Part 5—The things we’d do if we could: What actually happened when Darren Wilson shot and killed Michael Brown?
We can’t exactly tell you.
Is the Justice Department right in its assessments about the shooting?
We can’t really tell you that either.
We can tell you this—the Justice Department’s account of the shooting differs greatly from the account which was widely presented in real time. If the Justice Department is right, that account has been left for dead.
To its credit, the New York Times reported this fact in its front-page report about the Justice Department’s findings. In just his first three paragraphs, Erik Eckholm captured some basic differences between the Justice Department account of the shooting and the account we received in real time:
ECKHOLM (3/5/15): Offering the most definitive account yet of the shooting of an unarmed black teenager that stirred racially charged protests across the country, the Justice Department has cleared a Ferguson, Mo., police officer of civil rights violations in the death last August of Michael Brown.Eckholm proceeded from there in a striking, 1400-word report. We agree with his basic representations:
In an 86-page report released Wednesday that detailed and evaluated the testimony of more than 40 witnesses, the Justice Department largely corroborated or found little credible evidence to contradict the account of the officer, Darren Wilson, who is white.
Versions of events that sharply conflicted with Mr. Wilson’s were largely inconsistent with forensic evidence or with the witnesses’ previous statements, the report said. And in some cases, witnesses whose accounts supported Mr. Wilson said they had been afraid to come forth or tell the truth because they feared reprisals from the enraged community.
Correctly or otherwise, the Justice Department seems to “clear” Wilson in its report. They didn’t say they couldn’t prove a case and leave it at that.
Correctly or otherwise, the Justice Department found that witnesses’ accusations against Wilson “were largely inconsistent with forensic evidence or with the witnesses’ previous statements.” Correctly or otherwise, the Department seemed to make a direct statement—all the shots fired by Officer Wilson were fired in self-defense.
Is the Justice Department right in that judgment? We can’t answer that question, but that’s what its report said.
In our view, Eckholm understated one part of the case. He failed to note the Justice Department’s rejection of three influential eyewitnesses—Witness 101, Witness 127 and Witness 118.
In the days and weeks after the shooting, the disturbing claims of those alleged eyewitnesses were broadcast very widely. Correctly or otherwise, the Justice Department has now found that their basic claims were wrong.
In the case of Witness 118, the Justice Department doesn’t seem sure that she even saw the shooting! Her accounts were all over TV from the first day on.
In our view, Eckholm should have stated this point more clearly. But to the credit of the New York Times, the gentleman gave a full account of the Justice Department’s basic findings.
Over at the Washington Post, Sari Horwitz took a different approach. She offered a highly sanitized front-page report about the Department’s findings—and in the two weeks which have gone by, the Post’s approach has prevailed.
That may be the most striking fact about the recent report.
In the mainstream and on the pseudo-left, little discussion has arisen about this striking report. We’ve seen no one review the accounts of the shooting which were widely broadcast in real time—accounts which the Justice Department has now rejected as false.
TV stars like Lawrence O’Donnell haven’t explained why they vouched for those accounts, back when they had no earthly way of knowing what had happened. As always, being a TV star means never having to say you were wrong.
We can always imagine or claim that the Justice Department’s judgments are wrong. That said, the failure to report and discuss those judgments says a great deal about our culture—about our remarkably limited intellectual and moral capital.
Those of us on the pseudo-left have always been able to see the dishonesty of those on the pseudo-right. Just last night, the diminishing fellow known as Chris Hayes entertained the troops with the latest such tales.
Here’s the way he teased the upcoming segment:
HAYES (3/19/15): All right, pop some popcorn, grab a frosty beverage, because I’ll be doing some good old-fashioned right-wing myth-busting ahead.Pop some popcorn and grab a beer! By now, we don’t even bother pretending. This is old-fashioned entertainment for us, the tribal rubes.
Plus, one of the best moments so far from March Madness. All that is next.
Later, Hayes and a pair of stooges debunked the “fevered conspiracy theories” of those in the other tribe. At one point, the diminishing fellow said this:
“Let me just say, it’s not completely ideologically limited. There are lots of conspiracy theories across the ideological spectrum. I believe they have a particular virulence on the right.”
Disclaimer aside, Hayes and his panel of stooges went on to debunk bogus claims of the right. Our own claims went unexplored.
With that as prologue, might we offer a thought about group violence?
On St. Patrick’s Day, TCM aired the 1970 David Lean epic, Ryan’s Daughter. Though it was largely a critical failure, it was a box-office hit.
We saw the film when it came out. It included the most striking scene of group violence we recall ever seeing in a film. When it popped up in the TCM section of On Demand, we watched it again this week.
Sure enough! At the climax of Ryan’s Daughter, the whole village decides—wrongly as a matter of fact—that Sarah Miles was the informer. So they go to her home and they enter her home and they drag her out into the yard.
They strip off her clothing and cut off her hair and leave her shivering with trauma. Her father, who actually was the informer, chose not to tell the truth.
At least they didn’t kill her!
Lawrence, who lives in that windswept village, said the shooting of Michael Brown was a case of first-degree murder. To tell the truth, it wasn’t the first time that Lawrence and the rest of us villagers tried to stage our own act of mob violence.
Lawrence played a leading role in that previous episode too! Do you remember the facts we invented about that previous villain? Do you recall the facts we suppressed?
Do you remember the silly, irrelevant facts we lovingly mentioned each time, despite their total irrelevance? In this time-honored way, we were trying to get that guy convicted of murder too!
Within our culture, we aren’t allowed to go into their homes and drag them out into the yard any more. That said, we liberals are making it clear that we’d do it if we could!
We aren’t real honest; we aren’t very smart. We don’t know how to build political and social movements without inventing bogus facts to target our latest scapegoat.
Our professors then emerge from the woods to make their claims. It’s amazing to see the caliber of the folk who serve as our professors!
(Over at the new salon, Professor Hanlon has posted his latest. You can pop your popcorn—it’s very pleasing. But it doesn’t strike us as real sharp.)
Dorian Johnson has always struck as a gentle person who was in the wrong place that unfortunate day. That said, the things he said were factually false, and he said them all over the place.
So too with Witness 118 and Witness 127.
The Coopers and the O’Donnells aired their statements again and again. Journalistically speaking, they kept forgetting to warn their viewers that such accounts are frequently wrong.
Correctly or otherwise, the Justice Department has now said that their accounts were wrong. But so what? Our major pundits don’t plan to relitigate that!
We think Chris Hayes had the ticket last night:
Hey rubes! Look over here, we almost thought he said.