Why’d they release the surveillance footage then? The point, I thought, was to show that Darren Wilson wasn’t hassling Michael Brown and Dorian Johnson because they were black but because he knew they were suspects in a felony. But he didn’t know.
Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson told reporters Friday that “the initial contact between” Michael Brown and the police officer who fatally shot him was not related to the alleged convenience store robbery committed nearby a short time earlier.
The officer approached Brown not because of the robbery, but “because they were walking down the middle of the street blocking traffic,” Jackson said.
In case there’s any ambiguity:
Johnson acknowledged in interviews that they were walking in the middle of the street but says no drivers were honking or yelling at them about blocking traffic. And he claims that when Wilson drove up, his first words were, “Get the f*** on the sidewalk.” Assuming that’s true, evidently it wasn’t the sound of a cop nervous that he’d just stumbled across two suspects in a convenience store robbery, it was the sound of a cop who was pissed off that a couple of jaywalkers weren’t moving fast enough. If Wilson ends up being tried, much will be made of just how pissed off he was when he pulled his gun. Also, Sean Davis smartly points out that this may have implications for Wilson’s defense under the Missouri statute governing police use of deadly force. A cop’s allowed to shoot a suspect who’s attempting to escape from custody if he reasonably believes (a) that deadly force is needed to make the arrest and (b) that the suspect committed a felony. He can’t use the convenience store robbery for the second part of that now. And purely as a PR matter, it’s obviously harder for Wilson and the PD to defend a lethal encounter that began with a stop for jaywalking than one that began with a stop for robbery. The public may not want to admit it but they’re willing to let cops play rougher with suspects accused of more dangerous crimes. Blocking traffic is annoying but it shouldn’t lead to a man lying dead on the asphalt.
So why’d they release the footage? Seems like they did it not to suggest something about Wilson’s state of mind in arresting Brown but something about Brown’s state of mind in being arrested by Wilson. It was always hard to believe that someone detained for blocking traffic would turn desperate enough to grab at a cop’s gun. It’s not as hard to believe that someone who thought he was being hauled in on a felony charge might have panicked. One thing I’m still unclear on, though, is when Wilson finally learned that Brown was a suspect in the robbery. He didn’t know it when he first stopped him; did he find out during the encounter? Watch this clip of the Ferguson police chief from earlier this morning describing the timeline. A description of the suspects in the robbery was allegedly sent out over police radio before Wilson encountered Brown. Maybe Wilson wasn’t paying attention to his radio or had it off or whatever. What if he turned it on while Brown was in the squad car, though, and suddenly realized who he had? What if Brown heard the radio broadcast too and panicked? I’m spitballing but who knew what and when will matter when a jury has to decide whose version of the shooting it believes.
Update: Sorry, bad facts in the last paragraph about Brown being inside the squad car. Here’s how the NYT describes what police say happened:
The police on Sunday said they were still trying to sort out the exact details, but they released what they said was the fullest account of the shooting that they could provide. Just after noon on Saturday, the police said, an officer in a patrol car approached Mr. Brown and another man. As the officer began to leave his vehicle, one of the men pushed the officer back into the car and “physically assaulted” him, according to the police department’s account.
A struggle occurred “over the officer’s weapon,” and at least one shot was fired inside the car, Chief Belmar said. The two left the car, and the officer shot Mr. Brown about 35 feet away from the vehicle, the police reported. Several shots were fired from the officer’s weapon.
Assuming Brown was the one who allegedly pushed Wilson, he may have been inside the car but he wasn’t sitting there listening to the police radio. Then again, if Wilson had the window down, the police radio may have been audible to both men while they were talking. If a description of Brown as the robbery suspect came across at the wrong time, it might have set both of them off.
Update: Verrrry strange that the Ferguson police chief wasn’t clearer during his presser about what Wilson did and didn’t know, but here you go. He told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch later that Darren Wilson appeared to have pieced together Brown’s involvement in the convenience store robbery while he was talking to him:
Jackson said the officer was aware cigars had been taken in the robbery of a store nearby, but did not know when he encountered Brown and Dorian Johnson that they might be suspects. He stopped them because they were walking in the street, Jackson said.
But Jackson told the Post-Dispatch that the officer, Darren Wilson, saw cigars in Brown’s hand and realized he might be the robber.
Did Wilson tell Brown that he suspected him of the robbery because of the cigars?