Friday, 6 February 2015

The Ferguson police shooting of Michael Brown

All police shootings are tragic but unfortunately, a great many of them are suspicious at best. This article will deal specifically with the police shooting of an 18-year-old  teenager called Michael Brown, (a black man) by a police officer named Darren Wilson (a white man) in the City of Ferguson in the State of Missouri on August 9, 2014.                         

Shortly before the shooting, Brown and Dorian Johnson robbed a nearby convenience store, stole several cigarillos (short narrow cigars) and then Brown shoved the store clerk away from him as he was escaping. Wilson had been notified by police dispatch of the robbery and the description of the two suspects. Brown had no previous criminal record however Johnson had an outstanding warrant for a 2011 theft in Jefferson City and pleaded guilty for filing a false police report related to that theft.  

Wilson realized that the two men he saw walking in the middle of the road matched the robbery suspect descriptions. Wilson backed up his cruiser and blocked them. Wilson told the grand jury his original goal was to arrest Brown, after identifying him as a possible suspect in a theft in a shop.  He had radioed for backup. He thought if he could buy 30 seconds of time by getting Brown to come to his car, the other officers would arrive and then he could make the arrest.

As the two young men were still walking along the middle of the street blocking traffic, Wilson backed up to them and told the two young men to walk on the sidewalk, and Johnson replied, "We're almost to our destination". As they passed his window, Brown said “Fuck what you have to say.”  That stupid attitude was to bring about his death shortly thereafter.   

Wilson then backed up about ten feet to where they were and attempted to open his door. Wilson told the two to “come here”, and Brown told him in reply, "What the fuck are you gonna do". Wilson shut the door and Brown approached him and he opened the door again "trying to push Brown back while telling him to get back. Wilson said, “Brown started swinging and punching at me from outside the vehicle and Brown had his body against the door.”

Wilson stated that the first strike from Brown was a glancing blow and at that point he was trying to get Brown's arms out of his face. This was when Brown turned to his left and handed Johnson several packs of the stolen cigarillos he had been holding. Wilson then grabbed Brown's right arm trying to get control, but Brown hit him in the face. Wilson said that he "felt like a 5-year-old holding onto Hulk Hogan" while he attempted to restrain Brown when he reached through his police car window.

I can understand why he didn’t want to make the arrest by himself. Brown was a very tall and heavy set young man. Although the officer was armed with a handgun and chemical spray (mace) and a baton, he really didn’t want to get into a physical confrontation with Brown by himself.

Wilson yelled at Brown numerous times to stop and get back to the crusier. Wilson said he thought about using his mace and his baton, but he was unable to reach either of them. He then drew his weapon and pointed it at Brown and told him to stop or he would shoot him, while ordering him to the ground.

After Wilson had pulled alongside of Brown to speak with him, Brown punched him in the face. When Wilson attempted to get out of his vehicle, Brown pushed the door toward Wilson twice to prevent Wilson from leaving the vehicle and then punched him in the face a second time.

Wilson testified that he fired two shots at Brown while he (Wilson) was still in the cruiser.  Why did Wilson feel that it was necessary to shoot Brown while Brown was outside the vehicle and he was inside his vehicle?

According to Wilson, Brown then said "you're too much of a fucking pussy to shoot me" and grabbed for his gun and twisted it, pointing it at him, into his hip area. Wilson placed his left hand against Brown's hand and his other hand on the gun and pushed forward with both his arms. The gun was somewhat lined up with Brown, and Wilson pulled the trigger twice, but the weapon failed to discharge. On the next try, the gun fired and Brown then attempted to hit him multiple times while Wilson was still inside his vehicle.

Wilson said that he shot at Brown again, but missed and Brown took off running east, while Wilson exited his vehicle after he radioed for backup. Wilson then followed Brown, yelling for him to stop and get on the ground, but Brown kept running. Brown eventually stopped and turned and made a “grunting noise” and started running at Wilson with his right hand under his shirt in his waistband. Brown ignored Wilson's commands to stop and get on the ground, so Wilson fired multiple shots at him, paused and yelled at him to get on the ground again, but Brown was still charging at him and had not slowed down. Wilson then fired another set of shots, and still Brown was still running at him. When Brown was about eight to ten feet away, Wilson fired more shots, with one of those hitting Brown in the top of his  head, which brought him down with his hand still in his waistband.

Wilson said at the grand jury hearing, “Brown turned and began heading towards me. As he is coming towards me, I tell, keep telling him to get on the ground, he doesn't. I shoot a series of shots. I don't know how many I shot. I just know I shot it.” (his gun).”  Wilson fired a total of twelve bullets; the last one was the fatal shot in the top of Brown’s head when Brown was close to him.

He said that he fired three bursts of gunfire as he chased Brown who was running away and later after Brown turned and faced him while he was backing away from Brown. His handgun was a Sig Sauer .40 caliber gun that held a maximum of 13 bullets.

