Skip to main content

Missouri Rages After Police Shooting of Unarmed Black Teenager Michael Brown

michael brown

Just two days after the muted relief of a measure of justice in the murder of Renisha McBride, another young black life has been cut short, a life lived on the same razor's edge of suspicion and fear that has become all too familiar. Details are still somewhat murky, but according to several witnesses, police in Ferguson, Missouri, shot down 18 year-old Michael Brown in the street as he held his hands up, unarmed, then shot him up to nine more times after he fell. Here's how one witness described it:

Crowds soon formed to protest the shooting, and police from 15 different departments responded to the scene following reports of gunshots. Brown's body was reportedly left in the street for four hours before he was removed.

While the scene of the shooting eventually calmed, KDSK reports that protests at the Ferguson Police Department continued into the night, in what's called a "vigil" when white people do it, but in this case, constituted "unrest":

Of course, if the protesters in Ferguson were white, they'd probably be walking away with several hundred cattle.

Media coverage has focused as much, or more, on reports of crowds chanting "kill the police" and a dumpster that was set on fire than on the shooting itself.

Yes, well, shooting an unarmed kid ten times is one thing, but that trash fire could really hurt someone!

Police have confirmed the shooting, but little else, and as if the people of Ferguson, or across the nation via social media, needed any more reason to be outraged, their response to community grief and frustration was a show of force, rather than a show of concern. Aside from minimal statements to the press, there has been no press conference, no hint of what precipitated the shooting, and perhaps most tellingly, no denial that the young man was unarmed.

The notion of black people as threats is older than America itself, but there is something new and disturbing about this current roster of names added to those etched even in our recent past. Rodney King, Amadou Diallo, Eleanor Bumpurs, Abner Louima, these incidents were all rather far removed from the era that consumed the life of Emmett Till, but still occurred during times of roiling racial tension that was palpable to all. Even the killing of Sean Bell happened in the waning days of the pre-post-racial era before Barack Obama was elected president, and our popular (white) culture declared an end to racism.

What's different now is that in post-racial America, it has become acceptable to be "post-racial," and still fear black people. Policing strategies have legalized racism, and the media, beginning with the killing of Trayvon Martin, has made the view of black people as de facto threats just another side of the argument, and a persuasive one for many.

You can lock up all the killers of unarmed black people, or not lock them up, and it will make no difference the next time some panicky person with a gun shoots down the next Michael Brown, or Renisha McBride, or Jonathan Ferrell, or John Crawford, or chokes out the next Eric Garner. The people who have made it their business to legitimize the view of black culture as the wellspring of criminality have blood on their hands, and will continue to have blood on their hands.

Update: According to witnesses, the incident began because police ordered Michael Brown and his friend to walk on the sidewalk, not in the street:

Johnson said they told him they were a minute away from their destination and then they would be out of the street. After a verbal confrontation, witness Piaget Crenshaw said the officer got out of his car and fired a shot. Both teens ran, she said, and another shot was fired. Johnson hid behind a car, but said his friend stopped after a second shot was fired at him. Crenshaw and Johnson say the teen held up his hands to show he did not have a weapon, however the officer fired at him two more times and he collapsed and died in the street.

As of right now, police still have held no press conference (one is scheduled for 10 am), but if this account is true, then it seems Michael Brown was killed, literally and figuratively, for not knowing his place. As the incidents which have preceded it demonstrate, it's becoming less and less clear what that place even is.

Update 2: The St. Louis County police chief held a brief press conference this morning, at which he confirmed that Michael Brown was unarmed, and said that police claim Brown shoved the officer back into the car, where a "struggle occurred over the officer's weapon."

He said the first shot was fired inside the car during that struggle, but that the fatal shot occurred in the street. As you can see from earlier in this post, at least one witness says that the officer began shooting at Brown from inside the car.

We will update with video as soon as it's available.

Update 3: Here's full video of St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar's Sunday morning press conference. In addition to the police version of the incident, which differs from multiple eyewitness accounts, Chief Belmar makes an odd reference to toxicology reports, another running theme in these incidents:

There have been suggestions that some or all of the shooting may have been captured on video, so hopefully the truth will come out eventually, but it is worth noting a few important things. First, even if you take the police account as 100% accurate, this is still the killing of an unarmed teenager, as confirmed by the police themselves. But in judging the credibility of their version, aside from the near rote convenience of it, remember that in the hours following the shooting, with public anguish at a fever pitch, there was never a hint of this story offered or leaked to the press. Concoction or not, this is not justification to shoot down an unarmed teenager.

Dorian Johnson, the young man who was with Michael Brown when he was shot, gave this account to reporters on Saturday:

Fox News is reporting on the incident. On Fox and Friends Sunday, their report placed emphasis on claims that protesters shouted "Kill the police!" but showed video of people chanting "No justice, no peace!"

A later report included a new claim, that police "choked" Michael Brown before he fled and was shot down:

Update - 8/18/2014: Hey, remember that odd reference to toxicology that St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar made in that press conference over a week ago? Well, check this out:

(A) person familiar with the county’s investigation told The Washington Post that Brown had between six and eight gunshot wounds and was shot from the front.

In addition, Brown had marijuana in his system when he was shot and killed by a police officer on Aug. 9 in Ferguson, according to this person, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the ongoing investigation.

Things that make you go "Hmmmmm." And also make you go "Take these dirty saboteurs off the case."