An African-American teenage male visiting his grandmother for the summer, a kid who graduated from high school and was preparing to start college today was stopped by a police officer simply for walking down the street with a friend. Now he's dead.
While local television news stations covered this story from the start, national news outlets were somewhat slow to pick up on the significance of the case, even if it was a weekend and the story was really breaking on a Sunday.
This is a case where Twitter and social media were actually way ahead of most national media outlets; witnesses who lived in the area and were at the scene of the crime were Tweeting live updates. Including Antonio French, the alderman of the 21st ward in St. Louis. Some of it was chilling.
People in the community are obviously demanding accountability as far as the still-unnamed officer is concerned, but I agree with the comments of St. Louis County police chief Jon Belmar that protesters need to show patience while a careful investigation of the officer's actions takes place. Even still there glaring differences between accounts given by witnesses and Ferguson police statements of what happened.
Several eyewitnesses claim a police car stopped Brown and a friend as they were walking along the street. The cop allegedly ordered them to get on the sidewalk (we know what a serious public menace jaywalking can be...), some words were exchanged and the cop pulled his weapon. Brown backed away from the car and raised his hands over his head to show he had no weapon and the policeman shot him.
Brown began to run and the cop got out and shot him again. Repeatedly. Some witnesses say ten shots were fired. Given the on-going protests police are loathe to release specific details of exactly how many times Brown was struck by bullets. The officer was whisked away from the scene as crowds from the neighborhood gathered. Initial police reports claimed officers were searching for Brown after he stole a cigarillo from a local store.
But in the wake of the incident the store owner quickly reported that Brown didn't steal anything. By the time St. Louis County police held a press conference on Sunday, they were claiming Brown physically struggled with the officer and assaulted him.
While the facts are not yet clear, the looting and hooliganism is truly a sad spectacle in the wake of the tragic death of the young man; and it overshadows the many legitimate protests taking place. It distracts attention away from the tragedy that took place. Quite a bit of television and online media coverage that has turned the focus to video clips of isolated incidents of looting taking place, fails to note that the people engaged in looting and destruction of property were a small fraction of the crowds gathered to protest the killing.
Many on social media reporting from the actual scene are claiming most of the looters aren't even from the area. It was such a shocking and outrageous excess of police force that it's still hard to get clear facts amid so much chaos and confusion in the area from people in the community justifiably angered over Brown's death. The wheels of justice are slowly starting to grind.
The FBI will bring resources to bear to conduct a more thorough investigation of the events, by now it's clear the Ferguson police are in no position to conduct an internal investigation that would be considered valid. Representatives from the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice are expected to closely monitor the investigation as well.
Obviously more information should surface once the interviews with the officer responsible for this are concluded and the medical examiner completes the autopsy report. If charges are to be filed a case must be built upon evidence, not emotion.
But the questions still lingers: when are police going to be held accountable for the callous use of excess force so often used against unarmed men and boys of color in this country? A man selling loose cigarettes on the street in Staten Island gets choked to death? A young man on the eve of college is shot multiple times for walking down the street?
Not just the police, but all Americans should hold themselves to higher standards than that. I look at the image of Mike Brown lying in the street and all I can think is this should be a better nation than that - whatever else we are, we should be better than that.