Michael Brown crossed the line

Missouri state troopers stand guard outside the Ferguson Police Station in Missouri (REUTERS/Adrees Latif)
Missouri state troopers stand guard outside the Ferguson Police Station in Missouri
(REUTERS/Adrees Latif)

Over the years I have covered many stories involving encounters between police officers and suspects.

When I wrote a newspaper column for The Alton Telegraph in Illinois — just up the Mississippi River from St. Louis — I often received requests from readers who claimed they were victims of excessive use of force.

Before setting out on an investigation of such incidents, I always asked the claimed victim:  “Did you verbally confront or physically attack the officer?”

If the “victim” said “yes,” I passed on the story.

When someone encounters an officer and responds with a string of four-letter words and, worse, resists arrest or attacks the officer, they cross a line from just being a victim to creator of a dangerous and violent situation.

We may not agree on whether or not the officer should be interrogating but if they are they are representing the law and law should be respected.

If we disagree, we air those disagreements and our case in court, not with our fists or a weapon on the street.

The St. Louis County grand jury that investigated the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, returned “no true bills” against police officer Darren Wilson Monday night in his shooting of Michael Brown and the streets were on fire soon after from protests.  That means no indictments or charges against the officer.

Sifting through the mountain of evidence before the grand jury, I was struck by three things:

1– When officer Wilson encountered Brown on the street in Ferguson, the young man was in possession of cigars reported stolen from convenience store.  That gave the officer probable cause to question Brown;

2–Brown responded with a string of profanities and punched Wilson in the face before fleeing;

3 — Then Brown charged back towards the officer, made threatening gestures and ignored orders to stop.

Was the shooting and death of Brown at the hands of officer Wilson unfortunate?  Yes.  Was it legal?  Under the law in Missouri it was.  The grand jury investigation was monitored by the U.S. Justice Department.  President Barack Obama late Monday night called for calm and said the “rule of law” found the police officer’s actions were not illegal and the shooting was justified.

Perhaps there could have been a better way to bring Brown under control without shooting him several times but it was an intense situation that escalated because Michael Brown crossed the line and became both an aggressor and a threat.

Had he allowed questioning by the officer, he faced — at most — a misdemeanor charge for theft of the cigars.  He became a felon when he struck the officer.

During St. Louis County prosecutor Robert McCollouch’s presentation of the grand jury findings in a press conference Monday night, a reporter asked if any of the witnesses who said Brown was “charging towards Wilson” were African Americans.

“Yes, they were,” McCollough said. “All of them.”

The grand jury looked at the evidence.  Many of those who dismiss their findings looked at social media emotion.

The evidence showed Michael Brown helped inflame a tense situation on the day he died.

Witnesses said Michael Brown took some of the items stolen from the convenience store in Ferguson.  He broke the law.  Medical examinations of his body showed marijuana in his system and friends say he had a problem with drugs, alcohol and violence.

Videotapes at the convenience store showed he stole the cigars and shoved the store owner roughly into a display cabinet.

Then his response to a police officer questioning him was to hurl invectives and an assault.

The grand jury interviewed witnesses and watched the videotapes.  They concluded that Officer Wilson’s action were within the law.

Those who feel otherwise will claim racism ruled in Ferguson.

But an American President who is half-African American said the “rule of law” prevailed in the grand jury.

A United States Justice Department headed by an African-American did not find any reason to dispute that happened in Ferguson.

14 Responses to Michael Brown crossed the line

  1. This “case” is an old one, with years of history. Michael Brown’s lifeless body lay on the street for hours, uncovered. The one taser owned by the Ferguson police department was not carried by Wilson who is reported to have said “It’s too uncomfortable.” So, an 18 year-old black man who stole some cigars was shot to death by a white police officer. Who chose to get out of his car and fire at the fleeing man. Can’t help but wonder how Michael Brown’s parents would view the word “unfortunate” to describe the death of their son.

  2. The conclusions in the BRM story, above, depend on Darren Wilson’s account of events to be true. Multiple articles have been posted, by law professors, criminologists, and other people better equipped to analyze the situation than me, which call out the inconsistencies in both Wilson’s story and the official version of events. I’ll just cite one fact: Wilson stated that Brown retreated about twenty feet, then turned and prepared to charge, at which point Wilson shot him. Brown died 150 feet from Wilson’s police vehicle. I cannot support the conclusions in this blog post, as the article ignores the inconsistencies in the testimony upon which it is based. Without a criminal trial, we will never have a chance to properly examine the facts. Stating “Case closed” without that examination having been done is peremptory and disrespectful to the dead.

    • Actually, Andrew, the story came from grand jury testimony from several witnesses and I depended on those, not the various web and social media reports that were proven inaccurate and contradictory. The grand jury file (239 mb) was furnished by the Associated Press and is available on various web sites.

  3. It is terrible that Brown died. Certainly, the historic antagonism between African Americans and white authority figures influenced the manner in which Brown and Wilson conducted themselves that fateful night. However, when Brown attacked Wilson he crossed the line separating “historic antagonism” from “immediate danger.” Wilson, as is any police officer, was trained to respond with deadly force and he did so. If you don’t want a cop to shoot you, don’t pick a fight with one. Could Wilson have responded differently? Of course. Should he have responded differently? Well, maybe. But the response he chose was legal.

