The bitter irony of the Michael Brown case is that if he had actually put his hands up and said, “Don’t shoot,” he almost certainly would be alive today.
His family would have been spared an unspeakable loss, and Ferguson, Missouri, wouldn’t have experienced multiple bouts of rioting, including the torching of at least a dozen businesses the night it was announced that Officer Darren Wilson wouldn’t be charged with a crime.
Instead, the credible evidence suggests that Michael Brown — after an act of petty robbery at a local business — attacked Officer Wilson when Wilson stopped him on the street. Brown punched the officer when he was still in his patrol car, and attempted to take his gun from him.
The first shots were fired inside the car in the struggle over the gun. Then, Brown ran. If he hadn’t put his hands up, but merely kept running away, he also would almost certainly be alive today. Again, according to the credible evidence, he turned back and rushed Wilson. The officer shot several times, but Brown kept on coming until Wilson finally killed him.
The case is a terrible tragedy. But it isn’t a metaphor for police brutality or race repression or anything else, and it never was. Aided and abetted by a compliant national media, the Ferguson protestors spun a dishonest or misinformed version of what happened — Michael Brown murdered in cold blood while trying to surrender — into a meme and a chant (“Hands up, don’t shoot”), and then a mini-movement.
When the facts didn’t back their narrative, they dismissed the facts and retreated into paranoid suspicion of the legal system. The grand jury process was rigged, they complained, because St. Louis prosecutor Robert McCulloch didn’t seek an indictment of Wilson and instead allowed the grand jury to hear all of the evidence and make its own decision. Who could really object to a grand jury hearing everything in such a sensitive case?
Then, there is the argument that Wilson should have been indicted so there could be a trial “to determine the facts.” If a jury of Wilson’s peers didn’t believe there was enough evidence to establish probable cause to indict him, though, there was no way a jury of his peers was going to convict him of a crime, which requires the more stringent standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Besides, we don’t try people for crimes they almost certainly didn’t commit just to satisfy a mob that will throw things at the police and burn down local businesses if it doesn’t get its way. If the grand jury had given in to the pressure from the streets and indicted as an act of appeasement, the mayhem most likely would only have been delayed until the inevitable acquittal in a trial. The agitators of Ferguson have proven themselves proficient at destroying other people’s property, no matter what the rationale.
Liberal commentators come back again and again to the fact that Michael Brown was unarmed and that, in the struggle between the two, Officer Wilson only sustained bruises to his face. The subtext is that if only Wilson had allowed Brown to beat him up and perhaps take his gun, things wouldn’t have had to escalate.
There is good reason for a police officer to be in mortal fear in the situation Officer Wilson faced, though. In upstate New York last March, a police officer responded to a disturbance call at an office when suddenly a disturbed man pummeled the officer as he was attempting to exit his vehicle, and then grabbed his gun and shot him dead. The case didn’t become a national metaphor for anything.
Ferguson, on the other hand, has never lacked for media coverage, although the narrative of a police execution always seemed dubious and now has been exposed as, essentially, a fraud. “Hands up, don’t shoot” is a good slogan. If only it was what Michael Brown had done last August.
Rich Lowry can be reached via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.