[Update: but we not do have a much better idea based on a DOJ report.]
No. Seriously. Think about it. You don't know what happened. I don't know what happened. So whatever you think, whatever I think... the only thing I can guarantee is that it's probably not true.
And this is the problem I have with these situations. Nobody knows what happened, but everybody fills in their ideological world view. "Racist cop shot a black kid down for no reason" vs. "cop attacked by vicious criminal defends himself."
Now there are other issues, very real and serious issues related to injustice in America in general. I'm talking about 2.3 million prisoners. And in suburban St. Louis in particular I'm talking about towns that seem to exist largely for the feudal financial purpose of exploiting the residents who live there. I'm talking about towns -- majority black, mostly -- that bring in 30, 50, 70 percent of their budged on municipal and police issued fines. This is wrong. But those issues don't actually directly concern the reality of what happened with Police Officer Darren Wilson killed Michael "Big Mike" Brown.
[But boy would it be nice if we could seriously address and rectify the problems in America without some violent spark? But we as a country don't seem capable of that.]
Back to the shooting. Now that we've admitted that we don't know exactly what happened and we never will, let's stop being so righteous, smug, or disparaging of those who don't have your same world-view.
So now let's get to what we do know.
When the shooting first happened, I was presented a liberal narrative by a TV producer who stated that an "another innocent black kid, college bound, was walking down the street when he was stopped by police and shot while he was surrendering while his hands were in the air."
I responded, "I don't believe that, but go on."
Today we know that narrative I was first presented with wasn't true. Some say that doesn't matter. I think it does. If you want a martyred victim, pick a better martyr (and I hate to say it, but there are plenty: Ayers and Diallo jump to mind.)
Dorian Johnson wasn't the only witness, but he was there. And since Michael Brown is dead, he's the only one with a front row seat other than the cop who killed Brown. So Johnson is a pretty good source to have. But Dorian's version of what happened has changed. I think that matters. If you don't tell the truth the first time, I'm much less willing to believe you the second time.
When I was a cop and would ask somebody's name and date of birth after I pulled them over for some traffic violation, often they would have no ID. Maybe, just maybe, they actually did just forget their valid license. Maybe. Once in a blue moon it happened. I wouldn't have a problem with that. So I would call in their name and date of birth. And wait. And then nothing would come back. They were not in Maryland's DMV system. So then they would try again and tell me a second name and/or date of birth. Like I was supposed to believe them the second time? Moskos don't play that game.
Anyway, they would get locked up for a violation and failure to have ID. But they were really locked up because they committed a traffic violation, and I couldn't write them a ticket because I had no idea who they were. And they lied to me about that. CBIF (jail) could sort out their ID. Not my problem. I had other calls to answer.
Anyway, when Brown was killed many people bought the only narrative then at first presented: college-bound angel shot by racist cop for no reason. Many still do. And it might be true... but it probably isn't. There actually is evidence that shows this narrative isn't true. And then of course the narrative changes to match the new evidence. But, like I said, Moskos don't play that game.
So we have two narratives. And for the record I have not yet read all the testimony, but I have read all the testimony of Officer Darren Wilson and Dorian Johnson. Have you?
So here is what they agree on.
[Before I get into all of this let me say that we also know that the Ferguson Police Department handled this and pretty much everything after this just about as horribly as as police department could. Why didn't they say anything? Why didn't they make any attempt to control the narrative? Even if they don't have a PR person, don't they at least have friggin' lawyer?! Why couldn't they get a crime lab there faster? Why didn't they handle the valid feelings of outrage more responsibly? Why didn't they do anything right?! But that is all for another post.]
1) Johnson and Michael Brown go to a corner store and Brown steals a bunch of 79-cent Cigarillos. These are "blunts" used to smoke marijuana in. This is an unarmed robbery. A yoking, as they say in Baltimore. Now Brown is dead so we don't actually know this, but Johnson claims he wasn't expecting this. Maybe he wasn't. But he doesn't seem to think it's a huge deal. He stays with Brown as they walk away.
