Physical Evidence Supports Ofc. Wilson
In the wake of the Michael Brown grand jury decision, several blog posts (including one by me Wednesday) have dissected Officer Darren Wilson’s testimony. Read by itself, different people can draw differing conclusions about whether it is accurate or not. But what hasn’t been widely discussed is whether the physical evidence confirms or contradicts his story.
Perhaps the reason for this disinterest in the ballistics report, autopsies and other similar information is that for at least some of Brown’s supporters the facts are, apparently, largely irrelevant because Brown is a metaphorical “symbol” of injustice regardless of what actually happened. A related reason may be that working through this information is time-consuming — and thus beyond the capacity of many commentators. In contrast, the grand jury painstakingly heard sworn testimony from more than 60 witnesses, which is now collected in several thousand pages of transcripts. Reviewing these transcripts reveals some important and essentially indisputable facts. And those facts confirm many critical aspects of Wilson’s account.
The ME found a tangential injury on Brown’s right thumb that traveled along the surface of the thumb — grand jury testimony Volume 3 (Sept. 9), page 114, line 12 etc. (hereafter cited by just page and line number). The ME further explained that he saw what appeared to be “soot” in the wound, which was consistent with a shot from close range (116:22). Indeed, based on his training and expertise, the ME thought that the soot would be indicative of the gun that fired the bullet causing the wound having been only 6 to 9 inches away (118:12). The soot was consistent with that discharged from a gun (122:13). The official report from the Office of Medical Examiner later confirmed that “the previously described particles of foreign particulate matter are consistent with products that are discharged from the barrel of a firearm.”
The significance of this wound and related physical evidence is that it places Brown’s right hand within 6 to 9 inches of the barrel of Wilson’s firearm. This physical evidence is thus quite consistent with Wilson’s testimony that Brown was trying to get hold of Wilson’s weapon, creating a fear in Wilson that he was going to get shot. It also creates a problem for those who view Brown as having been somehow accosted by Wilson and was just trying to escape. At least in the theories that I have seen sketched out, no explanation is offered for why Brown (who weighed around 300 pounds) had been forced by Wilson to have his right hand in a position where it was close to the gun and inside Wilson’s police car.
Read the whole thing. It’s a very good post. The Gentle Giant, among other things, tried to disarm a cop. More:
Based on my initial read, so far as I can see there are no significant inconsistencies between the physical evidence and Wilson’s grand jury testimony. Other reviews have likewise not identified readily-apparent examples of problems with Wilson’s testimony. For example, a review of the grand jury testimony by three Associated Press reporters noted numerous examples of witness statements inconsistent with the physical evidence, but offered no examples from Wilson’s testimony.
The physical evidence is important because, unlike witness testimony, it doesn’t lie and can’t be accused of bias (such as racism). As the cliche goes, the physical evidence is what it is. In this case, the physical evidence aligned with Wilson’s testimony. To be sure, as my co-blogger Orin properly cautioned earlier this week, it is always possible for a potential target in criminal case to lie before a grand jury. But it is also possible for him to tell the truth. The grand jury had to sort out these competing possibilities — and the physical evidence gave no reason to doubt Wilson’s testimony.
The physical evidence also is consistent with Wilson’s testimony that Brown was charging him, and was only stopped by the final bullet, to the head.
Racism remains a problem. Police racism remains a problem. The militarization of local police forces remains a problem. Michael Brown’s case is not an illustration of any of this.
UPDATE: I missed this John McWhorter column from Time about the non-indictment of Darren Wilson. For those who don’t know, McWhorter is black. Excerpts:
And in that vein, as someone who has written in ardent sympathy with the Ferguson protests, I find this hard to write, but I have decided that it would be dishonest of me to hold back. As I have written endlessly, America will never get past race without a profound change in how police forces relate to black men. However, I’m not sure that what happened to Michael Brown — and the indictment that did not happen to Officer Darren Wilson — is going to be useful as a rallying cry about police brutality and racism in America.
The Ferguson episode, in this company, stands out. It requires, as a rallying point, a degree of elision, adjustment. It will require turning away from Brown’s criminal act just before the incident, and his conduct toward a police officer a few moments later, based on the tricky proposition that these things must have no bearing whatsoever upon how we evaluate the succeeding sequence of events. The now iconic gesture, the hands up in “Don’t shoot” surrender, will become sacrosanct regardless of the evidence as to whether Brown actually held his hands up in that way. Icon, sacrosanct — there is an aspect of the ritual here.
But ritual dazzles more than it convinces. Beyond the converted, the less committed observer will see the facts piling up and conclude that one can be fully aware of racism’s persistence and yet still feel that the part racism played in Brown’s death is too abstract to qualify as a Selma-style — or even Trayvon-style — teaching moment.