Amnesty International’s recent Ferguson report pretty well sums up my latest thoughts on the killing of Michael Brown (the full report can be found here):
“Due to conflicting reports, what happened between Brown and Wilson remains uncertain. According to one witness, Brown and his friend attempted to walk away when the officer fired his weapon, shooting the unarmed Brown, whose hands were in the air. According to police statements, a physical confrontation between the officer and Brown resulted in the officer shooting the unarmed Brown.
Regardless, international standards provide that law enforcement officers should only use force as a last resort and that the amount of force must be proportionate to the threat encountered and designed to minimize damage and injury. Officers may only use firearms when strictly necessary to protect themselves or others against the imminent threat of death. Even then, the intentional lethal use of firearms is justified only when “strictly unavoidable in order to protect life.”
Irrespective of whether there was some sort of physical confrontation between Michael Brown and the police officer, Michael Brown was unarmed and thus unlikely to have presented a serious threat to the life of the police officer. As such, this calls into question whether the use of lethal force was justified.
Also troubling is Missouri’s broad statute on the use of deadly force. Amnesty International is very concerned that the statute may be unconstitutional and is clearly out of line with international standards on the intentional use of lethal force as it goes well beyond the doctrine that lethal force only be used to protect life.”
As we watch a different kind of tragedy play out in slow motion in Ferguson, we should reflect on these words and think about reforming the legal contours of deadly force in self-defense. It appears less and less likely that there will be an indictment of Darren Wilson. Selective leaks from the grand jury, controlled by Bob McCulloch’s office, are purposefully designed to engender sympathy for Officer Wilson among the public and foreshadow that any indictment is unlikely. The leaks are strategic and selective, only and ever favoring Wilson’s side. The tilt in the system again laid bare for everyone to see. We never hear anything about the numerous witnesses on public record claiming to see Mike Brown unnecessarily gunned down with hands in the air trying to surrender. We never will. Those compelling perspectives are stifled while only Wilson’s crafted testimony is given oxygen. At this point the fix is surely in and the narrative being spun behind closed doors to the grand jury is not one that leads to indictment. You can “indict a ham sandwich” but not when your favorite meal is ham. McCulloch’s intimate association with STL County PD and established history of indifference towards episodes of police brutality call into question the ability of McCulloch’s office to put forth a vigorous prosecution.
By all objective standards, Mike Brown posed no imminent deadly threat to Officer Wilson even if he did “charge” toward the officer (from some sizable distance away mind you). He was already shot 2-3 times at that point and basically all eyewitness accounts (that we know of) say Brown was merely stumbling awkwardly and already “going down” from being shot multiple times previously. No reasonable person could perceive Brown as an imminent threat to life at that point in the affair. Most people, including myself, are willing to give Officer Wilson the benefit of doubt for the initial shots fired inside the police SUV. There very well may have been an altercation of some kind. When Brown closed the SUV door back on Wilson things escalated quickly and Brown was shot moments later, supposedly in self-defense [although any injuries sustained appear minimal from photos and videos taken right after the incident - Wilson has no visible wounds and shows no outward signs that he was injured - He never touches his face or massages wounds that would be throbbing in pain - nothing is disheveled on his uniform and his overall appearance is pristine - furthermore, Mike Brown showed no signs of significant physical struggle on his autopsy reports, which does not seem possible if he was throwing haymakers at Wilson about to knock him unconscious - the material evidence that Mike Brown was ever an imminent deadly threat to Officer Wilson is thin - there was never any "orbital bone fracture" and there will be no catastrophic injuries of the sort].
But nearly all witnesses (that we know of) agree that Brown had his hands in the air (or at least out) and was “going down”, harmlessly stumbling in zombiesque fashion toward Wilson as he rained bullets, not charging in a deadly (or even remotely menacing) fashion toward the officer. With 2-3 gunshot wounds registered already, how could he? The Washington Post recently reported that 7-8 “new” black witnesses have testified in secrecy behind the scenes and support Officer Wilson’s account. This is likely just shoddy reporting in response to rhetorical gamesmanship being played by Bob McCulloch’s office. These “new” witnesses are probably the witnesses we already know about (for the most part). The same ones that say Mike Brown was unnecessarily mowed down in a hail of gunfire as he attempted surrender. The witnesses “agree” with Wilson that there was some type of ambiguous altercation at the police SUV, but do not agree with Wilson on the exact details of the incident, especially regarding the final moments when Wilson played executioner. This is the misleading game of semantics being played by Bob McCulloch’s office. But alas, the reputational damage is further baked into the cake. The unwavering narrative of Mike Brown the deviant villain and Darren Wilson the heroic savior plays on. Brown cast as deserving of mortal fate due to uncontrollable animalistic tendencies beginning with a few cigars and a shove and ending with furious charging toward Officer Wilson, who fired away unrelenting because he “feared for his life.” Ann Coulter, Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck’s Blaze are now tweeting about these earth shattering revelations. Your rabidly right-wing uncle has likely posted about the 7-8 “new” witnesses in haughty triumphant fashion. This is all part of the charade. Remember, the game is rigged from start to finish.
To anyone seriously following this affair, it has been fairly clear from day one that local Ferguson and STL County officials never had any intention of vigorously prosecuting Darren Wilson for excessive force. The selective leaks just further solidify the notion that the system is tilted toward Wilson and Mike Brown’s fate was sealed the second his face hit the hot August pavement and rested there on display for several more hours. Part of me hopes there is something compelling in the testimony and physical evidence that completely exonerates Officer Wilson. Unfortunately, I don’t think that will be the case. Not enough to justify the extreme actions he took that fateful day. We will have Officer Wilson’s words – artfully and strategically crafted no doubt after having weeks to prepare and hear everyone else’s version of events – against a bevy of eye witnesses that basically all agree that an unarmed Brown was not an imminent deadly threat to Wilson and was gunned down unnecessarily as he fell harmlessly to the ground.
There will be mass unrest in the streets when the no-indictment announcement comes down, and it could quite possibly spread far outside the confines of Ferguson to other areas of St. Louis and into other U.S. cities and towns. Wilson might very well walk scot-free because of ultra-lenient Missouri statutes that allow police officers to legally use deadly force in nearly all dangerous (not nearly deadly) situations. The bar for legal use of deadly force in Missouri is exceedingly low and that legal framework continually plays into Wilson’s favor. Everything does. But the resolved people of Ferguson and beyond will march on, confident that meaningful law enforcement reforms are within their grasp. The throng of peaceful protesters are fighting for justice not only for Mike Brown but for all victims of excessive force. I do not want to live in a world where Darren Wilson’s extreme actions can be justified under the lax parameters of existing deadly force rules. We need to rethink and rework those parameters along with the frayed relationship between law enforcement and the minority community more generally. I stand proudly in righteous indignation with the protesters on that crusade.