There are two scenarios unfolding in Ferguson this morning. And one of them seems to make the case for greater transparency between a community and its police department.
Scenario #1 has dominated the headlines for a week. That Michael Brown was the victim of excessive force by a police department that singles out blacks for different treatment than whites.
Scenario #2 is that the officer did shoot to kill because he felt his life was at risk.
If Michael Brown, who according to two autopsies, was shot six times from the front, was lunging at an officer and not fleeing him as earlier witnesses stated, and if his arms were up in the air because he was trying to overpower the officer in a so-called “bum-rush”, why wasn’t that information released last weekend or early last week? If it is true that an officer was facing two teens who were trying to get his gun (and had possibly fired it), why not say that? Why not release the information that the victim was suspected of a strong arm robbery? Why not get out front and say, “Our information indicates a different scenario. We are asking for patience and for the public to reserve judgement.”
By withholding these key allegations, and withholding the police officer’s name, the perception was allowed to fester that the department was protecting the officer from the community. If the third autopsy confirms the initial findings that Brown was shot while charging at the officer, it raises the question of whether additional assumptions were unfolding in Ferguson last week.
There’s been a lot of talk about the assumptions many young African Americans face in routine interactions with police officers. I’m concerned about another assumption that might be playing out in this case. Initially, the protestors were demanding information. Was there concern that the people of Ferguson wouldn’t react objectively to the facts? And if so, why? Because some of them are African-American? Because of agitators stirring things up? Things did get stirred up, especially by looters from outside the neighborhood, and even by forces outside this state. But, that happened after neighborhood residents asked for information and didn’t get it.
We need to revisit the decision to withhold information. It allowed a vacuum to open up that has been filled all week long with a negative cycle of images, tweets, lawlessness and fear on both sides.
I am not a fan of Rev. Al Sharpton’s tactics but I thought it was fair when he said last week, “We’re asking for peace and you’re telling us to be quiet.” The video that was shot with a cell phone of the shooting and has had more than 200,000 page views isn’t crystal clear. I am not questioning why the police released the video from the store holdup. I’m questioning why all of it wasn’t released much earlier. Including the officer’s name.