Round Up the Usual Suspects


From Obama’s remarks about events in Ferguson, Missouri:

[I[t’s important to remember how this started.  We lost a young man, Michael Brown, in heartbreaking and tragic circumstances.

Yes, let’s remember how “this” started:

A suburban St. Louis police chief on Friday identified the officer whose fatal shooting of an unarmed black teenager ignited days of heated protests, and released documents alleging the teen was killed after a robbery in which he was suspected of stealing a $48.99 box of cigars.

Ferguson, Mo., Police Chief Thomas Jackson said that the robbery took place just before noon on Saturday at a nearby convenience store roughly 10 minutes before a police officer identified as Darren Wilson fired the bullet that killed Michael Brown. Police say that the shot was fired after a struggle touched off by Wilson’s confronting Brown. Jackson said Wilson is a six-year veteran with no disciplinary action on his record….

Police released still images and were planning to release video [here] from the robbery, at a QuikTrip store in Ferguson. Jackson said Wilson, along with other officers, were called to the area after a 911 call reporting a “strong-arm robbery” at a nearby convenience store….

According to the police reports, Brown and his friend, Dorian Johnson, were suspected of taking a box of cigars from a store in Ferguson that morning…. [Johnson has since confirmed that he and Brown committed the theft.]

Police have said Brown was shot after an officer encountered him and another man on the street. They say one of the men pushed the officer into his squad car, then physically assaulted him in the vehicle and struggled with the officer over the officer’s weapon. At least one shot was fired inside the car before the struggle spilled onto the street, where Brown was shot multiple times, according to police.

Why am I inclined to believe the account offered by the police chief? Because the “martyrdom” of Michael Brown bears an uncanny resemblance to previous cases involving “blameless” victims; for example:

  • the “rape” of Tawana Brawley, a black female
  • the fatal beating of Matthew Shepard, supposedly because of his homosexuality (more here)
  • the “rape” of a black female members of Duke University’s lacrosse team
  • the media lynching and unwarranted prosecution of George Zimmerman for defending himself from a violent punk named Trayvon Martin.

The “usual suspects” in the Ferguson fiasco are Obama, “liberals,” and (pseudo) libertarians. Obama converted a local problem into a federal issue, à la Trayvon Martin. “Liberals,” as usual, chose to depict a black thug as a victim.”Liberals” and (psuedo) libertarians (i.e., most self-styled libertarians) — speaking from the comfort of their affluent enclaves, where they rarely encounter thugs like Martin and Brown — began to shout “police brutality” without benefit of the facts.

Do I have all of the facts? Of course not. But I’m not the one who’s rushing to proclaim another innocent victim at the hands of a brutal policeman. If it turns out that the policeman deliberately shot a non-threatening victim, I’ll be the first to acknowledge it.

UPDATE 1 (08/18/14): It seems that Brown was not shot in the back. Nor does it seem that he was shot at very close range, that is, close enough to leave powder burns on skin or clothing:

This seems to contradict the statements of Brown’s friend, Dorian Johnson, who said the officer … grabbed Brown’s neck with one hand and shot him with the other.

The location of the bullet wounds, especially one in the top of the head, suggests that Brown was “giving up, or … charging forward at the officer.” My money is on “charging forward” — all 6’4″ and 292 pounds of him. Thus the seemingly large number of shots (six), which probably were fired in rapid succession. Why? Here’s an analogy: When a beast charges a hunter, the hunter doesn’t shoot once; he keeps shooting until he runs out of bullets or the beast drops dead.

UPDATE 2 (08/19/14): Consider the source, but this version of the shooting is consistent with the (plausible) explanation offered in Update 1.

UPDATE 3 (09/07/14): Speaking of (pseudo) libertarians, I just happened across this post, in which the author empathizes with the destructive goons of Ferguson; for example:

I cannot possibly imagine the rage and indignation that I would feel if I were regularly accosted by the police, questioned, detained, searched, arrested, or even just heckled. Or even just ignored when I needed help. I would feel not like a citizen but like a subject. Not like a fellow American, but like a detained, suspected, alien.

