On August 9th, 2014 Michael Brown and his friend, Dorian Johnson, were walking on a street in Ferguson, Missouri; on their way to visit Brown’s grandmother. A Ferguson police officer drove up to the two young men and ordered the teens to get off of the street and onto the sidewalk. A shot was fired either in or from within the vehicle. The two men then began to flee. The officer gave chase, then fired an as-of-yet unspecified number of shots, wounding and then killing Michael Brown.
Now there has been eyewitness reports stating that there was an altercation between the two teens and the police officer. But according to Dorian Johnson, who was walking with Brown at the time, the police officer pulled up beside them in his police cruiser and said, “Get the fuck on the sidewalk.” The two teens replied that they were almost home and they “…would shortly be out of the street,” according to Johnson.
However, the police officer, according to Johnson’s account, drove a short distance forward, stopped and then backed up, almost hitting the pair. Johnson recalled, “We were so close, almost inches away, that when he tried to open his door aggressively, the door ricocheted both off me and Big Mike’s body and closed back on the officer.” The officer, still in his car, grabbed Brown through the door by his neck. Brown tried to pull away, but the officer kept pulling Brown toward him. The officer drew his weapon, and “he said, ‘I’ll shoot you’ or ‘I’m going to shoot’ ” and almost instantaneously fired his weapon, hitting Brown in the back.
Johnson told MSNBC’s Chris Hayes that the claim by the St. Louis County police that that Brown went for the officer’s gun is wrong, and that Brown “did not reach for the officer’s weapon at all.”
Multiple witnesses corroborate various elements of Johnson’s account, denying, for example that Brown reached for the officer’s gun, and supporting the claim that after being hit in the back while fleeing, Brown put his hands in the air to make clear that he had no weapon and/or as a gesture of surrender. One witness, stated that the police officer chased Brown, before shooting him again. When Brown then raised his arms in compliance, the officer shot him two more times.
The shocking part of the incident wasn’t that Brown’s body was not removed by Ferguson police for an extended period. Dorian Johnson was not injured in the event. The Ferguson City Police Department has declined to identify the officer involved in the shooting.
The next day, vigils began peacefully, but some crowd members started to behave in an unruly manner after the candlelight vigil. The Ferguson police chief called in local police from other towns and assembled approximately 150 officers in riot gear. The crowd allegedly began looting businesses, vandalizing vehicles and confronting police who sought to block off access to several areas of the city. The following day, police fired tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse a crowd at a QuikTrip convenience store that had been burnt out the night before. According to reports, gunshots were fired in Ferguson and five were arrested.
It’s important of note that Ferguson, Missouri is 67% black. The police force only has 3 black cops out of 55 officers. There are no black school board members on the Ferguson school district board. There are very few minorities working for the city of Ferguson. The disparity of minority law enforcement, coupled with the lack of minority outreach within the city and added to a lack of diversity within it’s municipal ranks easily turns the city into a powder keg, ready to explode at any second. The swift use of military-style weapons on peaceful is utterly chilling. Not removing Michael Brown’s lifeless body can be construed as intimidation within the neighborhood, as to say to the residents, “We own you! Don’t fuck with us!”
Thankfully, the US Department of Justice has opened a civil rights investigation in this incident. “In conducting the independent federal investigation into whether there were federal civil rights violations, we will be working as much as possible with the local authorities who are determining whether there were any state law violations,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office said in a statement, adding, “We urge witnesses or individuals with any information related to the incident who have not yet come forward to contact the local FBI office.”
According to friends, Michael Brown was not a criminal, drug dealer, or troublemaker. He was a recent high school graduate who was preparing to go off to begin his freshman year at college. He had two loving parents. Michael had a bright future ahead of himself.
President Obama on Tuesday offered his “deepest condolences” to the family and community of Michael Brown, an unarmed black Missouri teenager who was shot to death by police Saturday.
“I know the events of the past few days have prompted strong passions, but as details unfold, I urge everyone in Ferguson, Missouri, and across the country, to remember this young man through reflection and understanding,” Obama said. “We should comfort each other and talk with one another in a way that heals, not in a way that wounds. Along with our prayers, that’s what Michael and his family, and our broader American community, deserve.”
We can only hope that Michael’s death, like so many others, isn’t in vain.