  4. A couple of disturbing things….night fell before the grand jury’s verdict was disclosed. Maybe that just makes for better viewing….? Officer Wilson describes Brown as a “demon” and as someone who transformed himself, like the Hulk. Absolutely getting into cliche there, just a step away from “gorilla” – the descriptor that used to be popular. You know, back in the day when anyone – not just a police officer – could shoot a black man without consequence. Essentially, an 18 year-old was killed for walking down the middle of the street. One could look at it that way. “Should he [Wilson] have responded differently? Well, maybe.” Really? Maybe? How about “yes,” or even “Absolutely.”?

    • Wilson actually compared Brown to Hulk Hogan the famous professional wrestler and not the Incredible Hulk. Hogan was a huge/muscular white guy with blonde thinning hair. I think he was referring to Brown’s size and strength rather than his race. I also consider “demonic looking” to be a description of a look in someone’s eyes as if they are possessed, not as a racial descriptor. It is important to remember that Brown was testifying in hopes of clearing his name and probably gave a description that would put him and his actions in the best light possible. I imagine he would use similar descriptive language regardless of the race of the other person involved.

  5. This article is “terrible”. What happened to Michael Brown is tragic. And not indicting Officer Wilson is an abomination. He killed an 18-year-old boy who stole some cigars, walked down the middle of a road, and likely slapped Wilson across the face (check out the photos of his injuries which were released yesterday – no broken bones, no lacerations, no blood). For that, Brown paid the ultimate price.

    Did he cross the line? Yes. Should he have been murdered for it? Definitely not.

  6. According to the statistics that I have read indicting a police officer in any shooting is extremely rare. Missouri law”authorizes deadly force “in effecting an arrest or in preventing an escapee from custody” if the officer “reasonably believes” it is necessary in order to “to effect the arrest and also reasonably believes that the person to be arrested has committed or attempted to commit a felony…or may otherwise endanger life or inflict serious physical injury unless arrested without delay.” The struggle between Brown and Wilson certainly seems to meet this standard (not that the standard seems tough to meet). Every witness seems to agree that they were “scuffling”.

    Perhaps Brown’s death can bring about some positive changes. Real change that could make a difference in my opinion includes standardizing the reporting of all police shootings to one federal agency (there is no national database for this!), and requiring each state to have independent investigations (and if warranted prosecutions) completed by professionals not associated in any way with local law enforcement. I hope this opportunity to fix the system isn’t wasted.

  7. Rob above maybe you should read this again you just don’t get it, the kid struck an officer and got violent with the officer while questioned, Black ,White, any race your probably going to get shot in this incident if the officer thinks he needs to use this measure of force, Respect the officer and there would have not been a problem at all.

    Thanks Doug for the clear and told as it was story why don’t they just say what the heck happened on the news? Seems very clear race had nothing to do with it again it was a stupid punk acting violent to an officer
    Robert Taylor

  8. In today’s paper Officer Wilson is quoted as saying that he saw Michael Brown’s left hand go into a fist and his right hand into his waistband….how often have we heard that one? If there was another officer there, perhaps a weapon would have been planted. Wilson disappeared after the incident. I’d say that by the time he resurfaced, he had his story down pretty well. Practice makes perfect. Of course, Michael Brown is dead and can’t tell his story. But anyone in that St. Louis neighborhood, or many other places for that matter, would tell you that’s the way that goes.

  9. Hard to believe that this event is dividing our country as it is…A grand jury of individuals heard the evidence and found there was not probable case to indict Officer Wilson and yet we want to take opinions and convict him… The whole matter could have been resolved if Mr. Brown had respected the officer by either talking to him or stating he needed and attorney before questioning…..Mr. Browns partner was not shot which tells me he didn’t act like Brown did toward the officer…..We have a justice system in America that has been proven for years and today’s society wants to convict on opinions and not factual evidence… Its a sad situation all the way around.

  10. How about officer Wilson waiting for back-up and not choosing to fire 12 rounds at a fleeing youth? That would have resolved things differently, too. Nice to be white and miles from Ferguson – literally and figuratively.

  11. Jeff, are you really surprised that this is dividing the country? This kind of behavior has been going on for four hundred years and we are still no closer to solving the problem. Just because it’s sanctioned by our legal system doesn’t make it any easier to swallow. That has been going on for years too.

    Victim-blaming is the time honored way society uses to protect the killers of black youth. And we can always back it up with disparaging facts about the victim’s past exploits. But what about Officer Wilson? Is he perfect because he’s a police officer? Clearly this is a man who shouldn’t be in law enforcement and he definitely shouldn’t be patrolling African-American neighborhoods. His recent and past history confirms this.

    So what are we left with? A man who shot 12 rounds at an unarmed black teenager who wasn’t listening to him, who struck his face and left a pink mark on his cheek, who had stolen cigars. Conveniently Wilson doesn’t carry a taser and elected to not wait for backup. Instead he chose to kill Brown for those heinous crimes. And whew, we’re so much safer now that he’s gone.

    It’s a tiring scenario and that’s why we see so many protests across the country and that’s why we are divided. As usual.