Part 3—“Southern justice” is foiled: Two stories have emerged from the Justice Department’s report on Ferguson, Missouri.
The stories sit side-by-side on the front page of today’s New York Times. Last night, you were more likely to hear one story discussed on Fox, the other on MSNBC.
One of the stories concerns the apparently horrible conduct of Ferguson’s police department and municipal government. The other story concerns the conduct of Office Darren Wilson, who shot and killed Michael Brown in Ferguson last August.
For today, let’s consider the story about Officer Wilson, since it more directly speaks to the caliber of our own liberal discourse.
What happened in Ferguson when Wilson shot Michael Brown? We still can’t exactly tell you. We weren’t on the scene that day. No videotape has emerged.
That said, the Justice Department has now offered its account of what happened that day. Erik Eckholm’s front-page report tells a truly remarkable story. This is the way it begins:
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.Ouch! Already, this is a heinous report, given the endless claims and assertions which were advanced by our own rich assortment of hang-him-high liberal icons.
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.
Eckholm is telling a horrible story in his report. As he continues, the Justice Department even rejects the rallying cry which drove our own tribe’s fiery discourse:
ECKHOLM: Several witnesses said Mr. Brown, 18, had his hands up in surrender when he died, leading to violent clashes in Ferguson and nationwide protest featuring chants of “Hands up, don’t shoot.”Is that what happened? We can't tell you! But in that passage, the Justice Department of Eric Holder rejects the notion that Brown was surrendering when he was shot by Wilson.
But federal agents and civil rights prosecutors rejected that story, just as a state grand jury did in November when it decided not to indict Mr. Wilson. The former officer, who left the Ferguson Police Department late last year, said that Mr. Brown had leaned into his patrol car, punched him, reached for his gun, and then after running away, turned and charged at him, making Mr. Wilson fear for his life.
“There is no evidence upon which prosecutors can rely to disprove Wilson’s stated subjective belief that he feared for his safety,” the report said. At the same time, it concluded that the witnesses who said that Mr. Brown was surrendering were not credible.
According to Eckholm, the Justice Department has rejected, “Hands up, don’t shoot!”
How did Justice reach these judgments? In the gruesome passage shown below, Eckholm discusses one eyewitness who eventually said that she was lying in her initial account of the incident.
In this passage, you are reading about a very old, very familiar form of injustice. Our own tribe has been deeply involved in this form of injustice over the past several years:
ECKHOLM: Among the witnesses who told investigators that they had been nervous about corroborating Mr. Wilson’s account was a 31-year-old black woman who had been standing on her brother’s balcony at the time of the shooting. Her initial account to investigators, in which she said that she saw Mr. Wilson fire shots into Mr. Brown’s back as he lay dead on the street, was inconsistent with the autopsy findings.Luckily, forensic evidence existed in this case; it was inconsistent with the initial account this witness offered. When challenged, she “admitted” that she had lied in that initial account.
When federal investigators challenged her, she admitted lying, explained to the F.B.I. that “you’ve gotta live the life to know it,” and said she had been afraid to contradict stories that Mr. Brown had been trying to surrender.
She then “admitted that she saw Mr. Brown running toward Mr. Wilson, prompting the police officer to yell ‘freeze,’ ” the report stated. It added that the woman said that “it appeared to her that Wilson’s life was in danger.” But when local authorities later tried to serve this witness a subpoena to appear before the grand jury, the report said, “she blockaded her door with a couch.”
She said she’d been afraid to challenge the community’s standard but inaccurate story. This form of group “justice” has long been well known. It exists all over the world.
Who knows? Maybe this witness was overstating in her second, amended account, when she said “it appeared to her that Wilson’s life was in danger.”
But on the surface, this reads like a case of “Southern justice” of a familiar old kind. The community formed an instant story—a standard story that wasn’t accurate. Despite the inaccuracy, everyone felt they had to repeat the group tale.
Remember—Eckholm is reporting the Justice Department’s assessment of this case. At the end of his report, he presents an astounding taxonomy of the 41 witnesses to these events, only eight of whom were judged to be credible:
ECKHOLM: The Justice Department’s report includes a description of every witness’s accounts, which were sometimes offered in multiple interviews with the St. Louis County police and the F.B.I., and judged their likely credibility in court. Of the 41 witnesses described, the Justice Department labeled eight of them as credible because their statements were consistent over time, consistent with other accounts and consistent with the physical evidence. One of these eight was Mr. Wilson’s fiancée, with whom he spoke minutes after the shooting.According to Eckholm, only eight out of 41 witnesses were judged credible! That is an astounding account of “Southern justice,” a familiar type of rule-by-mob which occurs all over the world.
