Tuesday, March 17, 2015

‘Hands up, don’t shoot’ was built on a lie

By Jonathan Capehart March 16 at 2:07 PM WashPost

The late evening of Aug. 9, 2014, I couldn’t sleep. I was due to substitute-anchor MSNBC’s “UP with Steve Kornacki” and should have been asleep. But after looking at my Twitter feed and reading the rage under #Ferguson, I felt compelled to type a reaction to the killing of Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson. Tying the shooting to the inane whine of certain politicians about a “war on whites,” I decried the next morning the death of yet another unarmed black man at the hands of a white police officer.

In those early hours and early days, there was more unknown than known. But this month, the Justice Department released two must-read investigations connected to the killing of Brown that filled in blanks, corrected the record and brought sunlight to dark places by revealing ugly practices that institutionalized racism and hardship. They have also forced me to deal with two uncomfortable truths: Brown never surrendered with his hands up, and Wilson was justified in shooting Brown.

The report on the Ferguson police department detailed abuse and blatant trampling of the constitutional rights of people, mostly African Americans, in Ferguson. Years of mistreatment by the police, the courts and the municipal government, including evidence that all three balanced their books on the backs of the people of Ferguson, were laid bare in 102 damning pages. The overwhelming data from DOJ provided background and much-needed context for why a small St. Louis suburb most had never heard of exploded the moment Brown was killed. His death gave voice to many who suffered in silence.

The unarmed 18-year-old also became a potent symbol of the lack of trust between African Americans and law enforcement. Not just in Ferguson, but in the rest of the country. Lord knows there have been plenty of recent examples. And the militarized response to protesters by local police put an exclamation point on demonstrators’ concerns. But the other DOJ report, the one on the actual shooting of Michael Brown, shows him to be an inappropriate symbol. Through exhaustive interviews with witnesses, cross-checking their statements with previous statements to authorities and the media, ballistics, DNA evidence and results from three autopsies, the Justice Department was able to present a credible and troubling picture of what happened on Canfield Drive. More credible than the grand jury decision to not indict Wilson. The transcript of his grand jury testimony read like so much hand-holding by the prosecution.

What DOJ found made me ill. Wilson knew about the theft of the cigarillos from the convenience store and had a description of the suspects. Brown fought with the officer and tried to take his gun. And the popular hands-up storyline, which isn’t corroborated by ballistic and DNA evidence and multiple witness statements, was perpetuated by Witness 101. In fact, just about everything said to the media by Witness 101, whom we all know as Dorian Johnson, the friend with Brown that day, was not supported by the evidence and other witness statements.

Fight in the SUV
Page 6: Wilson and other witnesses stated that Brown then reached into the SUV through the open driver’s window and punched and grabbed Wilson. This is corroborated by bruising on Wilson’s jaw and scratches on his neck, the presence of Brown’s DNA on Wilson’s collar, shirt, and pants, and Wilson’s DNA on Brown’s palm. While there are other individuals who stated that Wilson reached out of the SUV and grabbed Brown by the neck, prosecutors could not credit their accounts because they were inconsistent with physical and forensic evidence, as detailed throughout this report.
(More here.)

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