Reporters in Ferguson, Mo. today got their hands on an interesting document, provided to them by the town's police: An incident report from Aug. 9, implicating Michael Brown in the petty theft of some Swisher Sweet cigars from a local convenience store.
Evidently this crime made Brown, 18, a fugitive in the small town, and the force had its radar out for the young man when an officer came across him and a friend walking the streets of Ferguson that same day. We all know what happened next: A brief confrontation ended with Brown's dead body lying prostrate in the middle of a street for four hours.
The incident report, made public after days of civil unrest in the town and shortly after Thomas Jackson, Ferguson's police chief, revealed the name of the officer who shot and killed Brown, would appear to shed light on the events that led to Brown's death, and cast the police in a more forgiving manner. "See, we're not so bad!" Its revelation says. "We were hunting a bad guy. He stole. Our work is justified."
But petty theft should never end in death. And the murderer in this case, Darren Wilson, remains protected by the police. Where's the report of his actions on Aug. 9? Jackson has thus far only given scant details about what happened between Brown and Wilson, reasoning that anything more could prejudice witness testimony. (Jackson has clarified that Wilson did not know Brown was a suspect in the robbery.)
But the well is already poisoned. Michael Brown is dead. The solution, when a community is in crisis, is always more information, fewer obfuscations. More facts, less one-sided bullshit. But those answers seem a long time in coming. Robert McCulloch, the St. Louis County prosecuting attorney, has said that a full investigation into the matter could take months. "The timeline on this is that there is no timeline."
And that lack of urgency, the absence of truth, lets the narrative set in. As Marc Lamont Hill put it on Twitter: "There is a longstanding tradition of demonizing victims in this country. This unarmed teenager was killed by police. That's what matters... They wanted you to believe that Trayvon was a bad kid, Eric Garner was a criminal, Renisha McBride was a thief. This is the pattern."
To the police, these people are the enemies. And their deaths, in the end, are just incidents.
"It is worth mentioning that this incident is related to another incident under Ferguson Police Report #2014-12391 as well as St. Louis County Police Report #2014-43984. In that incident, Brown was fatally wounded involving an officer of this department."
[Image by Jim Cooke, photo by AP]