Michael Brown’s Autopsy, Character and Racial Profiling (And More from Ferguson)

Over a week later and the private preliminary autopsy report requested by Brown’s family from Dr. Michael Baden, long-time and respected medical examiner from the City of New York, has been released courtesy of the New York Times.


Brown was shot six times, four times in the right arm and twice in the head. If you can tell from the picture, there’s two X’s on his right pectoral and near his neck. Those indicates spots where the bullet from one of the six shots came out and entered again. Dr. Baden mentioned that Brown could have survived the four shots to the arm, but clearly, the two to the head were fatal.

Dr. Baden held a press conference today to discuss the findings and made sure the focus was on what forensic science could tell us. Right now, mostly, it’s that six shots were fired and that Brown likely died with little pain. Moreover, that the bullet entry wound you see at the top of Brown’s head could have occurred either when Brown was on his knees surrendering or charging the officer. Similarly, the bullet wound you see near his forearm could be from surrendering, doing the what’s became the Ferguson mantra, “Hands up, don’t shoot!” or it could also be from charging the officer. They will need to see if gun shot residue (GSR) is on his clothes, near the police vehicle and so on. It’s also clear that the shots were fired at least a foot away, but it could be the reported 35 feet away. There’s no muzzle mark left on Brown’s body. Additionally, it would seem the shots were fired from the front, but it’s possible the shot to his right forearm could have been from behind.

Finally, Dr. Baden suggested there were no abrasions or any other marks on Brown, aside from the side of his face when he fell to the pavement after being shot, consistent with a struggle, which would seem to contradict Officer Darren Wilson’s version of events. At the very least, I’m curious what accounts for Wilson’s bruised face.

“People have been asking: How many times was he shot? This information could have been released on Day 1,” Dr. Baden said in an interview after performing the autopsy. “They don’t do that, even as feelings built up among the citizenry that there was a cover-up. We are hoping to alleviate that.”

In other words, at least in Dr. Baden’s opinion as a long-time forensic scientist, there’s no forensic scientific or medical reason to have withheld the autopsy results. They could have (and in my view should have) been released on day one.

However, within 24-hours of this autopsy release, the toxicology also came out suggesting Michael Brown had marijuana in his system. This just fuels further fire about Brown’s character. Oh, he was a pot smoker and stole cigars, what a thug. He had it coming to him, right? But it should be stressed (and it also shouldn’t — because this is basic common sense):

Michael Brown’s character is not on trial, nor is it pivotal to the investigation. The only matter of fact that needs uncovering is whether Officer Darren Wilson was legally justified under Missouri law to shoot Michael Brown the six times that he did. That’s it. Period.

It doesn’t matter if Michael Brown was doing marijuana. It doesn’t matter that he was set to begin college two days after he was killed. It doesn’t matter if his family and friends affectionately called him, “Big Mike” and “Mike Mike” or that he ‘strong-armed’ a store clerk before stealing some cigars.

It. Does. Not. Matter. 


But you know what does matter? What seems to matter? That black people clearly, clearly live in a different United States under a different criminal justice system, under a different relationship with the police, under a different culture with different expectations and rules and rewards. And what seems to matter is that white people can’t see these disparate lived-experiences between the races. From Steve Chapman at Reason:

There is a big difference in the routine experiences of the two races. White teens have little fear of police, but black teens generally view them with mistrust. A 2013 Gallup poll found that 24 percent of young black males said they have been treated badly by cops because of their race just in the past 30 days.

And of course, tough on crime folks will suggest blacks get stopped more by police because they’re more likely to commit crime, but Chapman refutes:

In New York City, in 2012, 90 percent of the people stopped and frisked were not arrested or ticketed. Blacks were more likely than whites to be searched for weapons—but less likely to be carrying them.

The same holds true in Ferguson for traffic stops where blacks are overwhelmingly stopped more than whites, but whites are more likely to have contraband.

It only gets worse:

There is persistent racial bias in hiring. A 2009 study in the American Sociological Review found that “black and Latino applicants with clean backgrounds fared no better than white applicants just released from prison.” Criminal justice is rigged: Blacks make up 14 percent of drug users but more than a third of those imprisoned on drug charges.

Then when you throw in the fact that blacks face stronger sentencing for the same crimes than whites, it should be easy to see why there’s a mistrust of police from the black community. And even more so why “compliance” with police orders doesn’t have the same context as white people complying with police orders. I’m not saying it’s justified to not comply with police orders; I’m saying I understand it and I get the fear and the mistrust. You know, I empathize. Odd, that is.

Fuck the Police
From a protest in California.

