Yesterday, the Ferguson, Mo. police department announced that it would not release the name of the officer who shot and killed unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown on Saturday. "The value of releasing the name is far outweighed by the risk of harm to the officer and his family," said Thomas Jackson, chief of the Ferguson police department.
We disagree. We believe Brown's family, and the public at large, have the right to know the name of the man who killed their son. For this reason, we're asking readers who know the identity of the officer to share it with us, either below this post or over email. If we can confirm a name, we will publish it ourselves. We are looking for legitimate information and tips, not jokes or false names.
We want to publish the officer's name because we believe that transparency is the price of power, and that trust is earned and not demanded. The people of Ferguson have been asked to trust the chief's decision not to release the officer's name, but why should they? The Ferguson police department has not earned the trust of the citizens in whose name it operates and with whose power it is invested. Mike Brown was asked to trust the police, and he was utterly failed. For trust to exist—for it to be built—there must be absolute accountability. Every bullet must be explicable; every life must be answerable.
The name of one officer has already circulated on social media, over the protestations of Ferguson police. If this is the wrong name, the solution is to provide the right one—not to put down a visor, hold up a shield, and retreat further into silence and concealment.
Forget that Michael Brown should have begun coursework at Vatterott College this week. Forget that he was known for his kind heart and gentle spirit—Big Mike, they called him. Forget that he was unarmed and pleaded, hands above his head, for the officer not to shoot him. Forget that his body lay in the street surrounded by police for hours, as family and community members stood helpless. Forget that we have been here before. That we have mourned and fought and cried our eyes red for our very humanity. Forget, too, that we will be here again. Forget all of this. A teenager is dead—gunned down in broad daylight by a man employed to protect him. That alone should be enough.
"There is power in naming racism for what it is," Jesmyn Ward wrote in the New York Times, power in "shining a bright light, brighter than any torch or flashlight. A thing as simple as naming it allows us to root it out of the darkness and hushed conversation where it likes to breed like roaches. It makes us acknowledge it. Confront it. And in confronting it, we rob it of some of its dark pull. Its senseless, cold drag. When we speak, we assert our human dignity. That is the worth of a word."
The Ferguson police department, clad in armor and rolling in military vehicles, is terrified of the people it serves. Gunning down an unarmed, fleeing teen, and then hiding the name of the triggerman, are the acts of an institution that is afraid. Its cops believe they are victims; that Michael Brown's death is an incident that happened to them. They have made it clear that the officer who killed him is one of them, a representative of how the department acts in the world.
We owe Michael that much.