The Student News Site of Black River Falls High School

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The Student News Site of Black River Falls High School

BRFHS Paw Print

The Student News Site of Black River Falls High School

BRFHS Paw Print

Brown Case: Flawed but Important Catalyst for Public Discourse

More than 2,000 people gathered at the Mall of America’s main rotunda December 20 to protest recent deaths of black men at the hands of police around the US. Photo by Flickr user Erik Davis.

A month after the St. Louis Grand Jury decision — and nearly four months after the shooting of Michael Brown — the nation is still in upheaval over the situation in Ferguson. Throughout these last couple of months, facts have been thrown in the mix with accusation, racial tension, and a lot of sensational media to provide accounts varying far and wide in accuracy and consistency.

What Does the Court Think?

In September the St. Louis County grand jury heard the testimony of various eyewitnesses and the man accused of murder–Darren Wilson. The following is the series of events they accepted, and what they used as grounds to refuse indicting Wilson.

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On August 9, Ferguson, Mo. police officer Darren Wilson stopped Michael Brown and Dorian Johnson for jaywalking and obstructing the flow of traffic. After Wilson asked them why they couldn’t just use the sidewalk, Michael Brown cursed at and dismissed him. However, during this short encounter Wilson noticed that Johnson matched the description of a person of interest in a recent theft report, and that Brown was holding the stolen item–a pack of Cigarillos–in his hand. Thinking he’d found the thieves, Wilson attempted to stop them again. And this is where things escalated.

When Wilson attempted to stop them and get out of his car, Brown slammed the car’s door shut, allegedly asking Wilson “what the f*** are you going to do about it.” Following this Wilson ordered Brown to back off the door (“get the f*** back”) before using the door to shove Brown back. After this Brown forced his way in through the door and punched Wilson in the face. After attempting to grapple with Brown, Wilson was struck again. It’s worth noting at this point that while both men are 6’4”, Wilson is lighter by roughly 90 pounds.

At this point Wilson began to wonder, “What do I do to not get beaten inside my car?” And it’s at this point that things escalated even further. To reach his mace Wilson would have had to leave his face open, and according to his testimony Brown was blocking his face anyway. While the Ferguson police have tasers, Wilson does not actively carry one. His baton –an expandable model–would have been impossible to get out inside the car, and with his position Wilson testified that he wouldn’t have been able to get off an effective swing.

So that left only his gun.

Pulling out his gun, Wilson warned Brown that if he didn’t back up he would shoot. Brown allegedly responded with, “You are too much of a pussy to shoot me,” and reached for the gun. Brown pushed the gun into Wilson’s leg and tried to force his way into the trigger and shoot. Wilson and Brown wrestled in the car for a short while, resulting in a shot through a window startling Brown. This gave Wilson the chance to take the gun back and attempt to fire. Nothing happened at first, allowing Brown to charge and hit Wilson again. After racking the gun Wilson quickly fired two shots, both within the confines of his police cruiser. After this Brown ran off.

After calling for backup Wilson got out of the car and followed, going in the direction Johnson had pointed to during the initial stop for jaywalking. Eventually he found Brown, who according to Wilson turned and prepared to charge. Wilson fired several round of shots at Brown, but he didn’t slow down. Eventually, when he was close, Wilson was able to get a couple of shots into his head, and according to him “the demeanor on his face went blank, the aggression was gone, I mean, I knew he stopped, the threat was stopped.”

These are the events of August 9th, 2014 that the Grand Jury found to be true and grounds for refusing to indict Wilson on any murder charges. But this sounds pretty straightforward, right? A person charges a police officer, attempts to assault him, and is shot dead for the officer’s own good. Well, this isn’t always the story that’s been told. And it’s a story many still don’t believe in its entirety.

What Did/Does the Public Think?

For one, I left out one major detail in my description above. The races of those involved. And that’s really what got the nation’s attention at the start. The story of this encounter was told in a vein very similar to another infamous case: The Trayvon Martin shooting. This case involved an unarmed black youth who was fatally shot by a white neighborhood watch volunteer.

At first glance the Ferguson tragedy seemed just another event of brutality fueled by racist ideology. This idea was only supported by Ferguson’s situation as a whole. A primarily black community whose law is enforced by a primarily white police department–a police department that is responsible for a 3 to 1 ratio of black to white arrests. This idea of racial tension erupting after an innocent was shot to death was what everyone heard first.

