About . . . . . . Classes . . . . . . Books . . . . . . Vita . . . . . . . Links. . . . . . Blog

by Peter Moskos

April 11, 2015

"‘Hands up, don’t shoot’ was built on a lie"

I thought we all knew this by now, but apparently some people missed the memo. Responding to my Washington Post op-ed, a few people see rather upset that I wrote:
In Ferguson, as the Justice Department made very clear, all credible evidence supported officer Darren Wilson’s account of a justified, legal and necessary shooting. Brown robbed a store, fought for the police officer’s gun and then physically charged the cop.
People, this isn't debatable any more.

If you still don't want to believe this and won't read the DOJ report, read my summary or a very brave piece by The Post's Jonathan Capehart:
"Hands up, don’t shoot" became the mantra of a movement. But it was wrong, built on a lie.
It is imperative that we continue marching for and giving voice to those killed in racially charged incidents at the hands of police and others. But we must never allow ourselves to march under the banner of a false narrative on behalf of someone who would otherwise offend our sense of right and wrong. And when we discover that we have, we must acknowledge it, admit our error and keep on marching. That’s what I’ve done here.
Or John Maynard Keynes or Paul Samuelson may or may not have said: "When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do?"


David Woycechowsky said...

Brown didn't rob a store. He escaped being locked inside of a store, and happened to be holding a couple packets of Swisher Sweets (which he had been in the process of returning to the store's counter) when it became incumbent upon him to make his escape. He never would have been convicted of robbery (assuming a non-racist jury). I don't know if the DoJ report says that he robbed a store, but I doubt that it does.

Peter Moskos said...

Brown's friend who was there with him says he stole from the store.

But of course you know better because you weren't there and can't even bother reading the report.

I'm not going to debate this.

David Woycechowsky said...

DoJ report: Surveillance
video shows Brown stealing several packages of cigarillos and then forcefully shoving the store
clerk who tried to stop him from leaving the store without paying.

What the video shows: Brown returning two boxes of cigarillos to the store's counter while the store clerk ran to lock him in the store.

I trust the video more than I trust the DoJ or Dorian J. Yes, Brown took cigarillos from the store, and maybe that was a crime. However, the DoJ's statement is flat wrong. Brown had not stolen, or attempted to steal anything at the time the shopkeeper attempted to prevent him from leaving the store. The shopkeeper tried to keep him from leaving the store when he suspected that Brown might try to steal, but that is not what the DoJ report said, and the DoJ report is wrong in this critical aspect. Brown's act of returning two boxes of cigarillos to the store counter shows that he was NOT trying to steal them.

Even the DoJ characterizes the event as "stealing," rather than "robbery," and there is a difference. Even the dispatcher's comments characterized the event as "stealing" rather than "robbery." When they released the video, even the Ferguson PD (or StL sheriff's, forget which one) did not characterize the event as "robbery."

"Robbery" is something that has been foisted on the story by people who did not watch the video closely. that is irresponsible.

David Woycechowsky said...

The DoJ report says that he stole the cigarillos before the storekeeper tried to lock him in. That is flat out wrong. You can't lock someone in a store because they might steal something. This goes double when the suspect is actually in the act of returning the merch that he is suspected of being about to steal.

Peter Moskos said...

Believe what you want. We disagree; worse things have happened.

The whole point of this post is I'm not talking about this anymore.

Peter Moskos said...

I use "robbery" as synonymous with "stealing" because that how I'm used to classifying such a crime. Stealing plus force equals robbery, at least in my book (and Maryland).

bacchys said...

Saying it's a lie is incorrect, and while the report may conclude it didn't happen the facts are simply that there's no evidence to support it. That's an entirely different thing than it didn't happen.

Even some of the exculpatory witnesses for Wilson testified that Brown's hands were up, but as a threat instead of in surrender, so it seems a long stretch to call that a lie.

David Woycechowsky said...

The force (or threat of force) has to be directed at accomplishing the stealing, and not for some legit purpose (eg, escaping a shopkeeper's arrest)

Adam said...


Can you please point to specific segments of the video and show me what you're talking about? In this version of the video, (around 0:50) I see Brown reach far across the counter and yank some stuff -- boxes and individually wrapped cigarillos, I assume -- back over to his side, causing some of the cigarillos to fall onto the floor. He then places some of the stuff back onto the counter (0:56) but then reaches down and picks up the cigarillos that fell onto the floor (1:00). He then walks straight for the exit door, and the store clerk steps in front of him. Brown shoves the clerk out of the way, doubles back to stare him down a little bit, and then leaves.

So whether or not Brown returned some of the cigarillos, he was clearly leaving with others in his hands. And it appears he didn't pay for those. That is, unless you think Brown dropped exact change on the counter as he returned the boxes. (And how would he have known how many cigarillos he was going to "buy" before he started picking them up off the ground? Is he Rainman? Did he know instantly how many fell onto the floor?)

At any rate, all that really matters is whether the store clerk had good reason to think Brown was shoplifting. If so, he had a right to detail Brown. See
Mo. Ann. Stat. § 537.125:

"Any merchant, his agent or employee, who has reasonable grounds or probable cause to believe that a person has committed or is committing a wrongful taking of merchandise or money from a mercantile establishment, may detain such person in a reasonable manner and for a reasonable length of time for the purpose of investigating whether there has been a wrongful taking of such merchandise or money. Any such reasonable detention shall not constitute an unlawful arrest or detention, nor shall it render the merchant, his agent or employee, criminally or civilly liable to the person so detained."

And then, of course, if he was stealing and he did use force to prevent the clerk's lawful detention, then he committed robbery.

"A person commits second degree robbery when he 'forcibly steals property.' Section 569.030.1. A person 'forcibly steals,' thereby committing second degree robbery, if, 'in the course of stealing' the person 'uses or threatens the immediate use of physical force upon another person for the purpose of … [p]reventing or overcoming resistance to the taking of the property or … [c]ompelling the owner of such property or another person to deliver up the property[.]' Section 569.010(1)." Patterson v. State, 110 S.W.3d 896, 901 (Mo. Ct. App. 2003) [courtesy of Popehat.com].

Peter Moskos said...

Adam, you're right.
David, you're wrong.

Normally I'm willing to tolerate different viewpoints in comments. This is all polite and good. No problem there. But the point of my post is to say I am done with debate on this issue.

The evidence is so obvious, so overwhelming, so supporting by the DOJ(!) that to say otherwise reminds me of 911 "truthers", Obama is Muslim, Creationists, etc.

Some people just want to believe. And I can't stop them. And also, at some point I don't really care what people believe. I don't mean that negatively. But I don't care if some people think Obama is Kenyan born. That's they're right. But they're wrong.

I'm tried hard to present the facts. And at this point, based on everything we know to say that Brown didn't steal/rob from the store borders on the absurd. People who think otherwise can present their opinion elsewhere.

(I also don't actually think it matters because if he didn't steal from the store (which he did), the shooting that followed would *still* be justified. That's a bit part of the reason I find this debate so pointless.

In my humble opinion, the issue is settled.

Now I'm going to see if I close off comments to this post without deleting them all.