A viral article incorrectly claimed Officer Darren Wilson said Mike Brown didn’t reach for his gun.
The Root failed to take into account grand jury testimony.
Officers did use the n-word, but there are viable reasons.
This information has been available since December.
Comments made in court by Officer Darren Wilson — who fatally shot unarmed African American teenager, Mike Brown, on August 9, 2104 — have exploded in media headlines, ripping off the scab formed over the two and a half ensuing years that had lessened the sting of America’s collective outrage on the topic of police violence.
Taken verbatim, Wilson’s words paint quite the stark contrast to narratives long established as the accepted account of that fateful August day — the officer admitted he and other colleagues used the word ‘n****r’ to refer to African Americans; he conceded Brown never did try to remove his service weapon from its holster; and various other minor details easily considered revealing to his character.
But is examining court documents word for word an accurate way to assess whether the officer changed his story at some point in time? Further, could such clinical statements as would be given in a personal defense in court provide the necessary context to condemn what is said according to pages of transcript?
In short, obviously not.
After the Washington Post’s Wesley Lowery obtained and published pages of information from proceedings from December in a wrongful death lawsuit brought by Brown’s family, The Root’s Michael Harriot jumped to point out discrepancies — going so far as to declare the new documents as fundamentally earth-shattering for the shooting case — titling his article, “Everything You Think You Know About the Death of Mike Brown Is Wrong, and the Man Who Killed Him Admits It.”
Of course, that isn’t accurate — and it’s only a smidgen more complex than semantics — but Harriot’s resulting viral article did a great deal of damage to the case.
While it might be unpleasant to discover Officer Darren Wilson isn’t a straight monster, as would be easy to assume — given the cop’s brash braggadocio, blatant disrespect to Brown’s family, and moments on video he appeared to gloat over newfound notoriety — some ‘bad things’ said against him just aren’t factual.
Including the following — perhaps wishful thinking on Harriot’s part:
“New court papers reveal that Brown never tried to take the officer’s gun, never struck the officer and did not initiate any contact with Wilson, who was cleared of wrongdoing by a secret grand jury in November 2014.”
He goes on to explain what can be found in court documents — or, more accurately, Harriot’s interpretation of what was revealed during court proceedings:
“Wilson had a gun, and Brown is hanging inside the car. Brown does not reach for the officer’s gun, and the cop admits that Brown’s only weapon was his big scary, black self. The document goes on to show that—instead of reaching for his pepper spray, baton or Taser—Wilson pulled out his gun and admits to shooting Brown, even though Brown had not reached for his weapon or struck him.”
Harriot, while generally correct, misses the mark on a key point — Wilson never admitted the teenager did not reach for his gun — only that Brown did not try to take the officer’s gun from its holster.
In fact, Wilson previously told a grand jury Brown assaulted him and tried to take his gun — the former officer’s admission to the court does not contradict that. Wilson would actually be adhering to his account of events in these two statements — admitting Brown tried to commandeer the weapon, but the teen did not go so far as to attempt to remove it from the cop’s holster.
As the St. Louis Post-Dispatch points out, this newly-circulating detail — which has been publicly available since December — “doesn’t contradict his grand jury testimony, in which he said Brown hit him so he drew his own gun, and Brown tried to grab it from his hand.”
On the topic of racial slurs — a point far murkier than the aforementioned — Greg Kloeppel, attorney for Wilson, clarified in an email to the Post,
“Officer Wilson did admit in discovery responses that he used the n-word and has heard former officer(s) use the n-word on at least one occasion but, he did so while repeating/reporting what a victim, witness or suspect etc., relayed to him while conducting an investigation or preparing a report. He never used the n-word to refer to an African American in a racist or derogatory manner and he never repeated a racist joke while on duty.”
Harriot, after enduring a shit storm of criticism from Lowery at the Post — not to mention social media, in general — eventually retracted the strength of the assertion made in the article for The Root, saying he intended that the information would change “what everyone believed about the incident.”
Ferguson and the shooting of Mike Brown recaptured headlines around the country this week, after the release of “Stranger Fruit” — a re-examination of the incident and aftermath by filmmaker Jason Pollock — at South by Southwest on Saturday. Pollock also endured sharp blowback for a heavily-edited second portion of security video recorded in the same convenience store Brown is alleged to have attempted to rob.
While a fully detailed account of the events that led Wilson to kill the unarmed teen might never be known, ‘Ferguson’ became the pivotal moment — when the ordinarily-apathetic sat up and took notice Officer Friendly had some time ago been supplanted by a military force different from the Pentagon’s in name and location, only.
Mike Brown’s killing changed more than Ferguson — it ripped the vestiges of dulcimer politeness from our interactions with one another. Wilson, by shooting a gun instead of a Taser, arguably set the nation on the path to an uncomfortable Cold, Civil War.
But painting an inaccurate portrait of what did take place will do more to deepen the divide than it ever will to facilitate truth seeing the light of day.
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons/Loavesofbread.