Jefferson said that he thought this the strongest government on earth, “the only one where every man, at the call of the law, would fly to the standard of the law, and would meet invasions of the public order as his own personal concern.” If many black and Hispanic Americans, and the residents of our inner cities, do not feel this way–especially after four decades of an unconstitutional, unwinnable, immoral war on drugs–well, I find it hard to blame them.

Where is the outrage about the high rates of “real crime” committed by blacks against persons and property? Where is the hint of understanding that socioeconomic status is related to intelligence? Where is the condemnation of a culture that fosters crime and indolence? For some relevant background, see “The Freespace Posts,” especially the third of the introductory paragraphs.

UPDATE 4 (09/18/14): An experienced police officer with no stake in the Brown case offers a convincing analysis (which just happens to parallel mine):

UPDATE 5 (10/25/14): This story, from The Washington Post, summarizes the state of play:

Ferguson, Mo., police officer Darren Wilson and Michael Brown fought for control of the officer’s gun, and Wilson fatally shot the unarmed teenager after he moved toward the officer as they faced off in the street, according to interviews, news accounts and the full report of the St. Louis County autopsy of Brown’s body….

Some of the physical evidence — including blood spatter analysis, shell casings and ballistics tests — also supports Wilson’s account of the shooting, The Post’s sources said, which casts Brown as an aggressor who threatened the officer’s life….

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch late Tuesday night published Brown’s official county autopsy report, an analysis of which also suggests that the 18-year-old may not have had his hands raised when he was fatally shot, as has been the contention of protesters who have demanded Wilson’s arrest….

Experts told the newspaper that Brown was first shot at close range and may have been reaching for Wilson’s weapon while the officer was still in his vehicle and Brown was standing at the driver’s side window. The autopsy found material “consistent with products that are discharged from the barrel of a firearm” in a wound on Brown’s thumb, the autopsy says.

Judy Melinek, a forensic pathologist in San Francisco who reviewed the report for the Post-Dispatch­, said it “supports the fact that this guy is reaching for the gun, if he has gunpowder particulate material in the wound.”

Melinek, who is not involved in the investigation, said the autopsy did not support those who claim Brown was attempting to flee or surrender when Wilson shot him in the street….

Seven or eight African American eyewitnesses have provided testimony consistent with Wilson’s account, but none have spoken publicly out of fear for their safety, The Post’s sources said.

“Fear for their safety.” Imagine that.

UPDATE 6 (11/28/14): A post by Paul Cassell at The Volokh Conspiracy seems to cap this story. It reads, in part:

As those who have been following the case closely are aware, Wilson testified before the grand jury that Brown reached for his (Wilson’s) gun and a struggle for the gun followed, during which Wilson fired two shots.  Later, Wilson pursued Brown and, after he turned and then charged toward Wilson, fired multiple shots bringing him to the ground about 8 to 10 feet away from him.

The physical evidence is consistent with his testimony.  The County Medical Examiner was one of the first witnesses to testify before the grand jury.  He explained the autopsy he conducted on Brown. It will be useful to show the injuries discussed and, for these purposes, I insert a chart prepared by an examiner hired by Brown’s family.  (The parallel chart from the ME has not been publicly released, although the ME’s testimony has been released).

The ME found a tangential injury on Brown’s right thumb that traveled along the surface of the thumb — grand jury testimony Volume 3 (Sept. 9), page 114, line 12 etc. (hereafter cited by just page and line number).  The ME further explained that he saw what appeared to be “soot” in the wound, which was consistent with a shot from close range (116:22).  Indeed, based on his training and expertise, the ME thought that the soot would be indicative of the gun that fired the bullet causing the wound having been only 6 to 9 inches away (118:12). The soot was consistent with that discharged from a gun (122:13).  The official report from the Office of Medical Examiner later confirmed that “the previously described particles of foreign particulate matter are consistent with products that are discharged from the barrel of a firearm.”

The significance of this wound and related physical evidence is that it places Brown’s right hand within 6 to 9 inches of the barrel of Wilson’s firearm.  This physical evidence is thus quite consistent with Wilson’s testimony that Brown was trying to get hold of Wilson’s weapon, creating a fear in Wilson that he was going to get shot….

