There is no question that Darren Wilson, officer of the law in Ferguson, Missouri, shot and killed a young man named Michael Brown on Canfield Drive in Ferguson shortly after noon on August 9, 2014, in front of numerous witnesses.
Not long afterwards, Wilson disappeared. He has not been seen publicly since the day he killed Michael Brown in front of numerous witnesses. He was placed on paid administrative leave following the shooting as is standard practice in such cases. He is said to have left his home in Crestwood, Missouri, within days of the shooting, but exactly when he left and where he went has not been reported. He is said to have lived with another Ferguson police officer named Barbara Spradling whose whereabouts is also not reported. Is she still on the job, or has she been given paid leave as well? Is she with Wilson? Why?
Where are Wilson and Spradling and who is protecting them? If there were any valid reason to believe that Wilson's life was in jeopardy because of his shooting and killing Michael Brown shortly after noon on August 9, then Wilson should be in the protective custody of a competent public agency -- given the nature of the killing, that would most likely be the Missouri State Highway Patrol or the FBI. He should not be free to wander at will, nor should his general whereabouts remain undisclosed. His precise location need not be stated, but the public should know whether he is in Missouri, in the St. Louis area, or somewhere else, and the public should know whether or not he is in protective custody. That nothing has been disclosed about his location indicates to me that it's possible the authorities don't know where he is. Perhaps only his lawyer does, or perhaps no one does.
We should also ask why Darren Wilson shot and killed Michael Brown shortly after noon on August 9, 2014, in the middle of Canfield Drive in Ferguson, Missouri. That question is easier to answer than Darren Wilson's whereabouts. We have numerous eyewitness reports that pretty much say the same thing about the shooting of Michael Brown and which partially corroborate the incomplete police story of the shooting.
Michael Brown and his friend Dorian Johnson were walking in the middle of Canfield Drive. They were approached by Officer Wilson who ordered them to get on the sidewalk. They continued walking in the middle of the street. Officer Wilson approached them again at speed, nearly hitting them with his vehicle. Words were exchanged. Wilson opened his vehicle door, slamming it into Brown who did not move out of the way. The door rebounded onto Wilson who was unable to get out of the car. He grabbed Brown and there was a struggle through the window of the car. Wilson apparently said to Brown, "I'll shoot you." A shot was fired from Darren Wilson's gun inside the vehicle. Brown broke free and started running away with Johnson. Wilson got out of the car and fired several shots toward Brown. One may have hit him, though that's not entirely clear. The bullet fired inside Wilson's vehicle may also have hit Brown, but it is not certain. Brown stopped fleeing and Johnson sought shelter by a parked car. Brown turned around, reportedly with his hands up, and said, "Stop shooting. I don't have a gun" or something similar. Wilson shot him several more times. Brown fell forward, and Wilson shot him twice in the head. Brown collapsed on the street where his body and blood remained for the next several hours as more and more people gathered in sorrow and outrage.
Another black youth killed by police in the USofA.
Even on that day, it was suggested by TheePharaoh on Twitter that Brown had taken some rellos shortly before he was killed, but even in America, the theft of cigars does not generally warrant death in the streets. Something else must have happened to cause Officer Wilson to shoot Brown to death -- unless we are to believe he's simply a psychotic murderer waiting for the opportunity to kill a black youth.
I think there are a couple of keys to understanding why Officer Wilson felt he had to kill Michael Brown that day.
One is his order that Brown and Johnson get out of the street and onto the sidewalk. Over the course of several weeks of protest, most Americans have had the opportunity to see the site where Michael Brown was shot down. There is a memorial of flowers and messages on the spot in the middle of the street where Michael Brown fell and his blood ran. It's a very moving memorial. The street is narrow and runs through a residential neighborhood of pleasant single family homes and garden apartments. It is not a busy street at all but a normal, curving residential street where a driver might ordinarily expect to find young people either playing or walking in the street, even in the middle of the street, as a matter of course.
