Archives For Michael Brown

After new reporting on Michael Brown’s death, Ambinder asks, “did the media get Ferguson wrong?”

Police militarization and an unequal justice system are real problems that deserve sustained scrutiny. These problems are more insidious than a rush to judgment against one particular officer, presumption of innocence be damned. So maybe the best thing to do would be to say, well, in this particular case, it turns out that the police officer might not have acted as wantonly as we thought. But it really doesn’t matter, because the response to the shooting called attention to police abuse and discrimination in a way that resonated across the world. They had tanks! They threatened to killed reporters! The truth here is less important than Truth.

For the news media, though, the “injustice is the story, not Darren Wilson” story won’t wash.

… The journey for racial justice rejects the notion that truth is an effect of power. It is based on the notion that truth transcends power. The media wants to be on the right side of history when it comes to race. Accepting truth wherever we find it, no matter how painful it is to our sensibilities, is even more important when fundamental issues of justice are at stake.

Alex Altman, on the other hand, focuses on what the leaks don’t say:

They don’t explain the origin of the skirmish, which seems to have escalated abruptly. In describing the toxicology report, the Post’s sources say “the levels in Brown’s body may have been high enough to trigger hallucinations,” but there is no scientific link between marijuana and violent behavior.

Most importantly, the leaks do not provide new forensic information about the sequence of fatal shots. “What we want to know is why Officer Wilson shot Michael Brown multiple times and killed him even though he was more than 20 feet away from his patrol car,” Benjamin Crump, an attorney for Brown’s family, said in a statement. “This is the crux of the matter!” The autopsy does not offer any answers.

Bouie makes related points:

[W]e’re stuck with the facts we’ve had since August, none of which gives a conclusive answer to the key question in the case: Who started it? And even if it did—and even if Brown was at fault for the whole encounter—we’re still left with the other important question: Why did Wilson keep firing after Brown moved away?

At this point, any answer is tied tightly to your sympathies. Side with Michael Brown and the Ferguson protesters, and you’re likely to think Wilson overreacted or—at worst—actively abused his power. And if you support Darren Wilson, you’re just as likely to see an honest cop just defending himself from a dangerous aggressor.

Activists March In Ferguson On Nat'l Day Of Action Against Police Brutality

The WaP0 reports on the autopsy of Michael Brown. It “suggests that the 18-year-old may not have had his hands raised when he was fatally shot”:

Experts told the newspaper that Brown was first shot at close range and may have been reaching for Wilson’s weapon while the officer was still in his vehicle and Brown was standing at the driver’s side window. The autopsy found material “consistent with products that are discharged from the barrel of a firearm” in a wound on Brown’s thumb, the autopsy says.

Another key piece of evidence:

Seven or eight African American eyewitnesses have provided testimony consistent with Wilson’s account, but none have spoken publicly out of fear for their safety, The Post’s sources said.

But Trymaine Lee relays some pushback on the WaPo’s reporting. He writes that “one of the experts whose analysis was central to those claims told msnbc that her analysis of the findings had been taken out of context”:

“You cannot interpret autopsy reports in a vacuum. You need to do it in the context of the scene, the investigation and the witness statements,” Dr. Judy Melinek said. “Sometimes when you take things out of context they can be more inflammatory.”

Danny Vinik analyzes the news:

How much stock you put in these results depends, in part, on how much you trust the county medical examiner’s office and the sources who spoke to the Post. The Brown family didn’t trust local authorities at allthat’s why they asked for a private autopsy in the first place. “The family has not believed anything the police or this medical examiner has said,” a lawyer for the family told The Washington Post. “They have their witnesses. We have seven witnesses that we know about that say the opposite.”

In addition, we don’t know much of the evidence that has been presented to the grand jury. These leaks are only part of the story. The Department of Justice, for its part, also condemned the leaks Wednesday, saying, “There seems to be an inappropriate effort to influence public opinion about this case.”

John Cole argues that the “leaks are about one thing, and one thing only- prepping the field for no indictment”:

I think my favorite part was the reefer madness bullshit, in which it was stated he had enough THC in his system to cause hallucinations. Reminded me of the DARE days when cops with straight faces told kids that if they smoked pot they would jump out of windows thinking they could fly.

