Magazine article USA TODAY

Black Lies Matter

Magazine article USA TODAY

Black Lies Matter

Article excerpt

ON AUG. 9, 2014, Michael Brown, an 18-year-old African-American, was shot and killed by Darren Wilson, 26, a white police officer, in Ferguson, Mo., a predominantly black suburb of St. Louis. While it was part of a series of well-publicized shootings of unarmed black people by white police officers, it was the one that attracted the most attention.

Since Brown's death, there have been several protests and acts of violence specifically directed at white police officers. Many of the marchers are wont to chant, "Hands up, don't shoot," the plea supposedly made by Brown before he was shot by Wilson, and it has become a rallying cry for protest groups throughout the country.

When Brown was killed, news reports stated that a white policeman had killed an unarmed black teenager. Initially, there was no explanation as to why the police officer shot Brown. When the facts started to emerge, certain segments of the public did not appear willing to accept them. Nevertheless, the shooting of Brown has been investigated thoroughly, and it is worthwhile to review this information at a time when so many people continue to cling to the "original" version of the story.

The killing of Brown seemed destined to become a cause celebre as soon as the shots fired by Wilson were heard. It was not coincidental that Ferguson had been the scene of a considerable amount of racial tension. Within a matter of minutes, a crowd gathered at the crime scene and saw the body of Brown lying in the street. Several people claiming to be witnesses said they saw Brown hold his hands up to surrender but, instead of being handcuffed, he was shot in the back. It marked the beginning of the "Hands up, don't shoot" narrative--that has been fueled continually by groups such as Black Lives Matter--and the crowd reacted angrily. As more law enforcement officers arrived, several people began chanting, "Kill the police!" There was gunfire in the area, putting civilians and law enforcement at risk. The unrest delayed the removal of Brown's body for hours, a further indication to the crowd of disrespect toward black people. At night, violence began with the looting of local businesses.

The next day, the St. Louis County Police held a press conference, alleging that Brown was killed because he was reaching for the officer's gun. However, they refused to release the officer's name. Later in the day, members of Brown's family called a press conference, and demanded justice for him. On Aug. 14, the Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson identified Wilson as the officer who shot Brown. Jackson also released a surveillance video of Brown taking part in an apparent robbery prior to being shot. When Brown's family heard about the video, it responded by accusing the police of attempting to assassinate his character. The rioting continued, and Missouri Gov. Jay Nelson deployed the National Guard to Ferguson on Aug. 18. It was not withdrawn until Aug. 21.

Brown's funeral was held at St. Louis' Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church on Aug. 25. It drew thousands of mourners. Rev. A1 Sharpton delivered one of the eulogies, and referred to the fact that Brown's body had been on the street for more than four hours. Included among the attendees were Rev. Jesse Jackson, filmmaker Spike Lee, and entertainer Sean Combs, in addition to many local and regional civil rights leaders. Pres. Barack Obama sent three White House representatives to attend the services.

There were two investigations into Brown's death: by a state grand jury and the U.S. Department of Justice. The grand jury investigation was unusual insofar as it departed from the pattern of other grand juries in St. Louis County. It was convened by Robert P. McCulloch, the prosecuting attorney for the county on Aug. 10, 2014, but he made no recommendation as to whether to indict Officer Wilson. Instead, he turned over the prosecution to two assistant prosecuting attorneys on his staff, who presented evidence to the nine white and three black jurors in the case known as State of Missouri v. …

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