And really, this message resonated with the nation as a whole. According to the article, “Racial gap in U.S. arrest rates: ‘Staggering Disparity,” going to all 50 states there are only 173 police departments with an arrest rate for black people that is less than or even equal to the average for white people. This is out of 3,538 departments that were examined. Here in Wisconsin we have a rate of approximately 6 to 1, twice as bad as Ferguson’s. In Appleton, only a few hours away from here, the rate is 8 to 1. With statistics like this all over the United States, it was no stretch to believe that this was a case of racial profiling gone bad.

On top of this, eyewitness testimony at the time of the crime conflicted heavily with what the grand jury later supported (we’ll get to that later), with many people stating Wilson had grabbed Brown, that Brown had tried to leave, and that Wilson had shot him while he was in a position of surrender. With very few people giving any kind of comments that supported Wilson, and with Wilson himself staying silent, it was no great surprise that these stories of an innocent being gunned down were what the media ran with. This initial outpouring of inaccurate stories is what caused–and is still causing for some–a large amount of unrest.

Things began to change as autopsy reports came out. First of all, it was learned that Brown was shot six times. Two of these to the head. On its own this was just further support that Wilson had been overzealous in his exercising of “justice,” but where the shots went in also contradicted one of the most popular accounts of what happened. Many had argued Brown was shot while running away. All six shots had been fired at Brown’s front.

Over the next few months a lot would happen. Famous faces would come out to speak for the Browns and the plight they faced. News stations chose sides and fought tooth and nail for either the victim or the accused. But most of all, it brought up a dialogue of police discrimination and how it affects the black community as a whole. Still, despite all of this, evidence quickly began to pour in showing Brown wasn’t the innocent martyr many had thought.

Convenience store footage showed what appeared to be Brown hassling and robbing a store clerk. This is what had caused Wilson to stop him in the first place. Pictures of Wilson’s car, marked with blood from the shots fired within it, supported the idea that Brown had charged the car. And perhaps most telling, pictures of Wilson after the assault showed swelling in his face and signs of injury. Not only that, but eyewitness testimony had started to contradict and change, leaving much of what was said in the start of the event basically worthless.

Despite mounting evidence many still held the belief that Brown had done nothing wrong at the time of his shooting. This was in large part due to the way the media and important figures had handled the case . This sensationalized approach to the story has left misinformation spread all over, and still fuels a lot of conversation and opinions even a week after the grand jury’s decision.

What’s Happened Over the Last Weeks

The decision by the grand jury not to indict Wilson sparked a handful riots, but mostly peaceful protests, all over the nation. The first thing I’d like to say about this is that riots and protests are not the same thing. Rioting and stealing is by no means the same as peaceful protest. Riots do very little to move a message forward.

While a lot of the news talks about the overturned, burning police car, and while there have been reports of looting all over Ferguson, the majority of the nation has protested peacefully. Marches, large gatherings, and even “die-ins” (where people lay still on sidewalks, in stores, etc. for hours on end) have been present in a very large number of states and individual cities throughout America.

These protests are inspired by the idea that the legal system has failed our nation in their latest decision, and while I personally disagree, I can see where the unrest comes from. Racism is by no means dead in America, and for many of the black community prejudice and profiling is part of their life on an almost daily basis.

The statistics I gave earlier show that many more black people are arrested on average than white people, despite the fact that according to the 2013 census the black population is only 13.2% of America’s people. Some would argue that that is because black people simply do more crimes, to which I’d have to bring up the reasons for many of these arrests. Most of these arrests are not felonies or major crimes, but petty arrests.

Police officers can make judgements about whether to arrest an individual for offenses like drug possession and shoplifting. And while there could potentially be a difference in the amount of crimes perpetrated, I highly doubt it’s so extreme that it warrants Wauwatosa’s 100 to 1 ratio in arrests for crimes in involving robbery or theft of property. It’s these kinds of situations that cause racial tension to build, and it’s the frequency of this seemingly blatant racism that has made a situation as illogical as Ferguson to erupt as it has.

So that’s what’s been going on this past week. An explosion of racial tension that’s been building for quite some time now. And while I can’t help but disagree with the reason it started, I don’t think the dialogue and discussions its sparking should be discredited in the same way one would discredit the Michael Brown case. The talks this has brought up on race and the way the law has discriminated in regards to it are talks that we need to have. It’s a problem we need to fix.

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Brown Case: Flawed but Important Catalyst for Public Discourse