Less than a week ago, the conservative website Independent Review Journal produced an article hyping an allegation that Michael Brown — the unarmed teenager killed in Ferguson — was arrested for second-degree murder. The piece was a viral sensation, shared over 63,000 times on various social networks.
The piece was based on a series of tweets by Charles C. Johnson, an “independent” right-wing reporter. Johnson cited “two law enforcement contacts.”
Johnson then filed a lawsuit in Missouri demanding the release of Michael Brown’s juvenile record. The lawsuit, which was posted on the Independent Review Journal, reads like a political diatribe. Under a section called “General Allegations,” the lawsuit states “there is a substantial portion of the country that believes that Officer Wilson murdered an unarmed African American young man and believes that police and other authorities are attempting to cover-up the ‘homicide’ to protect a white police offer.” What Brown’s juvenile criminal record has to do with this — if anything — is left to the reader’s imagination.
Today, during a hearing on a similar suit filed by the St. Louis Post Dispatch, “[a] Missouri court official said … that Ferguson police-shooting victim Michael Brown was never convicted of a serious A-level or B-level felony as a juvenile and was not facing any charges at the time of his death.” This means that Brown was never convicted of second degree murder and was not facing charges of second degree murder at the time of his death.
The International Review Journal story, and the reporting of Charles C. Johnson, in other words, were meritless. It’s possible, of course, that Brown at one point was charged with second degree murder and those charges were dropped or he was found not guilty. But there is absolutely no evidence that that scenario is true. Even if it were true, it’s hard to understand why Brown being accused of a crime he was not guilty of would justify, in whole or in part, a police officer shooting him dead.
The author of the piece, Kyle Becker, continued to defend it on Twitter:
— Kyle Becker (@kylenbecker) September 3, 2014
Becker later said he planned to update the piece with the information from today’s hearing. He also insisted that the story was still “ongoing.”
Even if Brown had being implicated in a second degree murder — and we know he was not — it would still not justify the police shooting him while unarmed. The only relevant factor is whether the officers believed there were in imminent danger of death or serious injury at the time of the shooting. Beyond feeding the appetites of a segment of the population eager to assume the worst about Michael Brown, there is nothing about the issue of Brown’s alleged juvenile record that is ongoing.
This is part of a continued pattern tof painting young African Americans who are victims of violence as “thugs” who are responsible for their own deaths based on false information. After Trayvon Martin was killed, photos circulated around the internet depicting him as menacing and deviant. Many of the pictures were fabricated.