grabbed Brown, not the other way around. Additionally, the autopsy confirms or does not conflict with all of Johnson’s claims (ex. he said that the officer shot at Brown when his back was turned and this is entirely possible–all we know is that most of the shots came from the front, after Brown turned, and as Johnson stated).

      The robbery is what legally knowledgeable people call “prior bad acts” that are “irrelevant and prejudicial.” They have no bearing on this case because they don’t have any relation to the events of the shooting (ex. if Brown had a history of assaulting police, that would be relevant, but a history of shoplifting is not).

      “Failing to follow the police officer’s orders” is not an executable offense in the United States, and it is murder when the police kill somebody who is resisting them without posing an imminent threat to their life.

      You are proposing nullification, not a legal argument as to why the officer is innocent. People like you are the reason why we have jury selection and I only hope that the DA is smart enough to remove such people from the jury pool before they cause a miscarriage of justice.

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    • OMG! Have you ever heard of the rule of law?
      We live in a country founded by men running from the persecution of a legal system that assumed guilt until proven inocent. This countrie’s laws are founded on the principal of inocence until guilt is proven.

      Please remember that many of our most precious laws are designed to protect the few from the many. A statement like “I would refuse to convict the police officer for offing a future violent criminal.” shows either incredible ignorance or a complete disrespect for the principals this country was founded upon.

      Sincerly a proud citizen of the United States of Americ

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  2. RAP DON’T EDUCATE –
    IT HELPS ERADCATE –
    ITS MUSICAL AIDS

    THE BLACK HOLOCAUST
    JOHN W. FOUNTAIN
    author@johnwfountain.com
    Last Modified: May 6, 2012

    Imagine Soldier Field beyond capacity, brimming with 63,879 young African-American men, ages 18 to 24 — more than U.S. losses in the entire Vietnam conflict.
    Imagine the University of Michigan’s football stadium — the largest in the U.S. — filled to its limit of 109,901 with black men, age 25 and older. Now add 28,223 more — together totaling more than U.S. deaths in World War I.
    Picture two UIC Pavilions packed with 12,658 Trayvon Martins — black boys, ages 14 to 17 — nearly twice the number of U.S. lives lost in Iraq and Afghanistan.
    Now picture all of them dead. The national tally of black males 14 and older murdered in America from 1976 through 2005, according to U.S. Bureau of Justice statistics: 214,661.
    The numbers tell only part of the story of this largely urban war, where the victims bear an uncanny resemblance to their killers. A war of brother against brother, filled with wanton and automatic gunfire, even in the light of day, on neighborhood streets, where little boys make mud pies, schoolgirls jump rope, where the innocent are caught in the crossfire, where the spirit of murder blows like the wind.
    It is, so far, a ceaseless war in which guns are often the weapon of choice, and the finger on the trigger of the gun pointed at a black male is most often another black male’s.
    The numbers alone are enough to make me cry — to wonder why — we as African Americans will march en masse over one slain by someone who is not black, and yet sit silent over the hundreds of thousands of us obliterated from this mortal world by someone black like us, like me. It is a numbing truth borne out by hard facts:
    From 1980 through 2008, 93 percent of black victims were killed by blacks.
    Translation: For every Trayvon Martin killed by someone not black, nine other blacks were murdered by someone black.
    In 2005, — blacks — accounted for 13 percent of the U.S. population but 49 percent of all homicides. The numbers are staggering, the loss incomprehensible.
    Add to the tally of black males 14 and older slain across the country from 1976 to 2005, another 29,335 (slain from 2006 to 2010), and their national body count rises to 243,996, representing 82 percent of all black homicides for that 35-year period. What also becomes clear is this: We too often have raised killers. And this war is claiming our sons.
    But that’s still not the end of the story. Add to that number 51,892 black females ages 14 and older, plus five whose gender was not identifiable, and the total, not counting children, is 295,893 — more than the combined U.S. losses of World War I, the Vietnam, Korean and Mexican-American wars, the War of 1812 and the American Revolutionary War.
    Is the blood of these sons and daughters somehow less American?
    Two hundred ninety-five thousand eight hundred ninety-three . . .
    Imagine the United Center, Wrigley Field, U.S. Cellular Field and Soldier Field nearly all filled simultaneously with black boys, girls, men and women. Now imagine that twice over. Now imagine them all dead.
    As far as I can see, that’s at least 295,893 reasons to cry. And it is cause enough for reticent churches, for communities, for lackadaisical leaders, for all people — no matter our race, color or creed — to find the collective will and the moral resolve to stamp out this human rights atrocity occurring right under our noses.
    Just imagine the human carnage and the toll to us all if we don’t.
    I can’t. I won’t.
    JOHN W. FOUNTAIN