No witnesses had accounts that were credible and pointed toward Mr. Wilson’s guilt, the investigators wrote. Nine witnesses did not fully contradict or corroborate the officer, while the accounts of 24 others were dissected and shown, the federal investigators said, to lack credibility. These included witnesses who admitted they had not actually seen the events.
Did Officer Wilson fear for his life? Would we have thought his life was in danger if we had witnessed these events?
We have no way to answer that. But all along the way in this case, it has been the other tribe that issued warnings about jumping to conclusions about Wilson’s conduct. It was our tribe's various leaders pushed the tale of the mob.
It was us—we high-minded liberals—who howled our praise for that old demon, Southern justice.
As we’ve often noted, our tribe has done a fair amount of this sort of thing in the past several years. So have some in the mainstream press. Consider a recent report in that same New York Times about the shooting death of Trayvon Martin.
Last Wednesday, Lizette Alvarez reported that the Justice Department would not file hate-crime charges against George Zimmerman, the man who shot and killed Martin in February 2012.
But alas—we couldn’t help noting! Whatever you think of the Martin case, the bogus facts just never end with reporters like Alvarez. In this passage, she crafted a rather tilted version of the facts, even restating the Martin case’s version of “Hands up, don’t shoot:”
ALVAREZ (2/25/15): Mr. Zimmerman’s case also swirled, to a large extent, around issues of race. Prosecutors said Mr. Zimmerman forced a confrontation with Mr. Martin on Feb. 26, 2012, because Mr. Martin was an unfamiliar tall black teenager in a hoodie walking around Mr. Zimmerman’s gated community one rainy night. Mr. Martin was in Sanford with his father, visiting his father’s fiancée.Did Zimmerman “ignore the advice [or command] of a police dispatcher” when he got out of his car and began following Martin?
A rash of burglaries in the area had heightened Mr. Zimmerman’s concerns, and as the neighborhood watch leader, he said, he was suspicious of Mr. Martin. He got out of his car—ignoring the advice of a police dispatcher—and followed Mr. Martin, setting off a confrontation that led to Mr. Martin’s death, prosecutors said.
That was a widely repeated claim. The familiar claim was widely used to paint Zimmerman in the most unflattering light.
We in the mob simply loved this claim. Sadly, the claim was false.
This claim was definitively debunked, long ago, right in Alvarez’s own newspaper. Did prosecutors really advance that claim? We find that hard to believe.
But so what? Several years later, Alvarez seems to love this bogus fact so much that she just keeps typing it in.
Of course, it was Alvarez who reported the most heinous false fact in the whole Martin saga—the claim that Zimmerman fired two shots that night. Her initial report was horribly wrong on that point, but it touched off the first national wave of revulsion about the events of that night—events which are misdescribed here:
ALVAREZ (3/17/12): The police in of Sanford, where the shooting took place, are not revealing details of the investigation. Late Friday night, after weeks of pressure, the police played the 911 calls in the case for the family and gave copies to the news media. On the recordings, one shot, an apparent warning or miss, is heard, followed by a voice begging or pleading, and a cry. A second shot is then heard, and the pleading stops.Alvarez told a blood-chilling tale about a truly heinous killing. Unfortunately, only one shot was fired that night.
''It is so clear that this was a 17-year-old boy pleading for his life, and someone shot him in cold blood,'' said Natalie Jackson, one of the Martin family lawyers.
But so what? On the New York Times web site, this heinous misstatement still sits uncorrected. Last week, Alvarez was still repeating the bungled old claim about Zimmerman and the dispatcher.
Our tribe has not distinguished itself in recent years as it has chased Southern justice around. In the matter of Officer Wilson, it was Fox which issued warnings about the rush to a premature judgment. It was our own liberal channel which issued high-minded cries for blood.
We’ve behaved quite badly in these cases—but so what? Despite that remarkable report by Eckholm, we will most likely continue to feel that our motives have been good and pure.
It’s easy to see when the other tribe’s wrong, a bit harder in the case of our tribe.
Tomorrow: The (pitiful) caliber of our own discourse—
A young Vox reporter, and a Harvard professor, take the mandated trip to Finland on behalf of The Man!