No one needed the Department of Justice’s final review of the events in Ferguson in order to conclude that the persistent myth suggesting Missouri teen Michael Brown was surrendering to police when he was shot to death was a lie. All anyone needed to do to reach this determination was to peruse the evidence presented to a Missouri grand jury which determined insufficient evidence existed to indict Officer Darren Wilson for his conduct on that inauspicious August afternoon.
The myth that Brown was offering up a universal gesture of submission when he was killed spawned a massive protest movement and inspired the ubiquitous chant “hands up, don’t shoot.” It led to national demonstrations in which agitators shut down major urban thoroughfares as metropolitan police forces looked the other way. Even in Congress, America’s most irresponsible legislators took to the floor of the lower chamber and raised their hands in solidarity with the protesters. It was a display similar in nature to when House lawmakers wore hooded sweatshirts in a show of fealty to another pernicious fairytale that suggested George Zimmerman had shot and killed Florida teen Trayvon Martin as a form of violent and racially-motivated fashion criticism.
But the blame for the spread of the “hands up, don’t shoot” fable can be placed squarely at the feet of the mainstream press which, by and large, failed to diligently examine this claims that gave birth the “hands up, don’t shoot” protest movement.
A widely circulated PBS News Hour chart that purportedly summarized the evidence presented to the grand jury strongly indicated that the majority of eyewitnesses to the crime did see Brown submit before he was shot. “To those who say #HandsUpDontShoot perpetuates a lie, 16 witnesses say #MichaelBrown had his hands up at some point,” CNN anchor Chris Cuomo insisted defiantly. “Only 2 say he didn’t.” He partially correct, but what Cuomo and PBS failed to note was that the majority of those eyewitnesses were unreliable. Six of the 14 witnesses who claimed to see some hand raising on Brown’s part only said that his arms were partially elevated, which is a far cry from surrender. Others, like the witness who insisted that Brown’s hands were not only raised but that he was shot mercilessly in the back, were easily dismissed by the grand jury.
Too few in the media waited for all the evidence to come out before they leapt to a dishonest and destructive conclusion. For much of the press, it seemed as though the narrative of rampant police violence unfairly targeting unarmed black youths was too good to dispel. A fascinating video recently produced by the Media Research Center exposes just how committed many in the press were to advancing this dubious victimization plotline.
It’s hard to argue against the MRC’s conclusion in this video. Those in the press and the activist community who described Brown’s killing as a “murder” and an “execution” were never truly interested in the truth. The journalists and editorialists who persisted in advancing this fable even after the evidence exonerating Wilson was released to the public are complicit in the economic and civil disruption that followed Brown’s shooting.
Those featured in this video and other members of the media suspended their disbelief, abdicated their role the arbiters of truth, and cast their lot in with the demonstrators protesting police violence – both figuratively and, at times, literally. But a part of being a responsible member of the Fourth Estate is auditing reportage for untruths and misstatements. It should not be MRC alone that is condemning the many members of the press who shamelessly abandoned any semblance of objectivity and let their biases do the thinking.