    THE AMERICAN NEGRO IS A HYPOCRITE – AL SHARPTON IS AN FBI INFORMANT!
    JESSE JACKSON WAS THE “JUDAS GOAT” THAT WALKED MLK TO HIS DEATH!
    LOUIS FARRAKHAN INSPIRED THE HIT ON MALCOLM X.
    MALCOLM X WAS COLOR BLIND WHEN HE WENT TO MECCA – HE SAW NO BLACK SLAVES!
    PROPHET MUHAMMAD WOULD EXCHANGE 2 BLACK SLAVES FOR 1 WHITE!
    AMERICAN NEGROS ARE SO FAR UP THE WHITE MAN’S ASS, HE IS BEGINNING TO LOOK WHITE!
    AMERICAN NEGROS NEED THE “RIGHT OF RETURN” JUST LIKE THE JEWS, SO THEY CAN GO BACK TO AFRICA!
    SMALL PROBLEM – NO WELFARE OR FOOD STAMPS IN THE JUNGLE!
    THEY WOULD SWIM BACK, THROUGH SHARK INFESTED WATERS, JUST TO BE WITH WHITEY AGAIN!

    ONE BIT OF ADVICE – “SHUT THE F–K UP”!

    ALL THE OTHER RACES IN AMERICA GOT OFF THEIR ASS & MADE SOMETHING OF THEMSELVES & THEY DID IT BY FAIR COMPETITION – NOT LIKE THE NEGRO & HIS “POSITIVE DISCRIMINATION” – HE ONLY NEEDS TO GET 30%, WHILE EVERYONE ELSE HAS TO GET 70%.

    THE BLACK & HIS 3 Rs
    RAPING!
    RIOTING!
    ROBBING!

    WASS UP?

    NEGROS LOVE MURDERING ONE ANOTHER!

    ITS ONLY WHEN WHITEY KILLS A NEGRO THAT ALL HELL BREAKS LOOSE:

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  3. Jsager,

    You are the one who needs to do more research. Dorian Johnson did not just say the officer fired at Brown when Brown had his back turned. His exact words were “he shot Big Mike in the back.”

    http://buzzpo.com/autopsy-results-prove-witnesses-lied-michael-brown-shooting/#!

    The autopsy completely debunks what he claimed, therefore he is an unreliable witness.

    Brown’s robbery definitely is pertinent evidence. It demonstrates Brown’s character that day. He committed a robbery, walked down the middle of the street and blocked traffic and acted like King Kong on a rampage (remember there were complaints…that’s why the police showed up). Then he punched the police officer in the eye, breaking his orbital bone.

    If someone punched you and broke your face, I guarantee you would shoot them too. Once someone attacks a police officer, all bets are off.

    As I noted before, Johnson’s account was not confirmed by the other witnesses. The other witnesses admitted on live television that they did not see the beginning of the encounter.

    The claim that the officer grabbed Johnson by the throat doesn’t make a bit of sense. How could he grab a 6’5″ guy by the throat when he was sitting in his police car?

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    • 1) From Johnson’s vantage point, he saw the police officer shooting while his friend had his back turned dozens of feet away. He saw his friend turn after the shots were fired and probably thought that he was hit–this is an easy mistake to make and doesn’t invalidate his testimony.

      2) Unless the officer knew about the robbery, it is legally inadmissible as a prior bad act and will never be presented in the inside of the court room (although everybody will likely know about it anyways).

      3) The claims of injury by the police have been debunked and the broken eye socket claim was based entirely upon a Fox News segment using anonymous police sources collected by a conservative blogger

      4) Legally speaking, police officers must follow an escalation of force and cannot legally shoot somebody who just punches them and doesn’t pose an immanent threat to their life (not conceding that Brown actually punched the officer, as most of the witnesses don’t support that).

      5) When you talk to somebody in a car, you naturally bend down so that you have some level of visual contact–this would have put Brown within grabbing distance.

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  4. HOW COULD HIS ARMS HAVE BEEN UP!?!?!?! Look at the bullet that hit the right bicep and the small dotted line and the re-entry marked with an “X” on the side of the chest. The only way that could have happened would be for his arms to be at his side! You don’t have to be “Famed Forensic Pathologist Michael Baden” to figure that out!!! Plus the officer reported that Brown was bent down reaching inside his police car grabbing his gun. That explains the 2 shots in the top of the head! It’s obvious from the autopsy the officer will be found innocent.

    Like

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