Jonathan Cohn adds that a “decision to charge Wilson was never that likely, given the broad leeway that Missouri law gives to police who say they are acting in self-defense”:

If these new reports are correct, an indictment is even more improbable. That’s unlikely to sit well with Ferguson residents, whose grievances reflect long-simmering resentment over the treatment of a largely black population by a largely white police force. Brown’s killing instigated protests and, eventually, confrontations with police. But the problems existed long beforehand.

Allahpundit wonders what happens next:

[Benjamin L. Crump, a lawyer for the Brown family] says he has seven witnesses who’ll say that Wilson gunned Brown down unjustifiably. Great, says the defense, we have seven witnesses who say the opposite plus a pile of forensic evidence that shows Brown, who’d just committed a robbery at the local convenience store, not only assaulted a police officer but attempted to seize his firearm. There’s little doubt, barring some bombshell evidence that the public doesn’t know about, that Wilson’s not going to be convicted. The question now is whether he’ll be charged. One theory for all the leaks lately is that law enforcement is trying to prepare the public for the fact that grand jury is unlikely to return an indictment, but I don’t know: Given what Crump said in the excerpt above plus protesters vowing that “it’s going to be a war” if Wilson isn’t charged, sounds like releasing the evidence early isn’t going to calm anyone down. On the contrary, it may be that this is being leaked because Wilson supporters fear that he’ll be unfairly indicted anyway for political reasons, even though there’s no probable cause to think he murdered Brown. That’s probably the outcome city leaders would prefer — indictment followed by acquittal so that they can say the system took the incident seriously enough to force Wilson to defend his actions in open court. Think that result would calm people down? Me neither.

(Photo: Josh Williams walks beside a memorial built on the spot in Ferguson, Missouri where 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot to death by police officer Darren Wilson. The photo was taken on October 22, 2014. By Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Holder’s Civil Rights Legacy

Andrew Sullivan —  Sep 25 2014 @ 4:44pm

African American Activists Call For Justice In Shooting Deaths In Ferguson And NYC

Jeffrey Toobin declares that after Obama was reelected, “Holder found himself—or rediscovered himself”:

He decided to embrace civil rights as his cause. His civil-rights division filed lawsuits against the voting restrictions imposed by the legislatures in Texas and North Carolina. He began the process of reducing the number of nonviolent offenders in the federal prison population. He went to Ferguson, Missouri, to assure its citizens that there would be a full and fair investigation into the death of Michael Brown, a teen-ager shot dead by a police officer. It is tempting, even hopeful, to believe that this was the real Eric Holder.

Holder also spoke multiple times about the discrimination he believed he had experienced as a black man.

“I am the attorney general of the United States, but I am also a black man,” he said during a visit to a community meeting in Ferguson, Mo., this year, where he recounted his anger at being stopped by police while running down the street in Washington, D.C., and while driving on the New Jersey turnpike. “I remember how humiliating that was and how angry I was and the impact it had on me.”

Like many other efforts, he spoke these words not just as a cabinet secretary but as a social activist, urging the country to be better. “The same kid who got stopped on the New Jersey freeway is now the Attorney General of the United States,” he said in Ferguson. “This country is capable of change. But change doesn’t happen by itself.”

David Graham adds:

With Holder’s departure, Obama will lose a close friend—an apparently rare breed—and an essential ally on issues close to the president’s heart. Who Obama nominates to succeed him, and whether the nomination is successful, will offer some hint of how the president intends to close out his term in office. But the new attorney general is unlikely to have as eventful a term as Eric Holder.

But Eric Posner argues that Holder’s record is not one “that a civil-rights-promoting attorney general can be proud of”:

But two things can be said in Holder’s defense. First, the attorney general just doesn’t have much power to compel a president to comply with civil rights. The attorney general is merely the president’s legal adviser; he doesn’t have any authority to force the president to obey the law. In principle, Holder could have resigned in protest of these civil rights violations, but he surely thought that he could do more for civil rights by staying in office and picking his battles, and rightly so.

Second, while Holder’s decisions disappointed civil libertarians of all stripes, they were not obviously wrong. Indeed, they were mostly right. “In times of war, the law falls silent,” said Cicero. This is something of an exaggeration in the United States today, but it remains true that the rights of people considered a threat to a country tend to diminish as the magnitude of that threat increases, for good reason. Holder, like his Bush administration predecessors Alberto Gonzalez and John Ashcroft, adopted a pragmatic rather than rigidly legalistic position on civil rights, human rights, and the laws of war. That pragmatism will be his legacy.

