The Murder of Michael Brown

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As anticipated, the grand jury declined to indict Officer Darren Wilson for the shooting death of unarmed teenager, Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. While there is no question that Wilson killed Brown, the jury predictably found the officer's actions to be justified. Once again, the possession of a badge is ruled sufficient to excuse the most heinous of acts.

Even *if* (and that's a big 'if') Wilson was justified in his original contact with Brown, and even *if* (and this is an even bigger 'if') he was justified in shooting him while he was still inside his vehicle (as opposed to just driving away), there is absolutely no possible justification for what happened next.

Consider Wilson's own words: "I exited [my vehicle]. I followed him [Michael Brown] in that direction. After I said on the radio, 'Shots fired. Send me more cars,' I was yelling at him to stop and get on the ground. He kept running and then eventually, he stopped... He turned... And he started running at me."

Wilson (who was armed) was chasing Brown (who was unarmed and had already been shot) and was yelling at him to "stop and get on the ground." Wilson had already called for backup, and he was now chasing Brown and issuing commands. Had Wilson stayed in his vehicle, the incident would have been over. Had Wilson exited his vehicle but not pursued Brown the incident would have been over.

By exiting his vehicle and giving chase, Wilson posed an imminent and deadly threat to Brown. Even *if* Brown had been reaching for a weapon (as Wilson has alleged) as he turned to face his pursuer, Brown would have been justified in using deadly force to defend himself from the armed assailant bearing down on him.

The notion that Wilson was acting in self-defense is incompatible with the reality that he was in fact the aggressor at the time the fatal shots were fired. I would also argue that he was the aggressor throughout his interaction with Brown. From stopping his vehicle and issuing orders regarding where walking was permitted to attempting to exit his vehicle and enforce his demands to chasing Brown and issuing even more orders after the initial confrontation, Wilson was acting as if his desires were superior to Brown's.

Brown was not harming anyone by walking in the street, but Wilson was (by issuing a command while in a state-issued costume) threatening Brown. Wilson's attempt to exit his vehicle after both calling for backup and physically backing up his vehicle was rightly perceived by Brown as an act of aggression which he attempted to resist by blocking the vehicle door. At this point, Wilson could have easily deescalated the situation by driving away and terminating his aggressive interaction with Brown.

Wilson decision to grapple with Brown rather than drive away shows not only his refusal to deescalate the situation, but demonstrates his confrontational mental attitude toward the situation. In his own words, "You know, we're trained not to run away from a threat, to deal with a threat and that is what I was doing. That never entered my mind to flee." This mindset is critical to understanding what happened next.

In the ensuing struggle, Wilson shot Brown in the hand. As Wilson attempted to fire again, Brown opted to flee. Brown was done. The fight was over. Or was it? It certainly could have ended right there, but Wilson still wanted to "deal with the threat." After all, it never even 'entered his mind' to do anything else, right? Wilson exited the vehicle and shouted orders at the fleeing Brown, "stop and get on the ground!" What did Brown do? He kept running. What did Wilson do? He kept chasing.

The injured Brown eventually gave up on trying to escape his pursuer and opted instead to face the threat head on. He turned and (according to Wilson) rushed the officer even as the officer opened fire on him. He never had a chance. Traveling at near the speed of sound, Wilson's .40 caliber bullets ripped through Brown's body before he ever got close to reaching the officer. Within seconds Brown lay dead on the pavement, riddled with holes.

Wilson could have left the young man alone and gone on about his day without making an issue of where he was walking. Wilson could have driven away when it became clear that Brown wasn't interested in doing his bidding. Wilson could have stayed in his vehicle after Brown ran away. Wilson could have stopped chasing him or not given chase at all. There was no need for a young life to be snuffed out. There was no need for an armed government employee to escalate an avoidable situation into a homicide.

As has happened in so many other situations, an officer's preoccupation with being obeyed and unwillingness to have his demands ignored led to a very avoidable tragedy. The grand jury may have let Darren Wilson off the hook, but we can certainly hope that history won't be so forgiving. A human life has been forever ended, a family has been forced to endure unspeakable grief, and a community has been torn apart all because one government employee refused to stand down.

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