If Brown was heading towards the officer in a menacing manner, then I can understand why he felt that it was necessary to shoot at Brown. But was Brown while running away from Wilson actually surrendering with his hands in the air so that he wouldn’t get shot in the back?

Dorian Johnson told reporters that Brown was “shot like an animal” and stated that Brown had been running away with his hands up. It turns out that was a lie and he admitted later that his statement was a lie. His account of what happened helped spur the focus on Brown allegedly having his hands up as he ran away from the police, a big part of the nationwide protests in the wake of Brown’s death.

The shooting sparked unrest in Ferguson, in part due to the belief among many that Brown was surrendering, as well as longstanding racial tensions between the majority-black population and the majority-white city government and police. Protests, both peaceful and violent, along with vandalism and looting, continued for more than a week, resulting in night curfews. The response of area police agencies in dealing with the protests received significant criticism from the media and politicians. There were concerns over insensitivity, tactics and a militarized response.

Missouri Governor Jay Nixon ordered local police organizations to cede much of their authority to the Missouri State Highway Patrol. Later peaceful protests continued for several weeks.

Robert P. McCulloch, the Prosecuting Attorney for St. Louis County, Missouri, decided to bring the case in front of a grand jury to determine whether there was probable cause to indict Wilson for his actions. On November 24, McCulloch announced that the jury had decided not to indict Wilson. Legal analysts raised concerns over McCulloch's unorthodox approach, asserting that this process could have influenced the grand jury to decide not to indict, and highlighted significant differences between a typical grand jury proceeding in Missouri and Wilson's case.

On August 17, a preliminary autopsy was conducted by Dr. Michael Baden, the former chief medical examiner for the City of New York, at the request of Michael Brown's family. Dr. Baden said that he did not find any gunshot residue on the body. Dr. Baden said that he did not have access to Brown's clothes, and that the body had been washed prior to his autopsy. Dr. Baden admitted that this might have prevented him from finding gunshot residue.        

According to the report, Brown was shot six times into his front: four of the bullets entered his right arm, one entered his right eye on a downward trajectory, and one entered the top of his skull. According to Baden, all of the rounds were fired from a distance of at least one to two feet. One of the shots to Brown's head shattered his right eye, traveled through his face, then exited his jaw and reentered his collarbone. The shot that entered the top of Brown's skull caused the fatal injury, according to Baden. Baden also provided a diagram of the entry wounds, noting that the six shots produced multiple wounds, with some of the bullets entering and exiting several times.[7] He also said that Brown could have survived the first bullet wounds, but the bullet that entered the top of his head resulted in a fatal injury.

Two of the bullets fired at Brown’s head puzzle me. If Brown was running towards Wilson, his head would have been facing forwards and it would be impossible for Wilson to fire a bullet into the top of Brown’s head. For the bullet to enter the top of his head, his head would have been facing downwards. It that is so, he wouldn’t be able to see where he was going and therefore would have stopped where he was. Further, his head would have had to be bent downwards for the bullet to go through his eye in a downward angle as it did, especially when you consider the fact that Brown was also taller than Wilson. The strange firing of the gun was never explained.

The Washington Post stated that there were unorthodox forensic practices shown in the published testimony of Wilson and other law enforcement officials. It said Wilson washed blood off of his hands without photographing them first. It also said that Wilson submitted his gun to evidence by himself, and that initial interviews of Wilson were conducted with other personnel present and were not taped. It described Wilson's face injuries after the shooting as photographed by a local detective at the Fraternal Order of Police building, instead of at Ferguson Police headquarters. An investigator with the St. Louis County Medical Examiner's office testified that he decided not to take measurements at the crime scene nor did he photograph the scene, instead relying on photographs taken by the St. Louis County Police Department. The actions of the police were very suspect. Were these blunders a result of gross  stupidity or was in a sign of a cover up?

In September, Eric Holder, the U.S. Attorney General, launched a federal investigation of the Missouri city's police force to examine whether officers routinely engaged in racial profiling or showed a pattern of excessive force. On December 1, U.S. President Barack Obama announced that the federal government will spend $75 million on body cameras for law enforcement officers, as one of the measures taken in response to the shooting.

An Associated Press review of the grand jury found that there were numerous problems in the witness testimony, including statements that were “inconsistent, fabricated, or provably wrong”. Several of the witnesses admitted changing their testimony to fit released evidence, or other witness statements.       I find that very strange considering the fact that evidence given at a grand jury hearing are not supposed to be disclosed until after the hearing is completed. This means that some of the witnesses who testified first told the other witnesses what they had said at the hearing.

The grand jury hearing decided that no charges should be laid against Wilson. The federal government decided that there would be no federal grand jury hearing. Wilson didn’t fare much better from all this. He resigned from the police force and at the time of this writing, he is in hiding in case someone decides to hunt him down and shoot him. 

UPDATE March 11, 2015: The police chief of Ferguson, Thomas Jackson resigned from the police force after a scathing report by the American Justice Department reported that there was considerable bias by Ferguson police officers against thr blacks in Ferguson. 

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