(Photo: Michael Brown Sr., father of Michael Brown, who was killed by police in Ferguson, Missouri, wears a tie with his son’s image on it during a news conference at the National Press Club in Washington, DC on September 25, 2014. Rev. Al Sharpton called for federal review of racial violence and discrimination in the law enforcement community. By Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

The Dark Side Of Cop Cams

Andrew Sullivan —  Sep 12 2014 @ 7:57pm

New York City Public Advocate Displays Police Wearable Cameras

Jacob Siegel worries about what happens to the footage:

Think of it like this: The police will have moved their evidence into a private warehouse staffed by private security guards and administrators. These private guards can see the boxes the evidence is stored in, how many and when they come in, but they’re not supposed to look inside. And instead of only keeping evidence related to criminal matters, this private warehouse is storing a bottomless pit of routine interactions between cops and citizens. Going 50 in a 35? Got stopped because you fit the description, but quickly released once the cops realized you weren’t the person they were looking for? There’s going to be a video of you in a private corporation’s digital records.

This isn’t abstract.

In Michael Brown’s case, outrage that the teenager’s fatal shooting wasn’t recorded was paired with a video released by Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson, showing the teen appear to push a clerk and leave a store with a box of unpaid-for cigars. It shortly emerged that the officer who shot him had no knowledge of that earlier crime, and many accused the police chief of releasing the video to smear a dead man. The same massive evidence trove body cameras create can, if used selectively, humiliate and indict average citizens.

Also, Matt Taylor points out, cameras don’t always prevent police abuse:

Presumably, your average beat cop is less likely to go on a power trip and beat a vulnerable person senseless if he thinks he might have to explain the video to a grand jury afterward. But slapping cameras on police officers’ lapels is no panacea, and presents all sorts of tricky questions about privacy in this era of unchecked state surveillance. Besides, we know that, by way of example, cops in Albequerque, New Mexico, went ahead and killed a mentally ill homeless man on tape last year despite the officers’ cameras. Remember, Rodney King was beaten on tape (and so was Garner, for that matter)—for all the good it did him.

Previous Dish on cop cameras here.

(Photo: New York City Public Advocate Letitia James displays a video camera that police officers could wear on patrol during a press conference on August 21, 2014 in New York City.  By Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

“No Angel”

Dish Staff —  Aug 26 2014 @ 11:55am
by Dish Staff

Yesterday, the NYT took heat for using those words to describe Michael Brown. Yglesias fired back by recalling an experience he had when he was around Brown’s age:

I suppose that, when an undercover officer came upon me and two friends smoking cigarettes and drinking beer on a park bench that night, he could have shot us dead and then the Times could have reported that we were no angels. We weren’t.

But he didn’t shoot us. He wrote us citations for drinking alcohol in a New York City park. … We were teenagers. But since the officer who apprehended us managed to handle the situation without killing us, the NYPD and the New York Times never felt the need to air our dirty laundry in public. And, indeed, though I know plenty of white kids from fancy prep schools who did illegal stuff in high school — who even got caught doing it by the police — I don’t think I’ve ever heard a story where someone like me was killed and then proclaimed to the world to have been no angel. Angels, it turns out, are pretty rare. But if you look the right way, you don’t need to be one to survive into adulthood.

Ta-Nehisi Coates piled on:

[I]f Michael Brown was not angelic, I was practically demonic. I had my first drink when I was 11. I once brawled in the cafeteria after getting hit in the head with a steel trash can. In my junior year I failed five out of seven classes. By the time I graduated from high school, I had been arrested for assaulting a teacher and been kicked out of school (twice.) And yet no one who knew me thought I had the least bit of thug in me. That is because I also read a lot of books, loved my Commodore 64, and ghostwrote love notes for my friends. In other words, I was a human being. A large number of American teenagers live exactly like Michael Brown. Very few of them are shot in the head and left to bake on the pavement.