At some point in the altercation, it appears undisputed that Brown (and his friend Dorian Johnson) ran away from Wilson.  Wilson pursued on foot and, according to Wilson, Brown eventually paused, turned around, and then charged at him.

The ME’s testimony also aligns with Wilson’s testimony on this point.  The ME found various wounds to Brown’s arms, upper torso, and head. Focusing on the head wounds, a detailed report and summary report from the Office of the Medical Examiner indicated that one wound with an entrance to the vertex of Brown’s  head was “downward and rightward” (detailed report at p. 2) and the wound with an entrance to central forehead was “downward, slightly backward, and rightward” (summary p. 1).  The report also describes the entrance to the wounds on Michael Brown’s chest as “downward” or “slightly downward” (id.).  

The ME explicated these findings at great length to the grand jurors.  He explained that the entry direction for the head wounds, for example, was “slightly downward” (157:6).  The earlier wounds would not have been disabling (151:1) and would not have been disabling in combination, until the final wound to the top of the head (159:15).  In the ME’s opinion, the first wound was the wound to the thumb, the last was the wound to the top of Brown’s head (197:7).  The ME specifically testified that if Brown was bent over, that would be consistent with the entry to the head wounds, although he cautioned that he could not say for certain what position Brown was in at the time he received the wound (166:11).

Perhaps most important, the ME carefully explained how he was able to identify entry points and exit points for the wounds to Brown.  With regard to the wounds on the torso and head, there  were no wounds from the back (197:18).  With regard to the arms, there was only one injury that was from the back — an injury to “the posterior portion of the right forearm” (198:25).  The ME indicated that it is extremely difficult to identify, from bullet wounds, the position of the arms at the time of a shot because “you’ve got . . . an elbow joint, you have a shoulder joint and then the wrist, you have a lot of mobility within that arm and it can be in a lot of scenarios” (133:11).

Here again, this testimony was consistent with Wilson’s testimony. It aligned with Brown charging forward toward Wilson, coming to a halt only when Wilson was able to get a fatal shot to the head.  Significantly, the ME’s testimony did not align with those who claimed (before the grand jury or in the media) the Wilson had gunned Brown down in the back….

Of particular interest for evaluating Wilson’s testimony is the location of the 12 shell casings recovered.  Two of them were recovered close to Wilson’s car, conforming to his testimony about his firing two shots there (vol. V, 226:4).  After that, the remaining 10 casings were recovered adjacent to (or behind) the path that Wilson said Brown took when charging toward him.  This was consistent with Wilson firing a series of shots as Brown rushed toward him, all the while backpedaling to try and increase the distance.

These are the highlights of the physical evidence that I have reviewed in the case, compared to Wilson’s testimony. Based on my initial read, so far as I can see there are no significant inconsistencies between the physical evidence and Wilson’s grand jury testimony.  Other reviews have likewise not identified readily-apparent examples of problems with Wilson’s testimony.  For example, a review of the grand jury testimony by three Associated Press reporters noted numerous examples of witness statements inconsistent with the physical evidence, but offered no examples from Wilson’s testimony.

The physical evidence is important because, unlike witness testimony, it doesn’t lie and can’t be accused of bias (such as racism).  As the cliche goes, the physical evidence is what it is.  In this case, the physical evidence aligned with Wilson’s testimony.  To be sure, as my co-blogger Orin properly cautioned earlier this week, it is always possible for a potential target in criminal case to lie before a grand jury.  But it is also possible for him to tell the truth.  The grand jury had to sort out these competing possibilities — and the physical evidence gave no reason to doubt Wilson’s testimony.

UPDATE 6 (03/04/15): Quelle surprise (not). The evidence for self-defense is so compelling that the Department of Justice has to agree with it. See Allahpundit’s “Must Read: DoJ Report Totally Vindicates Darren Wilson in Michael Brown Shooting” (Hot Air, March 4, 2015).

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Related posts:
Obama’s Latest Act of Racism
Not-So-Random Thoughts (III) (see “Trayvon, George, and Barack”)
Left-Libertarians, Obama, and the Zimmerman Case