It’s been less than a week since Michael Brown was killed and his body left for hours in the hot street, and things have progressed at a dizzying rate. From the trending hashtag that criticizes media portrayals of murdered people of color, the revived issue of police militarization, to apparent limits on free press and free assembly, Brown’s death has sparked multiple “big conversations” at once. If you haven’t been following closely, you’ve missed a lot.
While the police make their usual claim that the shooting was brought on by physical assault and an attempt to pry away the officer’s gun, eyewitnesses have a different story.
Dorian Johnson, the friend of Brown who was a secondary target of the botched police action, has made several statements to press and to the FBI, which has begun a parallel investigation. His account of the lead-up to the shooting depicts frustrated cops letting a power fantasy go too far. According to Johnson, the two were ordered to stop walking in the road and “get the fuck on the sidewalk.” After an argument, the officer grabbed Brown by the collar and tried to pull him into the squad car. This struggle precipitated the shooting. Until today, police declined to interview Johnson as a witness.
Tiffany Mitchell arrived as Brown and the officer struggled, and heard the first shot. According to her account, Brown was shot again as he tried to run away, and upon surrendering with hands up, was shot dead. Another witness, Piaget Crenshaw, says the same.
After news spread of the killing and bewilderingly callous aftermath, where police cordoned off the site of the shooting and left Michael Brown’s corpse laying in the sun, coverage was criticized of playing the ol’ “Make the victim of an apparently racially-motivated killing look like a criminal” game. In response came one of the best hashtags I’ve ever seen, and I’m no fan of hashtags. The criminal image of black men perpetuated by news media is not only incredibly racist, it leads to prejudiced police action like the kind that killed Michael Brown in the first place. The dichotomy presented in these photo sets is about as direct as you can get in illustrating the anti-black bias in news media.
Meanwhile, in Ferguson, peaceful protests on Monday night were met with disproportionate force and a terrifying reminder of the militarization of our country’s police. A protest was dispersed by tear gas, rubber bullets, beanbag rounds, LRAD, and an advancing line of police. When residents refused to stop demonstrating in their own yards, the cops fired tear gas into private homes to make people “disperse” from their property.
The police continued their overbearing reaction Tuesday and Wednesday. A peaceful protest was stared down with armored trucks, snipers, and officers wielding assault rifles. The same tactics applied — peaceful protests were broken up by barrages of less-lethal weaponry, police often not even waiting for the tiny violent gesture from protesters that would justify their advance. As often happens when people are demonstrating due to actual anger and uncomfortable issues, Americans’ right to assemble came under question. As did our right to a free press.
Police had a hostile reaction to documentation of the protests and arrests, threatening citizen photographers, ordering protesters to “please turn off your video,” and even arresting journalists. Reddit users claimed their local stations were tuned to reruns.
On Wednesday, Reporters from the Washington Post and HuffPo were arrested in a McDonald’s which had become an ad-hoc media headquarters. Police entered the restaurant, and ordered everyone to leave, no reason given. When the reporters failed to comply quickly enough, they were “kettled,” given contradictory or impossible orders by police and trapped into disobeying an officer, and arrested.
Antonio French, a St. Louis alderman providing extensive and publicized coverage via Twitter and Vine, was arrested in the massive police action that same night. Again, no reason for the arrest was provided, beyond him being slow to exit his car under unjustified police orders.
Al-Jazeera reporters were teargassed and forced to flee their cameras, which police disassembled. Police later claimed that the teargas was not meant for the reporters and that the cameras were being moved so the news crew could continue filming.
By Thursday, police presence was handed over to state troopers, who took a calmer and less threatening approach. Peaceful protests remained peaceful and were protected by the police. You know, like how it’s supposed to happen. A national moment of silence was observed, as well as solidarity rallies around the country.
Anonymous tried and failed to name the officer who shot Michael Brown, but the name came out today, as well as further details about the case. Apparently, Brown was the suspect in a small robbery of a convenience store, which many people are taking as justification for his street execution. It seems to be lost on some that once a suspect doesn’t pose a threat, you don’t get to shoot them down for something they did before that point. No matter what a criminal does, they’re entitled to due process, exemplified by the mass murderer James Holmes, currently awaiting trial, who fired upon a movie theater audience, killing 12 and wounding 70. Also out the window is all the bullshit the police pulled in the days immediately after the shooting.
Despite Brown’s apparent bad judgment that has complicated the “innocent angel baby” image people require before they have sympathy for dead black kids, the issues remain. All this couldn’t have come just for one person. While his case will progress at the pace these things do, we have to hope the conversation will continue.