Shelby Steele on the Implications of Michael Brown’s Tragic Death
Before George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, there was Michael Brown, an 18-year-old black man who a white police officer shot and killed in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014. Brown’s death helped fuel the fledgling Black Lives Matter movement, a response to the too often ignored problem of police violence in black communities.
In contrast to other police killings that have energized Black Lives Matter and nationwide protests—including that of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, shot while wielding a plastic gun; of Eric Garner, who died while an officer held him in a chokehold for selling loose cigarettes; and of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor—Barack Obama’s Justice Department concluded that there’s no reason to believe that by shooting Brown, Wilson was acting unreasonably, because Wilson was under attack.
“Hands Up. Don’t Shoot,” a line derived from accounts of Brown’s final words, has been a rallying cry at protests against police violence. But Michael Brown is unlikely to have spoken those words. An exhaustive Department of Justice report concluded that the claim that “Brown held his hands up in clear surrender” came from sources who later “acknowledged that they didn’t actually witness the shooting, but rather repeated what others told them.” And that account was “inconsistent with the physical evidence,” which instead corroborated Officer Darren Wilson’s claim that Brown attacked him and tried to grab his gun. As Reason’s Jacob Sullum concluded in 2015, “Wilson’s use of deadly force probably was legally justified.”
Writer and filmmaker Shelby Steele went to Ferguson to investigate the meaning of Brown’s death and the reaction that it inspired. His new documentary, a collaboration with his s
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