CNN has an article up today titled “‘Black Lives Matter’ cases: When controversial killings lead to change” which looks at how individual shootings highlighted by BLM have resulted in some changes to the law. Let’s stipulate up front that there’s nothing wrong with the subject matter here. A roundup of legal changes that have resulted from these high profile cases seems worthwhile. What’s not worthwhile is the way CNN frames a couple of the best-known cases, even failing to note there is no evidence for the story behind “hands up, don’t shoot.” Here’s CNN’s description of the Michael Brown shooting:
Brown was walking with a friend in the middle of a street when Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson approached them and told them to walk on the sidewalk.
After that, the narratives split. Authorities said Brown had attacked the officer in his car and tried to take his gun. Others said the teenager was surrendering, his hands in the air to show he was unarmed, when the officer opened fire.
Documents showed that Wilson fired his gun 12 times.
CNN frames what witnesses and physical evidence say happened merely as what “authorities said.” Then presents an alternative view as equally valid. But, first, here’s what the Obama DOJ report said about the fight over Officer Wilson’s gun:
Wilson and other witnesses stated that Brown then reached into the SUV through the open driver’s window and punched and grabbed Wilson. This is corroborated by bruising on Wilson’s jaw and scratches on his neck, the presence of Brown’s DNA on Wilson’s collar, shirt, and pants, and Wilson’s DNA on Brown’s palm. While there are other individuals who stated that Wilson reached out of the SUV and grabbed Brown by the neck, prosecutors could not credit their accounts because they were inconsistent with physical and forensic evidence, as detailed throughout this report.
Wilson told prosecutors and investigators that he responded to Brown reaching into the SUV and punching him by withdrawing his gun because he could not access less lethal weapons while seated inside the SUV. Brown then grabbed the weapon and struggled with Wilson to gain control of it. Wilson fired, striking Brown in the hand. Autopsy results and bullet trajectory, skin from Brown’s palm on the outside of the SUV door as well as Brown’s DNA on the inside of the driver’s door corroborate Wilson’s account that during the struggle, Brown used his right hand to grab and attempt to control Wilson’s gun. According to three autopsies, Brown sustained a close range gunshot wound to the fleshy portion of his right hand at the base of his right thumb. Soot from the muzzle of the gun found embedded in the tissue of this wound coupled with indicia of thermal change from the heat of the muzzle indicate that Brown’s hand was within inches of the muzzle of Wilson’s gun when it was fired. The location of the recovered bullet in the side panel of the driver’s door, just above Wilson’s lap, also corroborates Wilson’s account of the struggle over the gun and when the gun was fired, as do witness accounts that Wilson fired at least one shot from inside the SUV.
As for “others said the teenager was surrendering, his hands in the air,” it’s true people did suggest this. In fact, “hands up, don’t shoot” became the defining chant of Black Lives Matter for a time. But shouldn’t CNN mention why this phrase fell out of use? Again, here’s the DOJ report:
Although there are several individuals who have stated that Brown held his hands up in an unambiguous sign of surrender prior to Wilson shooting him dead, their accounts do not support a prosecution of Wilson. As detailed throughout this report, some of those accounts are inaccurate because they are inconsistent with the physical and forensic evidence; some of those accounts are materially inconsistent with that witness’s own prior statements with no explanation, credible [or] otherwise, as to why those accounts changed over time. Certain other witnesses who originally stated Brown had his hands up in surrender recanted their original accounts, admitting that they did not witness the shooting or parts of it, despite what they initially reported either to federal or local law enforcement or to the media. Prosecutors did not rely on those accounts when making a prosecutive decision.
While credible witnesses gave varying accounts of exactly what Brown was doing with his hands as he moved toward Wilson – i.e., balling them, holding them out, or pulling up his pants up – and varying accounts of how he was moving – i.e., “charging,” moving in “slow motion,” or “running” – they all establish that Brown was moving toward Wilson when Wilson shot him. Although some witnesses state that Brown held his hands up at shoulder level with his palms facing outward for a brief moment, these same witnesses describe Brown then dropping his hands and “charging” at Wilson.
Hands up, don’t shoot didn’t happen. Why can’t CNN just say that at this point? But after ignoring the entire report in its description of the shooting, CNN then turns to the companion report in its description of what changed saying, “A federal investigation revealed a pattern of abuse by Ferguson’s mostly white police force against the city’s majority black residents.” So the feds are worth highlighting on the pattern of abuse but not on what happened during the shooting. That’s curious.
And CNN’s description of the Trayvon Martin shooting isn’t much better:
Martin was walking from a convenience store back to the home of his father’s fiancée. Neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman spotted him from his car and called 911, reporting “a real suspicious guy.”
“This guy looks like he’s up to no good, or he’s on drugs or something,” Zimmerman told a dispatcher. “It’s raining, and he’s just walking around.”
A scuffle broke out, but there were no direct witnesses. Zimmerman claimed Martin attacked him, hitting him in the nose and knocking him onto the pavement. Zimmerman said he then took out his gun and shot Martin in self defense.
But critics said Zimmerman was unjustified in confronting the unarmed teen, especially since Zimmerman didn’t heed a police dispatcher’s advice to stop following him.
It’s true there are no direct witnesses, it’s also true that Zimmerman had a bloody nose and blood on the back of his head which indicate his story of being attacked by Martin had physical evidence to back it up. There were also two eyewitnesses who testified at the trial that Martin was on top of Zimmerman, beating him, before the shooting. Additionally, the physical evidence suggested Martin’s hoodie was not against his skin when he was shot. How did this happen? Because he was leaning over Zimmerman when the shot was fired.
So after a description that fails to mention support for Zimmerman’s account, CNN then says “critics” say Zimmerman shouldn’t have confronted him. You can certainly argue it would have been better if Zimmerman had never gotten involved, but there’s no evidence Zimmerman did anything illegal prior to the altercation. He briefly followed someone he didn’t know who was walking through his neighborhood.
As for who started the actual confrontation, Martin’s girlfriend, Rachel Jeantel, was on the phone with him when he and Zimmerman came face to face. Jeantel said Martin spoke first saying, “What you following me for?” And though she didn’t see it, she also said she believed Martin probably threw the first punch.
The left was outraged recently when a NY Times columnist, Bret Stephens, deviated from what many readers saw as the clear facts of climate change. The same crowd should spare some outrage for CNN when it continues to report long-disproven claims about high profile shootings as if they might still be true.