One the afternoon of Saturday August 9th, 2014 in a small suburb of St. Louis, Missouri, unarmed black teenager Michael Brown was shot and killed by white Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson after allegedly stealing cigarillos from a nearby convenience store. Although details of the incidents surrounding the shooting are unclear, residents of the community in which eighteen year old Michael brown lost his life at outraged about the actions of the police officer involved in the shooting, which they characterize as an act of police brutality based, at least in part, on racial prejudice. This has promoted a flurry of reactions including an FBI civil rights inquiry, a grand jury considering whether to bring charges, and substantial and disruptive protests. The goal of this report is to examine the justification of racial allegation including civil rights violation claims levied against the police of Ferguson, Missouri in the wake of the Michael brown shooting.
Why the Racial Allegations?
No one disputes the fact that Michael Brown, the black teenager whose death is at the center of the issue, was unarmed when he was shot to death by a Ferguson Police Officer on a suburban street. “The killing, on a residential street in Ferguson, set off weeks of civl unrest – and a national debate – fueled by protesters’ outrage over what they called a pattern of police brutality against young black men” (Davey, 2014). The announcement of November 24, 2014, that the grand jury had refused to bring charges against the police officer who killed Brown set off a wave of protests that forced the police department to don riot gear and face the protestors.
Earlier, in October, “it was reported forensics showed Brown’s blood was on both the inside of police officer Darren Wilson’s car as well as Wilson’s gun” (Lott, 2014). In fact, it was discovered that the gun had been discharged twice from within the car. This evidence contradicts witnesses’ accounts that Michael Brown was surrendering with his hands in the air as he was shot (See Lott, 2014). However, this evidence did not stop many for claiming that the shooting was racially motivated. An article entitled “Black Teens Vastly More Likely to be Killed by Police Than White Even After Adjusting For Crime Rates” was published by ProPublica and Slate. The crux of the article’s argument is that black teenagers are killed at a rate 7 to 10 times higher than white teenagers when you consider that they die at the hand of police at a rate 21 time higher but they likelihood they black youth will commit a crime is only two to three times more (See Lott, 2014). FoxNews, on the other hand, contradicts these finding stating that the rate at which young black males commit homicide is substantially higher than that of white male teenagers and the rate difference with regard to police shooting and race is significantly lower. In addition, FoxNews states that the article by Slate and ProPublica failed to take into account the rate at which young black males put themselves at risk of being shot be police when compared to whites. Either way, the assertions levied against the police in the article has undoubtedly help to fuel increasing tensions between the police and black citizens of Ferguson.
I feel that the issue of race surrounding the Michael Brown shooting is significant, especially in the wake of cases such as Trayvon Martin which received a great deal of press a little over a year ago. I feel it is important to look at why they incidents keep happening in our society as well as why racial claims are often levied. It is interesting to examine whether simply the difference in race of the officer and the person shot leads to claims of police brutality and racism or whether other evidence shows that the police office would have acted differently had the shooting victim been white.
- Davey, M. and Bosman, J. (November 24, 2014). “Protests Flare After Ferguson Police Officer Is Not Indicted.” New York Times.
- Lott, J. (October 22, 2014). “The truth about Young Black men and Police Shootings.” FoxNews.com. Retrieved from: http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2014/10/22/truth-about-young-black-men-and-police-shootings/.
- McLaughlin, Elliot C. (December 14, 2014). “Despite discrepancies, Dorian Johnson consistent in accounts of Brown shooting.” CNNNews.com. Retrieved from: http://www.cnn.com/2014/12/14/justice/ferguson-dorian-johnson-statements/