When the Department of Justice released two reports on Ferguson, Missouri, I, like many on the right and the left, pretty much ignored one and devoured the other. I minimized in my own mind the report showing that the DOJ not only didn’t have a case against Officer Darren Wilson for killing Michael Brown, but that Brown’s hands were not in the hands-up surrender position. Instead, I focused on the second report that excoriated the Ferguson police department and courts for long-held abusive, racist practices. After all, I figured, Fox and the entire right would exploit the Wilson report and ignore the one on Ferguson. It hurts to type these words, but I was like Fox.
Earlier this week, however, in a piece called “’Hands up, don’t shoot’ was built on a lie,” The Washington Post’s Jonathan Capehart essentially called out the left, and himself. It was, he says, “the hardest piece I ever had to write.”
First, he nods to the “good” report, on Ferguson:
Years of mistreatment by the police, the courts and the municipal government, including evidence that all three balanced their books on the backs of the people of Ferguson, were laid bare in 102 damning pages. The overwhelming data from DOJ provided background and much-needed context for why a small St. Louis suburb most had never heard of exploded the moment Brown was killed. His death gave voice to many who suffered in silence.
But the report on the shooting, Capehart writes, “forced me to deal with two uncomfortable truths: Brown never surrendered with his hands up, and Wilson was justified in shooting Brown.”
As Capehart recounts, Eric Holder’s DOJ found that
Although there are several individuals who have stated that Brown held his hands up in an unambiguous sign of surrender prior to Wilson shooting him dead, their accounts do not support a prosecution of Wilson. As detailed throughout this report, some of those accounts are inaccurate because they are inconsistent with the physical and forensic evidence; some of those accounts are materially inconsistent with that witness’s own prior statements with no explanation, credible [or] otherwise, as to why those accounts changed over time. Certain other witnesses who originally stated Brown had his hands up in surrender recanted their original accounts, admitting that they did not witness the shooting or parts of it, despite what they initially reported…
Capehart calls hands up a “lie” (it was sparked by Brown’s companion in the incident, Dorian Johnson), but keeps it in context.
Yet this does not diminish the importance of the real issues unearthed in Ferguson by Brown’s death. Nor does it discredit what has become the larger ‘Black Lives Matter.’ In fact, the false Ferguson narrative stuck because of concern over a distressing pattern of other police killings of unarmed African American men and boys around the time of Brown’s death.