For a police officer to order Brown and Johnson out of the street as he passed by them would not be particularly unusual, though following up might be. Brown and Johnson did not get out of the street, and Johnson said he told the officer they were nearly at their destination and they would move out of the street when they got there. Johnson said the officer drove on a few feet, then he suddenly stopped and backed up, nearly hitting Johnson and Brown. Johnson said that Wilson was belligerent and hostile at this point, and attempted to get out of his vehicle, but he had stopped too close to Brown and Johnson and was unable to open his door sufficiently to get out. Words were exchanged that apparently included some cursing. Wilson apparently claimed that Brown pushed him back into the vehicle and began to assault him through the window. Johnson said that the officer fell back into the vehicle when the door rebounded, and Wilson then tried to pull Brown into the vehicle through the window, drew his gun and threatened to shoot Brown. Wilson apparently claimed that Brown tried to grab his gun and a struggle for it ensued during which a shot went off. Johnson said that the shot hit Brown in the shoulder (he said he saw the blood), and at that point Brown and Johnson ran away.
Officer Wilson could then get out of the vehicle and he kept firing at Brown. But why?
According to Missouri state law (as I understand it) officers are empowered to use lethal force on a "fleeing felon" if the officer has a reasonable belief that the fugitive represents a physical threat to the officer or to others. It's been pointed out that Officer Wilson claimed that Brown assaulted him and tried to take his gun, both of which are felonies. Thus, when Brown ran away, he became a "fleeing felon."
But was he a threat?
Officer Wilson apparently believed he was -- for no other reason because he believed Brown had assaulted him and tried to take his gun. These are not provable facts, but they are apparently Wilson's statements to St. Louis County police who took over the investigation. And they are statements tailored to substantiating justification for Wilson's shooting and killing Michael Brown.
The assault Wilson claimed he suffered from Brown cannot be proved, nor can it be proved that Brown tried to grab Wilson's gun. But these are key claims by Wilson and are the primary clues to why he killed Brown.
Non-compliance to Wilson's order to Brown and Johnson to get out of the street was the initial cause of Wilson's displeasure with the young men. No statement has been made to verify it, but it is possible that Wilson heard a report on his radio that there had been a robbery at the Ferguson Market a few minutes before his encounter with Brown and Johnson. This may have been the reason Wilson stopped and reversed his vehicle to confront Brown and Johnson again, but we don't know that. It may also have been because they didn't comply with his previous order and it is suspected one or the other may have mouthed off on top of defying the officer.
When Wilson was unable to get out of his vehicle upon the second confrontation, he apparently tried to grab hold of Brown to control him in some manner, and he also apparently drew his gun and threatened to shoot Brown. Why?
The likelihood is that Wilson's inability to get out of the vehicle and the subsequent struggle frightened Wilson sufficiently that he felt his life was in danger. His threat to shoot Brown was probably intended to overpower and intimidate the much larger Brown, but the gun went off apparently unexpectedly. A bullet may or may not have struck Brown at that point (autopsy is inconclusive), but the shock of the gunfire broke the struggle inside the vehicle, Brown and Johnson were able to run away, and Wilson was able to get out of the car. Wilson kept firing. Why?
So far as he knew, neither Brown nor Johnson were armed, as neither had threatened him with a firearm.
After Wilson shot at the fleeing Brown, witnesses nearly unanimously state that Brown turned around with his hands up and stated, "Stop shooting. I don't have a gun" or something similar. Wilson, however, kept shooting until Brown was down and most likely dead.
The answer is not the law. The law protects the officer who uses lethal force, but it does not require that he do so. The answer is the department policies and protocols for use of force which in this case -- as in many thousands of others around the country, especially since the 1980s -- essentially require that under circumstances in which the officer believes his life is in danger, he must use lethal force to "neutralize the threat." In other words, he must attempt to kill the subject, and if at all possible, he must succeed.
The law will protect him, but the policy and protocols of the department demand that he must use lethal force under the circumstances.
This is true in case after case after case of police killings. It's not the law that makes them do it. It's the policies and protocols of the department. Police have vast discretion -- except when they believe or say that their lives or the lives of others are in danger in which case, in almost every department they are not only authorized to use lethal force, they are required to. It's not a matter of a "split second decision." Far from it. The protocols are mostly very clear and straightforward. Any perception of a life-threatening danger posed by a subject is enough to cause the use of lethal force, even if -- as is so often the case -- the danger is illusory. Often the perception comes long before the use of lethal force. Once the decision is made to kill the subject, that's it. Generally, there is no going back, nor is there anything the subject can do to save his or her own life. It's not the law that makes it so, it is the policy of the department that does.
