The smear came from what Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson did not say when he released a video and an incident report implicating 18-year-old Michael Brown in a strong-arm robbery minutes before he was shot to death by an officer who has finally been identified as Darren Wilson.
The report notes that a detailed description of Brown, right down to his yellow socks and red baseball cap, had gone out over the police radio.
Intended or not, the implication was that this had led Wilson to approach Brown and that the teen’s death had been related to the crime.
That suggestion was reinforced by Jackson’s decision to all but name Brown in the robbery immediately before he named Wilson as the cop who killed him.
Only after Jackson was accused of conducting a smear did he step back before the news cameras and say what he should have said hours before.
“The initial contact between the officer and Mr. Brown was not related to the robbery,” Jackson allowed. “[The robbery] had nothing to do with the stop.”
And, the encounter was apparently not a situation where an unsuspecting officer happened upon two robbers who were seeking to flee the scene. Brown and his friend Dorian Johnson were going down the middle of the block for everyone to see.
“They were walking down the street blocking traffic, that was it,” Jackson said.
The video from the robbery at Ferguson Market and Liquor, which even Johnson says shows him and the pal he called ”Big Mike,” does suggest that Brown was aggressive and something of a bully.
His size and bulk in relation to the shop clerk suggest that the officer he encountered minutes later might have felt threatened, especially if Brown did in fact try to take his gun, as some reports have suggested.
But the gun was in the officer’s hand when the fatal shots were fired and Brown was unarmed.
The police have not released any details of the shooting. The autopsy results have not been made public.
The official—and maybe even legitimate reason—for withholding those facts is that the case is still under investigation. But some of the same people who saw a deliberate smear in what Jackson failed to say early in the day question why even the smallest details of the robbery were released while none of the big questions about the shooting have been answered.
Jackson has said that he was compelled by the state “sunshine” law to release the video of the robbery as he identified the officer in the shooting.
“I had to,” he said.
He was more likely compelled by loyalty to his officers, who likely would have seethed if one of their own had been named in the shooting while the Brown’s role in a robbery had gone unpublicized.
In the mind of the cops, the robbery and the shooting were no doubt related on some level. To them, a perp is a perp is a perp.
That still does not explain and certainly does not excuse Jackson’s sin of omission in not making clear at the outset that the two incidents were not connected.
Unless this was in fact a deliberate smear, Jackson seems to have demonstrated a thoughtlessness that is especially troubling because he had seemed to be a progressive force since he was appointed in 2010, modernizing and professionalizing the department.
His de facto smear and the militaristic thuggishness the cops displayed toward protesters this week suggest that the Ferguson Police Department remains an organization whose top priority is itself.