2) Walking in the middle of the street, they get stopped by Officer Wilson. By all accounts he curses at the two of them. (Though Johnson says Wilson starts with saying "fuck" and Wilson says he doesn't till "fuck" till a bit later. Whatever. I've seen a lot of cops yell at people in the ghetto walking in the street, and it often involves the police cursing.)
Officer Wilson tells them to get on the sidewalk. They don't. For some weird reason they ignore the police officer's request to not walk in the middle of the street.
3) Wilson backs up his police vehicle to block/confront them. This quickly escalates into a struggle between Wilson and Brown. But the nature of this struggle is in dispute. Johnson says Brown is trying to get away and being held by Wilson. Wilson says Brown is attacking him in his police car.
4) Brown, for some reason, is still holding the stolen Cigarillos in his hand and passes them to Johnson.
5) Brown gets shot at by Wilson while Brown is still at the car.
6) Brown and Johnson run away, Wilson pursues. Brown gets shot at again.
7) Brown is shot many times and dies. His body lays in the street far too long.
Those facts are not in dispute. Much of the rest is. Johnson says Wilson treated them disrespectfully by almost backing into them with Wilson's marked police vehicle after Johnson and Brown disobeyed Wilson's order to get on the sidewalk. (Though like Rashomon, much of their seemingly contradictory views can actually be mutually possible... but now I'm getting too deep).
So now it comes down to who you believe. Yes, I tend to believe police officers because I worked with police officers who told the truth ("within the bounds of reason," as H.L. Mencken said). This is hard for many people to believe. It's like people project their own shadiness on police. Lying gets you fired (if you get caught). But the average cop is more honest than the average student or professor.
So I basically believe Officer Wilson because based on my experience, my training, and my having been a police officer, what he says basically rings true. Now you may think he's a lying bastard -- and you may be right -- but, well, I doubt it.
I'm going to tell you why you should believe Officer Wilson over Dorian Johnson. And yes, this involves relativism, character judgment, moral subjectivity, and all that. But seriously, we're talking about trust and honesty.
Here's what we know about Dorian Johnson, based on his own testimony.
Dorian grew up around violence and has been shot. I don't know why. That's neither here nor there. I'm just putting it out there because that's a major life event.
Now he's got a serious girlfriend and a kid and shares a two bedroom apartment. He wakes up around 7 - 7:30am (much earlier than I do, I should add).
This is his typical morning:
I start my morning, I wake up, I take a shower, and ask my girl does she like breakfast, what would she like for breakfast. I head out to go get it. Upon getting breakfast I get me some Cigarillos. I smoke marijuana in my morning when I start my day off, so I was going headed to the store.
Dorian, to put it mildly, is "not real pressed on time." "Because like I said, I was still on the verge of looking for new work."
So he's like a Shaggy who can't cook. I'm not judging. I have no problem with that lifestyle. Seriously. Honestly I'm kind of jealous. To each his own.
So he goes out in his pajama shorts to buy his girl breakfast and meets up with Big Mike. They decide to "match" ("it is just smoking together basically"). OK.
They got to a store and Big Mike, to Dorian's surprise, robs the store. By now it's close to noon and, can I just mention it's five hours later and while he says he's still not stoned he still hasn't gotten his girlfriend's breakfast!
Here's an interesting exchange with the grand jury:
Q: Again, I’m not judging you, but somebody just stole something?Dorian doesn't really answer that one, but goes on to say they weren't stressed because he didn't think they were being stopped for the robbery. See in the criminal's mind, you're only dirty while committing the criminal act. In the cop's mind, the criminal is always dirty.
Q: On the video that we watched, he grabbed ahold of the man?
Q: He said something to him and he lunged at him, OK, you are walking down the street?
A: Yes, Ma’am.
Q: The police tell you to "get the fuck on the sidewalk"?
Q: And you say "I’m almost home." You are thinking to yourself we are not doing anything wrong, didn’t you? Somebody did just do something wrong, so that still begs the question why you did not listen to the police?
So on one hand we have a police officer with a good record and a believable story. He also has evidence of being attacked that fully supports his version of the story .
