For years, Ferguson and St. Louis County law enforcement sanctimoniously declared police shooting victim Mike Brown a criminal and thief, sticking to the account the unarmed teenager had robbed a convenience store — a narrative debated for months by a furiously divided public attempting to come to terms with the contentious killing.
But, it turns out, police did not come forward publicly with evidence crucial to the case — a second video from the same store that contextualizes Brown’s interaction with the store’s clerks — a transgression so appalling by the very people tasked with enforcing the law, it could only be characterized as duplicitous.
“The footage shows Mr. Brown entering the store, Ferguson Market and Liquor, shortly after 1 a.m. on the day he died,” the New York Times reports. “He approaches the counter, hands over an item that appears to be a small bag and takes a shopping sack filled with cigarillos. Mr. Brown is shown walking toward the door with the sack, then turning around and handing the cigarillos back across the counter before exiting.
“Jason Pollock, a documentary filmmaker who acquired the new tape, says the footage challenges the police narrative that Mr. Brown committed a strong-armed robbery when he returned to the store around noon that day. Instead, Mr. Pollock believes that the new video shows Mr. Brown giving a small bag of marijuana to store employees and receiving cigarillos in return as part of a negotiated deal. Mr. Pollock said Mr. Brown left the cigarillos behind the counter for safekeeping.”
In fact, the second video, shown in Pollock’s Stranger Fruit, which premiered at South by Southwest on Saturday, does appear to show a congenial interaction between the clerks and the teen — the three store employees seem casual and relaxed, and the four do exchange items willingly.
Two-and-a-half years after the incendiary shooting that exploded into a national movement against police brutality and militarization, this simple detail pulls the rug out from what Wilson’s supporters had championed as rock solid proof Brown was just a thug.
“They destroyed Michael’s character with the tape, and they didn’t show us what actually happened,” asserts Pollock, who researched in Ferguson for two years to film the documentary. “So this shows their intention to make him look bad. And shows suppression of evidence.”
Protesters who flocked to Ferguson after the fatal shooting have long condemned police for releasing the one video, saying it had been taken out of context and did not present an accurate account of what happened or of Brown’s character — so the second video, though welcome, is inexcusably overdue.
Of course, not everyone has seen the epiphanic video in the same light.
“There was no transaction,” insists Jay Kanzler, attorney for the convenience store and its employees. “There was no understanding. No agreement. Those folks didn’t sell him cigarillos for pot. The reason he gave it back is he was walking out the door with unpaid merchandise and they wanted it back.”
However dogged Kanzler and others might be in their belief no transaction occurred, video shows an interaction in which an exchange occurred — and the body language of all involved belies a lack of tension or disputation.
“There was some type of exchange, for one thing, for another,” Brown’s mother, Lesley McSpadden, states in the film.
McSpadden questions why police released the video showing Brown shove a store clerk — but refused to release the second, which at least demands answers from law enforcement investigators.
According to the Times, “Sgt. Shawn McGuire, a spokesman for the county police, said in an email on Saturday that footage of the earlier encounter had not been released because it was not relevant to the investigation.”
For an officer to state information that provides critical context to Mike Brown’s visit to the convenience store on August 9, 2014, isn’t relevant to his being killed should be expected from the same department who treated the taking of a life as a mundanity.
Brown’s family deserves to have every bit of evidence brought to light — as would any victim of police violence — no matter whom it proves correct.
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