The PJ Tatler

What We Learned, and What We Didn't Learn, From Today's Disclosures in Ferguson (Updated)

Ferguson police released half of the story of the shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown last Saturday.

Police released this photo set of a man who appears to be Brown engaging in a strong-arm robbery of less than $50 worth of cheap cigars.




Later, police released the full robbery video.


At the time that this robbery occurred, according to police, Officer Darren Wilson was on a routine “sick call” trailing an ambulance. Wilson received a call about the robbery, and went to investigate.

That was at 12:01 PM. Three minutes later, Wilson confronted Brown, and shot and killed him.

The disclosure that Brown was a suspect in a violent robbery goes directly to his and Officer Wilson’s state of mind in the fatal moment.

Up to today, the narrative has been that Brown was minding his own business when a police officer confronted him, a scuffle ensued, and the officer killed Brown. That narrative may no longer be operative.

Brown had graduated high school and was days away from going to college.

But, if that is him in the stills of the robbery, then college was not the only thing on his mind.

If — I stress if — that is Brown in the robbery, then he had a violent side we have not heard about yet. If that is Michael Brown, the 6’4″, 292-pound man had just jeopardized his entire future for some cheap cigars. He was not minding his own business at all.

When Officer Wilson confronted Brown, then, the officer had reason to expect violence. The suspect had just engaged in a violent robbery. The officer did not truly know whether the suspect was armed or not, but the officer could see that Brown was very large and could pose a physical threat.

Brown may have been motivated to evade arrest. If that is him in the stills, he was already in a violent mood. If he was not intoxicated or under the influence of any drugs (there’s no indication of either at this point), then he was aware enough to know that an arrest for violent robbery could halt his college life before it ever started. If that’s Brown in the stills, chances are this offense was not his first time. Or maybe it was, and he figured that he would be off to college anyway and would get away with what was a petty crime.


Brown’s family are extremely unhappy with today’s disclosure. They consider today’s release a character assassination of their son, after police killed him. But if that is their son, the story of sympathy for him has surely changed.

Stealing cigars is not a capital offense. But fighting with a police officer, resisting arrest and going for his weapon as has been alleged in this case, is an incredibly stupid thing to do and can get you killed.

We shouldn’t jump to conclusions yet. The Ferguson police have not covered themselves in glory in this case and have not yet released a full picture. They have released half. There apparently was no camera in Wilson’s squad car, or on him. The police have not released any report on the shooting itself, so we do not have Wilson’s story of what happened. We don’t know for sure that that is Brown in the security camera footage, though it does look like him and his friend and now star witness to the media, Dorian Johnson. We have no details about Officer Wilson, other than what police have said — he has been on the force for six years, and has no disciplinary problems on his record. That doesn’t tell us very much. The corrupt sheriff’s officers in Hidalgo County, Texas, had spotless records, too — the department actively covered up their crimes.


Ferguson police mishandled the immediate aftermath, by going into a military posture. The protesters turned violent and looted. Protesters yelled “No justice, no peace” which is an implicit threat. The tone has changed markedly overnight, with the appointment of Missouri State Highway Patrol Captain Ron Johnson. He said that the issue is not a “black and white” issue, and that’s mostly right. It still may be an excessive force/militarization of police issue, and it still may be a petty crime/resisting arrest issue.

Update: Ferguson Police Chief Jackson is giving another press conference, during which he has repeatedly said that Officer Wilson was not responding to a call about the robbery. According to Chief Jackson, Officer Wilson did not even know about the robbery.

According to Chief Jackson, Wilson only stopped Brown because he and Johnson were walking down the middle of the street, blocking traffic.

This revelation blows up the idea that Wilson approached Brown expecting violence. But Brown, if he was involved in that violent robbery, may have believed that he was about to be arrested for it, and reacted violently.

Officer Wilson may therefore have been caught by surprise, if Brown started a fight and went for the officer’s weapon.

Chief Jackson also said that he released the tape of the robbery today  because he “had to.” He added that he had been “sitting on it,” but after too many FOIA requests, he felt compelled to release it.


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