On the other hand we have a stoned if charming unemployed slacker who willingly hangs out with a guy who just robbed a store and then ignore a reasonably lawful order from a police officer. Also, he told his girl he's getting breakfast but failed at this rather simple goal. Also, he seems to see nothing particularly odd with his life style choices.
Look there is a chance that Johnson's version of events is true. But really? Odds are slim. There is contradictory evidence. There is strong evidence that Michael Brown did punch Officer Wilson. There is strong evidence that Michael Brown was partially in the police car when Wilson shot him. There is strong evidence that Brown's hands were not hands-up in surrender when he was shot. Now you can believe what you want. But the factual evidence we have really is, as they say, "consistent with" Wilson's testimony.
So no, I don't believe Johnson's version that Officer Wilson -- unthreatened except for his ego -- fought to hold Brown close to himself, and then shot Brown for no reason, and then chased Brown down and killed him.
Why would you think that is true unless your world view that says society is unjust and all cops are cold-blooded racists?
I think it's much more likely that, as Wilson testified, Wilson realized he was dealing with a guy who just robbed a store, Wilson was attacked by said robber, Wilson fought for his life, and Wilson won. It's happened before.
So what I'm saying is I don't know what happened, but it is totally possible that Officer Wilson is a good police officer who, while doing his job, was threatened by a man who did indeed attack him, and reacted accordingly. Why is it so inconceivable that a criminal who just committed a crime would attack a police officer? Is that less likely that a cop killing a black man for no reason? If so, the world really has gone mad.
Who do you believe?
I remember late one night I pulled over a respectable middle-aged black woman over because her head lights were not on. She called me racist and then called 911 saying she was being harassed and threatened by a cop: me. She was convinced her head lights were on (her parking lights were on). But they weren't. Had they been, I wouldn't have pulled her over. I wasn't even planning on giving her a ticket (but I had to once she complained, which is a whole other story). Anyway, the call comes out for a cop harassing a driver on Broadway. My sergeant comes over to figure things out. He deals with the situation.
So it goes to traffic court. I'm there. She's there. And she's looking as middle-class church-going 50-year-old hat-wearing respectable as any woman can. I give the boilerplate summary of a traffic stop. She calmly tells a story about how her lights were on and she knew it and she has no idea why she was pulled over by a racist cop. The judge wakes up, because this isn't normal for traffic court. He asks if I have anything to add. I do. I tell him this was the oddest traffic stop I even had. I go on a bit more, but it comes down to this: I say her headlights were not on; she says they were. I'm sure as snow that that woman believed she was right (after all, she could see the lights on her dashboard). But her headlights were not on.
It was literally he-said she-said. Now the judge wasn't there when I stopped her. He couldn't know for sure. But he believed me. He paused for a moment and actually banged his gavel (not well used in traffic court) and said, "guilty." I thanked him. She huffed off.
This is the way our justice system works. We need to believe the word of police officers over the word of criminals. (Or else we need to get rid of police). My word as a police officer was trusted over an honest woman because I was a paid civil servant sworn under oath to uphold the law and constitution. Now you may not believe me. But the judge did. As he should.
So in the Darren Wilson case the grand jury did not believe there was probably cause to indict the officer. And they were right. Or at least read more testimony than I did before you disagree.
[Admittedly, the questioning in the testimony wasn't very aggressive. But then while it may be rare a grand jury doesn't indict, it's also even rarer that a grand jury deals with an innocent person! So despite the softball nature of the grand jury, evidence was presented. And, unlike at a trial, and you only needed 9 of 12 to bring charges. They didn't get that. Why? Because and -- do consider at least this possibility that this may be true -- Darren Wilson might, just might be a police officer who was doing his job and had to protect his own life.]
This is where cops and conservatives think Ferguson protesters are crazy. Now *I* don't think that. Because I think there are lots things worth protesting about in this country. It's how we make a better country. And there is injustice in America! I even wrote a book about racial injustice and incarceration (no, not Cop in the Hood. In Defense of Flogging is the one you didn't buy)!
But none of that means Darren Wilson is guilty of anything. As I said, we don't know for sure what happened and we probably never will. But do we as society -- or do you, individually -- really believe Dorian Johnson's version more than Police Officer Darren Wilson's?