This week, former Vice President Joe Biden rekindled the debate over the killing of Michael Brown in 2014 with a tweet stating that his life was “taken” by police and represents the systemic racism in our society. The sixth anniversary of the killing is obviously notable as protests continue across the country over the killing of George Floyd. However, two of Biden’s leading candidates for vice president still maintain the police “murdered” Brown in Ferguson, Missouri — a claim that could become a contested campaign issue since it was the Obama Administration that found that shooting to be justified while Biden was vice president. Given the additional comments from Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris, a brief recap of the multiple investigations into the shooting seems warranted.
While widely criticized on conservative sites for suggesting that Brown was an unjustified shooting, Biden’s tweet is actually carefully crafted. He stated ““It’s been six years since Michael Brown’s life was taken in Ferguson — reigniting a movement. We must continue the work of tackling systemic racism and reforming policing.” In fairness to Biden, the shooting did start a national protest over racism in society generally and policing in particular.
However, the clear implication is that this was an unjustified shooting. That is the position of Democratic leaders like Warren and Harris. Warren previousl that stated that Brown was “murdered by a white police officer in Ferguson” and that his death was an example of “police violence.”
Harris has also called the shooting of Brown “murder” and an example of the lack of “accountability” in the criminal system.
These views are likely to be raised during the campaign, particularly if either Warren or Harris are selected this week as the vice presidential candidate by Biden.
The Brown case was the subject of multiple investigations by state police, state prosecutors, the Justice Department, and a grand jury. All of those investigations found no basis to charge Office Darren Wilson with a crime. The investigations also found that the evidence showed that Brown did not have his hands up (which led to the widely used “Don’t Shoot” demonstrations) and that he attacked Wilson after robbing a store. Specifically, the Obama Administration under Attorney General Eric Holder reached the following conclusion: “The autopsy results confirm that Wilson did not shoot Brown in the back as he was running away because there were no entrance wounds to Brown’s back—several witnesses stated that Brown appeared to pose a physical threat to Wilson as he moved toward Wilson.”
Early witness accounts against Wilson were discredited by the Obama Justice Department after a full investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the United States Attorney’s Office. Some of the witnesses quoted in the media admitted in the grand jury that they lied.
The shooting occurred after Brown was videotaped stealing a box of Swisher Sweets cigars from a store and then shoving a clerk. Wilson found Brown and a friend walking in the middle of the street and told them to move to the sidewalk. Wilson said that he first drove past the men but then back up to speak to them again. He claims that during the exchange Brown reached into his police SUV. During the struggle, Wilson’s weapon discharged inside the vehicle and hit Brown’s right hand. Brown ran off and Wilson pursued him. Wilson shoot Brown six times in the front of his body, not in the back as widely reported. A number of witnesses came forward and supported Wilson’s account.
The Justice Department concluded that
“there is no credible evidence that Wilson willfully shot Brown as he was attempting to surrender or was otherwise not posing a threat. Even if Wilson was mistaken in his interpretation of Brown’s conduct, the fact that others interpreted that conduct the same way as Wilson precludes a determination that he acted with a bad purpose to disobey the law.”
The Justice Department issued the report below with the categorical statement that “Wilson did not act with the requisite criminal intent.” Accordingly, it concluded that “this matter lacks prosecutive merit and should be closed.”
In 2014, a grand jury met over three months looking at all of the evidence. It also rejected criminal charges against Wilson.
In 2020 a new prosecutor, Wesley Bell initiated a new five month investigation, but concluded that there was no basis for any charge against Wilson.
Biden’s tweet and the prior statements of Warren and Harris could refocus attention on not just the case but the findings of Obama Administration.
The controversy continues for Wilson, as CNN reported a few years ago “Darren Wilson may have been legally vindicated in killing Michael Brown, but in many ways, he doesn’t live like a free man.” These tweets however indicate that Wilson is not viewed as vindicated by Warren or Harris and seemingly by Biden.
The controversy has also continued in Ferguson itself where officers this week stopped activists from painting a mural for Brown.
Here is the report of the Obama Administration on the Brown shooting: 2015 Report