Following the explosive announcement of the non-indictment of Officer Darren Wilson, documents released to the public reveal for the first time a first-hand account of the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown.
Wilson, who shot the unarmed Brown a total of 12 times, told a grand jury that the high schooler immediately provoked a violent confrontation.
The description is eerily similar to another lethal confrontation with an unarmed black teen in broad daylight: the death of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida. George Zimmerman, the man who shot and killed Martin, told police that the teen “jumped out from the bushes” and punched him in the face, knocking him down. “I started screaming for help. I couldn’t see. I couldn’t breathe,” he said. “He grabbed my head and started hitting it into the sidewalk. My head felt like it was going to explode.”
Zimmerman also claimed Martin put his hand over Zimmerman’s mouth and nose and told him, “You’re going to die tonight.”
Both Zimmerman and Darren Wilson told officials that the young men they killed had their hands in their waistbands—suggesting they feared the presence of a weapon when there was none.
Throughout his testimony, Wilson repeatedly referenced Brown’s size, calling him “really big,” “obviously bigger than I was,” and saying he felt “like a five-year-old holding onto Hulk Hogan,” though the two men were about the same height.
Later, describing the moment right after he first fired the first bullet, he said Brown “looked up at me and had the most intense aggressive face. The only way I can describe it, it looks like a demon.” In other places, he describes Brown in animalistic terms (“he made like a grunting, like aggravated sound”) and supernatural ones (“it looked like he was almost bulking up to run through the shots”).
Zimmerman offered a vaguer physical description, telling a 911 dispatcher that Martin looked like “real suspicious guy” and saying: “This guy looks like he’s up to no good, or he’s on drugs or something.”
Both Zimmerman and Wilson are free men today, in part because of these accounts and descriptions provided to law enforcement and the courts. Though the public may never know exactly what happened on those days, research shows that hidden biases often lead people to see African Americans as aggressive, superhuman and less vulnerable to pain.
The descriptions from Zimmerman and Wilson also couldn’t be further from the picture of the young men painted by friends, family, and teachers. Michael Brown has been described as a “gentle giant” by those who knew him well, while Trayvon Martin’s close friend said: “He cared about you. That’s a good human.”