There have been so many examples recently of how these protocols work to extinguish the lives of hundreds so far this year alone, but somehow the lesson never quite connects with the public. It's as if the public and the police are operating on entirely different planes, and in a sense, that's the case.
I've mentioned a New Mexico State Police sniper who has been sent to various incidents with the intent to kill. That's his job, after all. And he has killed -- twice since last December, while severely wounding another man last May.
A few days ago, Seattle police snipers were sent to an incident in Queen Anne. They shot and killed a man who police claimed was shooting at officers -- but how many times have we heard this claim only to find out later it wasn't true? The suspect didn't fire at all or he didn't fire at officers but fired in the air or away from officers.
In another incident in Bloomfield, New Mexico a few days ago, police went on a domestic disturbance call and an officer shot and killed a man who family and witnesses said was unarmed and not causing a disturbance of any kind. After the family of the dead man demanded accountability from the police for what they considered to be a murder, the investigators issued a statement that the man had been shot and killed because they believed he was reaching for a gun in the glove compartment of his vehicle.
There is no way to prove he was doing any such thing, however. There is only the statement of the officer who shot him. In this case, it is possible that the officer saw him "reach" -- whether for a gun or not, it doesn't matter -- and that's enough, according to protocol, to trigger use of lethal force. Police were alerted to the "danger" by their dispatch on a domestic disturbance call.
Something similar happened in St. Louis to Kajieme Powell. He was shot and killed by police within seconds of their arrival on a disturbance/shoplifting call on August 19. He'd taken sodas and pastries from a convenience store on the corner and he had been "acting strange" on the sidewalk outside. One of the callers to 911 -- a St. Louis alderwoman -- stated he had two knives and she was afraid of him so she was going to lock her door to keep him outside.
Powell did not threaten anyone according to video of his behavior prior to being shot. He was acting strange to be sure, and according to those who were there, he did have a knife in his hand, but he was not threatening anyone with it, he didn't raise it to threaten police when they arrived, but he didn't follow their command to drop it until after they shot him. Twelve times. It's clear they had determined to kill Powell before they got there -- if he didn't obey.
This incident was very similar to the killing of James Boyd in Albuquerque in March. The difference is that apparently the decision to kill Boyd was made long before police opened fire, not as they were approaching the scene. Boyd was also armed with knives, and like Powell, he did not threaten anyone. Police made clear that being armed in a confrontation with police is sufficient justification for police killing. Especially being armed and noncompliant with police orders.
In fact, in the vast majority of the thousands and thousands of police killings in the United States over the last few decades, the chief justification for killing individuals is noncompliance with orders, whether or not the subject is armed.
Noncompliance is itself regarded as a threat, life threatening in too many circumstances.
"Reaching for..." something (be it a cell-phone, wallet, pad of paper, or -- just maybe -- a gun or a knife) is considered life threatening and sufficient justification for opening fire on a subject.
The "waistband" gambit is tried and true. There's always a gun in there, right?
Holding a weapon of any kind while in an encounter with police is generally considered life threatening and sufficient justification for opening fire, unless you're a drunken elderly white man, in which case, no harm no foul and you will be allowed to negotiate in good faith.
Being black or brown and noncompliant -- whether armed or not -- is an almost certain death sentence, however.
I'm convinced from what I've seen that Darren Wilson decided on Michael Brown's eligibility to be killed on the basis of his noncompliance with orders to get out of the street, and his decision to act on that eligibility came when Brown and Wilson struggled in the window of Wilson's vehicle. It didn't matter at all whether Brown posed an actual threat to Wilson. What mattered was that Wilson's authority had been defied and he felt he had been assaulted by an uppity nigra.
But even if Brown had been white, the situation may well have devolved the same way. The point is that noncompliance itself can be a death sentence in the eyes of the police, regardless of anything else, and they know they will be held harmless if they carry it out.
This situation has been metastasizing for many years, and it is time to change things.