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Ferguson Police's PR Stunt Poisons Independent and Impartial Investigation

Dennis Parker,
Former Director,
ACLU Racial Justice Program
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August 15, 2014

The tragic killing of unarmed teenager Michael Brown by Officer Darren Wilson of the Ferguson Police Department has shocked his family, community, and the nation.

The public and the ACLU of Missouri have called for release of the police incident report on the shooting to resolve the dispute about whether the incident involved the excessive use of lethal force and illegal racial profiling, and to shed light on how many times and where on his body Mr. Brown was shot.

Instead of disclosing that information, the Ferguson Police Department today released approximately 30 seconds of surveillance footage and an offense/incident report concerning a reported shoplifting at a convenience store that police now alleged involved Brown about ten minutes before he was killed. Yet the Ferguson police chief’s own statement undermines the relevance of those disclosures. The officer who shot Mr. Brown, according to the chief, was unaware that he may have been a suspect in the shoplifting and stopped him because he was walking down the middle of a street.

The Ferguson Police Department’s actions appear misleading and remarkably cynical. They call into question the department’s commitment to ensuring an independent and impartial investigation into the killing of Michael Brown. The video and incident report released are of dubious relevance. The decision to disclose them suggests an attempt to assassinate Mr. Brown’s character by showing that he had roughly pushed a convenience store clerk on the day that he was killed. The one-sided and piecemeal disclosure of potentially irrelevant and prejudicial information, while continuing to withhold the critical police incident report that the public has demanded, suggests a desire to confuse rather than to shine a light on what happened.

Mr. Brown’s family and the public deserve better. The Ferguson police’s disclosures seem more like spin control than objective investigation. The department’s apparent attempts to impugn the character of a shooting victim while withholding potentially revealing information about the conduct of its own police officer makes a mockery of the concepts of fairness and impartiality.

Therefore, the ACLU calls for an independent and comprehensive federal investigation by the Department of Justice of the fatal shooting of Michael Brown. Without this, there can be no justice for the Brown family or honest conversation about excessive force, racialized policing, law enforcement accountability and transparency, and the kinds of systemic reforms that are critically needed to ensure fair and effective policing in Ferguson and throughout our country.

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