The NYT admitted that the choice of words was a mistake. But Alyssa Rosenberg was frustrated by another part of the piece, “the idea that dabbling in hip-hop represented something about Brown’s character”:

The Times could have published a different profile of Michael Brown, one that portrayed him as someone hopeful enough to imagine a career in hip-hop but practical enough to pursue technical courses that could give him more stable work. This could have been a story about a boy whose artistic interests were proof that his soul was sensitive, rather than coarse, whatever words rolled off his tongue. But an environment in which these were the associations that came easily to us would be one that saw Michael Brown very differently all along.

by Dish Staff

Paul Cassell previews the trial of officer Darren Wilson:

[P]roving a crime in the Brown shooting will require close attention to the details, particularly details about the shooting officer’s state of mind.  Even if the officer made a mistake in shooting, that will not be enough to support criminal charges so long as his mistake was reasonable — a determination in which the officer will receive some benefit of the doubt because of the split-second judgments that he had to make.  And, of course, if it turns out that Michael Brown was in fact charging directly towards the officer (as recent reports have suggested), the officer’s actions will have been justified under state law and no charges should be filed.  Trial lawyers know that one thing above all else decides criminal cases: the facts.  And that is what we’re waiting for now.

Yishai Schwartz expects Wilson to get off because of Missouri law:

In other states, claims of self-defense need to be proven as more likely than not, or in legal speak, to a “preponderance of the evidence.” It’s still the state’s obligation to prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that the defendant actually killed the victim. But once that’s established, the prosecution doesn’t also have to prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that the killing wasn’t justified. That’s because justificationslike self-defenserequire the accused to make an active case, called an “affirmative defense,” that the circumstances were exceptional. The logic here is simple: As a rule, homicide is a crime and justification is reserved for extraordinary cases. Once the state has proven that a defendant did in fact kill someone, it should be the accused’s obligation to prove his or her actions were justified.

Not in Missouri. Instead, as long as there is a modicum of evidence and reasonable plausibility in support of a self-defense claim, a court must accept the claim and acquit the accused. The prosecution must not only prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the crime, but also disprove a defendant’s claim of self-defense to the same high standard.

Too Much Gun For A Small Town

Dish Staff —  Aug 21 2014 @ 1:21pm
by Dish Staff

Outrage In Missouri Town After Police Shooting Of 18-Yr-Old Man

Amanda Taub spells out why militarized small-town police are especially dangerous:

When the ACLU asked officials in the town of Farmington, Missouri (less than a 90 minute drive from Ferguson) to provide a copy of training materials for its Special Response Team, which is roughly like a SWAT team, the town sent only a copy of a single article. The article warned that “preparations for attacks on American schools that will bring rivers of blood and staggering body counts are well underway in Islamic training camps,” and went on to say that “because of our laws we can’t depend on the military to help us … By law, you the police officer are our Delta Force.”

In contrast, SWAT programs in larger cities tend to train extensively, and constantly. The Los Angeles police department’s SWAT teams go through months of intensive training before being brought on, and once there spend at least fifty percent of their on-duty time training, former LAPD Deputy Police Chief Stephen Downing told me. It is effectively impossible, Downing suggested, for small police departments to appropriately train their officers in the use of SWAT-style equipment, because they simply do not have sufficient resources or personnel. Small departments simply do not have the resources to support that type of program, but they do have the guns and trucks and armor, which they use.

Taub also runs down some of the military equipment the Ferguson cops are using:

Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicles, or MRAPs, are heavily armored trucks designed to withstand the detonation of land mines or IEDs. They were first deployed by the US military in 2007, designed specifically for use in Iraq, where al-Qaeda and Iranian-backed Shia militias were using highly developed IEDs. Now the vehicles are being passed down to police departments.

Asked why MRAPS were being used in Ferguson, a place with neither land mines nor IEDs, Ferguson police chief Tom Jackson replied that “people are using bombs now.” However, there have been no reports of bombs being used in Ferguson — he may have been making an existential point about bombs being items that exist in the world.

Gene Healy previews the ghastly dystopian crowd-control weapons DHS is working on:

A Homeland Security report obtained by the Electronic Frontier Foundation in 2013 revealed that the agency has considered outfitting its expanding inventory of drones with “non-lethal weapons designed to immobilize” targets of interest. Meanwhile, both Homeland Security and the Pentagon maintain a keen interest in developing crowd-control weapons for occupations at home and abroad. In 2007, the department’s science and technology arm “contracted for the development of the ‘LED Incapacitator,’ a nauseating strobe” weapon meant to overwhelm and disorient targets with rapid, random pulses of light.

Some have called it the “puke saber,” but the final product won’t necessarily be handheld. As the department noted in a cutesy blogpost entitled “Enough to Make You Sick,” “output and size can easily be scaled up to fit the need; immobilizing a mob, for instance, might call for a wide-angle ‘bazooka’ version.”

(Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)