The second assassination of Mike Brown

August 19, 2014

The unarmed Black teen killed in Ferguson, Mo., has suffered a political and media smear campaign, reports Elizabeth Schulte--like so many other victims of police.

MIKE BROWN was assassinated by a police officer who shot him down in broad daylight on a street in Ferguson, Mo. Then the mass media took aim, and he was assassinated all over again--on a variety of outlets, at every hour of the day or night.

Six days after he shot the 18-year-old African American, police finally released the name of the white police officer who killed Mike Brown: Darren Wilson. But the cops had another announcement to deliver that day: they suspect Brown was involved in what they called a "strong-arm robbery" earlier on the day he was murdered.

Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson's announcement included a 19-page police report on the alleged theft of a package of inexpensive cigars--and next to no details about the shooting, in which the unarmed teen was shot down dead in the middle of the street.

Oh, and the Ferguson police had some surveillance video to release--something you know all too well if you've had the misfortune of tuning in even briefly to cable TV news over the past several days.

Lining the streets of Ferguson, Mo., to protest police murder
Lining the streets of Ferguson, Mo., to protest police murder (Eric Ruder | SW)

According to police, the video was taken by a surveillance camera in the Ferguson Market and Liquor, and supposedly shows Brown and a friend stealing cigarellos from the store--although the clips are too short to show much of anything except someone who may or may not be Mike Brown pushing someone else out of the way.

Later that day, police held another press conference where they admitted that Darren Wilson had no knowledge of the robbery when he approached Brown and his friend in the street and proceeded to fire at least six bullets at him.

If there was no connection to the killing of Mike Brown, then why did police release the video that allegedly shows him committing an unrelated "strong-arm robbery"--which sounds suspiciously like "armed robbery," though it doesn't mean that at all, whatever it is supposed to mean?

Of course, the only possible reason for releasing the video was to paint the victim of a horrific police murder as a criminal--not the college-bound teenager his family had been mourning, but the kind of person who deserves to get gunned down in the street by police.

Even Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon got himself in front of some television cameras to condemn the release of the video. "We were certainly not happy with that being released, especially in the way that it was," Nixon said on NBC's Meet the Press. "It appeared to cast aspersions on a young man that was gunned down in the street. It made emotions raw."

"Not happy"? Way to take a stand, Jay.

THE PEOPLE protesting in the streets of Ferguson--despite every effort by local and state law enforcement to drive them off the streets--know very well why police released that surveillance video. And it's fueled their anger. Kristyn, a mother of two from St. Louis, said:

It's a week to the day that this guy was murdered by a police officer, someone who is supposed to protect and serve us, yet we have no answers. Instead, we have a smear campaign on the victim. He was treated like he was the suspect and he was the criminal in the case.

No matter what he did or what he stole, it was still not justification for him to be shot multiple times in the street like an animal. I have to explain to my 5-year-old who's in kindergarten why his life doesn't mean the same as his classmates.

The video was replayed over and over by every network and cable news channel; it was embedded in online news stories; screenshots were republished in print newspapers. You had to be living under a rock not to see it.

Eventually, some media outlets raised questions what was happening in the video, when it was made, and even whether Mike Brown was even in it. And that became the excuse to replay the video over and over and over again.

For racists, like the people who attended a pathetic protest in St. Louis to support the killer cop, it was just what they needed to confirm what they already believed--there must have been some reason to shoot Mike Brown.

For the wider population, the video was aimed at creating doubt and suspicion--to get people to question what kind of person Mike Brown was.

The reason that Mike was killed didn't have anything to do with him, but with Darren Wilson. But nowhere did the media invite its audience to ask who Darren Wilson was--what would motivate him to shoot an unarmed Black 18-year-old at least six times, even as Mike raised his hands above his head. Little was said about the shooter at all--except, of course, by Chief Jackson, who called him "a gentle, quiet man" and "a distinguished officer."

Instead of circulating a grainy surveillance store video that had absolutely nothing to do with the murder, why didn't the police circulate the video given to them by one of Brown's neighbors on the day of the shooting. That video shows cops standing over Mike's lifeless body lying in the street for what would be four hours, while they forced his father to stand behind police tape.

Why didn't the media circulate that clip far and wide--video footage that best illustrated what happened that day, the torture of Brown's family and friends and neighbors as they were forced to stand by helplessly. Even the most cynical newsperson must understand that the story in Ferguson wasn't an alleged incident of shoplifting but a young Black man executed in the street by police.

Why? Because the Ferguson police don't release videos to help shed light on what actually happened, but to prejudice the public against the murder victim. Because no matter what really happened in that convenience store and no matter why Darren Wilson gunned him down, Mike Brown is the one that they want to put on trial.

THE TACTIC isn't a new one. In July, when a New York City cop killed Eric Garner using an illegal chokehold, his knee in his Garner's, shoving the unarmed man's face into the ground as he cried, "I can't breathe!" over and over again--the NYPD tried to sell the story that its officers' actions were justified. After all, the dead man was a criminal--he allegedly sold loose cigarettes on the street--not the cop who killed him.

When George Zimmerman shot Trayvon Martin in 2012, the unarmed Black 17-year-old was the one whose character was scrutinized and slandered--not the white, racist vigilante who executed him. While people around the country were coming to terms with his horrific death, the Orlando Sentinel was reporting that Martin "had been suspended from school in Miami after being found with an empty marijuana baggie." Police claimed they were unable to locate who had "leaked" this information.

Even if you believe a leaked report claiming that Trayvon Martin smoked pot, what is really being said here? That it's not surprising Trayvon Martin would be shot, because he smoked marijuana? As Trayvon's mother said at the time, "They've killed my son. Now they want to kill his reputation."

In case after case where the cops commit violence, this is the drumbeat--blame the victims to protect the killers. Even after videotapes revealed to the world the raw brutality of the Los Angeles Police Department in its beating of Rodney King in 1991, police tried to claim that King was high on PCP. It was later confirmed that there were no drugs in King's system at all.

The routine demonization of African Americans inspired a hashtag in the aftermath of Mike Brown's murder, #IfTheyGunnedMeDown, with hundreds of young Black people offering up two photos of themselves and asking the question, "Which one would the news media pick if I'm shot by the police?" The graduation picture or the one where I'm smoking pot? The one in my military uniform or the one where I'm giving the finger?

The long line of contributions speaks volumes about the racial profiling African Americans face every single day in the "world's greatest democracy."

And if African Americans can be scapegoated and singled out--labeled criminals or drug users, vulnerable to abuse and attack from police--the result is that their lives are valued less in U.S. society.

The protests demanding justice for Mike Brown in Ferguson, like the ones that demanded justice for Rodney King, send a different message. When tens of thousands of people take to the streets wearing hoodies for Trayvon, or raise their arms to say "Hands up, don't shoot!" they begin to expose everyday racism and violence of this society--and turn the tables on those who benefit from it.

Further Reading

From the archives