And he addresses the big talking point of conservatives and other types — that there is something about black communities in particular that is the reason for why they don’t advance in society rather than any systematic or institutional problems. Because we’ve reached post-racial Utopian, of course:

Many whites doubt that discrimination matters anymore because there are laws against it and because they personally don’t engage in it. They see that many blacks have ascended to the middle class. They assume what holds blacks down are pathologies rampant in many poor minority neighborhoods: criminality and family breakdown.

I hear that family breakdown problem and “black-on-black” crime talking point all the time, which I’ve addressed the latter here. To reiterate the point briefly, these neighborhoods are troubled and in a vicious cycle of violence because of the historical record of whites engineering it. No matter, though. History has no bearing on the present, right? As I said in a Tweet earlier this morning:

To bring it back to the police and Michael Brown, you want to say black people don’t talk about black-on-black crime (which is wholly unfounded and false)? Where are the officers talking about “blue-on-black” or “blue-on-white” crime, as Conor Friedersdorf says?

I don’t necessarily think police officers are less likely than people in other professions to tell on misbehaving colleagues. But the stakes are rather different, and their job is to enforce the rules, even when fellow officers break them.

Rodney King

But they don’t. Check out this example Friedersdorf provides:

Sure, as Friedersdorf notes, the officer was eventually fired, but how many officers are standing around watching him water the plants — sorry, pepper spray human beings doing nothing but sitting there — and doing nothing to stop him? Did they file a complaint?

That doesn’t make them bad people. It does make them an illustration of why police officers cannot be reflexively trusted by the public: powerful incentives regularly cause them to show greater loyalty to colleagues than the public, a pattern that exists in just about every institution. Police officers should be no more and no less trusted than Catholic priests, Penn State football coaches, or GM recall managers.

Yet whether among regular Joe’s or juries or prosecutors or governments, police are largely given the benefit of the doubt and are shielded by the “bad apple theory.”

On a related noted, Officer Wilson’s version of events has been released in full today as well by Josie, a friend of his, that phoned into Radio America. From Jake Tapper:

Josie says Wilson initially saw Brown and his friend walking in the middle of the street, rolled his window down and told them to get over.

When they wouldn’t, “he pulled up ahead of them, and he was watching them, and then he gets the call in that there was a strong arm robbery, and they give the description. And he’s looking at them, they’ve got something in their hands, it looks like it could be what – the cigars or whatever, so he goes in reverse back to them,” Josie told Radio America.

“As he stands up, Michael just bum rushes him, just shoves him back into his car, punches him in the face. And then of course Darren grabs for his gun. Michael grabs the gun. At one point he’s got the gun totally turned against his hip, and Darren shoves it away. And the gun goes off,” she said.

“Michael takes off with his friend, they get to be about 35 feet away and Darren, of course protocol is to pursue. So he stands up and yells ‘Freeze!’ Michael and his friend turn around, and Michael starts taunting him, ‘Oh what are you going to do about it?’ You know, ‘You’re not going to shoot me.’ And then he said all the sudden he just started to bum rush him, he just started coming at him full speed, and so he just started shooting, and he just kept coming,” Josie said.

However, as I mentioned earlier, the preliminary autopsy reports indicate no struggle occurred, at least when looking at Brown’s body. As I also said, there’s still needing to account for Wilson’s.

Yet another eyewitness has come forward to offer her version of what she saw. From The Daily Beast:

A new eyewitness who recorded footage of Michael Brown on her phone says he was chased down by officer Darren Wilson. Piaget Crenshaw has come forward with her account of the immediate events prior to Brown’s murder. “I knew the police shouldn’t have been chasing this young boy and firing at the same time,” she says. According to her, Wilson looked like he was trying to pull Brown into the police car. She said it “upset the officer” that Brown got away, and he began firing at him. By her account, when one of the bullets grazed Brown’s arm, he turned around and “then he was shot multiple times.” She described how after Brown was lying dead on the street, “Wilson looks baffled, like ‘What have I just done?’”

This is obviously a situation where, as Dr. Baden repeatedly made note of: We need more information. We need the GSR results. We need to account for Wilson’s injuries. We need to parse out the truth from the eyewitness accounts. And so on.

It’s also worth noting as one of two final notes: I’m getting tired of seeing journalists threatened and bullied. Last night, the individual directing the live feed of the Ferguson protests was threatened with death. No, seriously. A cop said he’d shoot him. Then Christopher Hayes of MSNBC was threatened with macing. Earlier this evening, Don Lemon with CNN was accosted by the police on live television. Now there’s this, a Getty photographer, Scott Olson, arrested:


And now my final note, it seems the Governor of Missouri has called in the National Guard to take over in Ferguson. If people are encouraged by this news, I’d direct them to the below photo:

Kent State


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