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A video taken right after the shooting of Michael Brown shows two new eyewitnesses who support claims that Brown had his hands up while trying to surrender.

Since his death at the hands of officer Darren Wilson, the events surrounding the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson have become a battle of competing narratives. On the one hand, you have the supporters of Brown, who believe he was gunned down in cold blood while trying to surrender. The mantra “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” has become a rallying cry for who believe Brown was murdered. On the other, you have the supporters of officer Wilson, who believe he acted in self defense. Instead of viral memes, his supporters have put their money where their mouth is, donating over $235,000 to Wilson’s GoFundMe campaign.

Despite the passion with which the different sides argue, evidence for both has been sketchy.

Problems with the “Hands Up” Story

The primary witness of the Brown shooting was Dorian Johnson. He was with walking with Brown when they were stopped by officer Wilson. His account of the shooting was the most widely publicized version of what happened, and it sparked national outrage. And yet, Johnson’s credibility was quickly called into question.

First, it was reported that Johnson had a criminal record, including an arrest for lying to the police. And while that doesn’t mean that he lied about Brown, it put a question mark next to him in some people’s minds. Next, Johnson omitted the robbery from his initial account, probably because it had little to do with the shooting. However, when the police released the video of the robbery, it implicated Johnson and made it look like he was trying to cover something up. Having painted him as a criminal and a liar caught leaving out details of a robbery, Johnson’s character had been neatly and effectively assassinated.

The bigger problem, however, was not about appearances, but about facts. Johnson, along with multiple eyewitnesses, claimed that Brown was shot in the back. Brown’s own attorney said:

The autopsy showed that it was “clear” that “the direction of the bullet was in a back-to-front direction,” though there was apparently nothing in the report to justify that claim. 

However, all of these accounts were refuted by the results of the autopsy.

A forensic science expert says that Dr. Michael Baden’s autopsy on 18-year-old Michael Brown shows that eyewitness accounts that the teen was shot in the back by a Ferguson police officer was false.

That, combined with the orbital bone injuries that Wilson allegedly suffered, was enough for many people to conclude that the original “Hands Up” story was “falling apart”.

Problems with the Police Story

And yet, while the Hands Up narrative was running into problems because of emerging facts, the police story was running into the opposite problem. People were starting to ask questions because of the lack of information. No one knew Wilson’s version of events because the police refused to release it. It was actually left out of the incident report, which was heavily censored when it was finally released:

The two-page document, which the Ferguson Police Department released only after pressure from journalists and civil liberties advocates, is largely redacted or left blank. The most egregious omissions are the victim’s name and a description of the offense — the fatal shooting of Brown.

“I’ve never seen an incident report that didn’t contain a description of the incident, at least on some basic level,” said Don Tittle, a veteran Texas civil and criminal attorney. “It makes you wonder if they don’t want to commit to a story.”

Then, there was the questionable timing of the release of the robbery video. It was an obvious smear tactic meant to distract people from the shooting and paint Wilson as the victim. And for many, it worked. The police chief even tried to use it to justify Wilson’s actions, saying:

Wilson was attempting to get Brown and his friend, Dorian Johnson, to stop walking in the middle of the street when the officer realized the pair fit the description of suspects being sought in the theft of cigars from a nearby convenience store.

But it has been established that officer Wilson had no idea that Brown was a suspect in a robbery. Was the Chief lying? Who knows. But the police sure did look like they were trying to hide something and that they were working very hard to distract people from finding out what.

The New Hands Up Witnesses

One thing that all of the Hands Up witnesses maintain is that Brown was shot with his hands up. On the other hand, the police are relying on the idea that lethal force was justified because Wilson was in fear for his life. Obviously, both can’t be true. If Brown is trying to surrender with his hands up, Wilson’s life can’t simultaneously be in danger.

That’s where the new video comes in.

Taken 40 seconds after the shooting, the men in the video are clearly distraught about what they’ve just seen. The pair – local contractors that were working on a site nearby – told CNN:

  • “He had his f*cking hands up!”
  • “The cop didn’t say get on the ground. He just kept shooting,” 
  • Wilson [fired] a shot at Brown while his back was turned.

This is significant for a number of reasons. This video shows spontaneous reactions. It is not possible that these men were coached. The video documented their reaction to what they just saw. Because of that, it the strongest evidence yet that Brown actually did have his hands up when Wilson shot him.

If Brown’s hands were up, it becomes harder for Wilson to justify using lethal force. Additionally, it re-solidifies some of the earlier Hands Up witnesses. They may have been mistaken about Brown being shot in the back, but it looks like Brown was shot at while his back was turned. And if Brown’s back was turned, it becomes problematic again for Wilson to justify his use of lethal force.

The thing about use of force – especially lethal force – is that it is not continuously justified. In order to use force, the Supreme Court has ruled that the justification for the force needs to be objectively reasonable. However, David Klinger, a University of Missouri-St. Louis professor who studies use of force” said:

What’s “objectively reasonable” changes as the circumstances change. “The moment that you no longer present a threat, I need to stop shooting,”

If that’s the case, then this video is bad news for supporters of Officer Wilson.

4 Responses

  1. BigMamaTEA

    Rob, what if the “hands up” position was actually a taunting of the officer? Those new witnesses weren’t close enough to hear words being said by either Brown or the cop. After watching that strong-armed robbery video, and with the possibility of Brown punching the cop while attempting to take his weapon (?)
    It is also possible that Brown was saying…what are you going to do…shoot? to the cop.

  2. TeezPlace

    I believe that the Ferguson judicial system covered up the facts that proves Darren Wilson shot Michael Brown to death without justification (murdered) and the evidence is overwhelmingly supporting eye-witnesses accounts of Michael Brown’s death. This is indicative of what’s happening in police departments throughout the country today; as if taking an unarmed young African American’s life is a badge of courage. Tell me, how can a cop armed with a 9mm hand gum firing 12 rounds at an unarmed youth; (the use of lethal force) be afraid that his or her life is being threatened(fear for their life?


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