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Gunnar Vincens

Research Paper
Prof. Tow
ALS 385
9 May 2016
Paper Title Here
Maybe subtitle as well
On 9 August 2014, Michel J. Brown Jr. (MJB) and his friend were walking in the middle of a
street heading in Ferguson, MO when they were approached by Officer Darren Wilson of the Ferguson
Police Department (FPD). Following this interaction, not only would MJB be dead, but the world was
forever changed. The death of MJB was transformative for many reasons, chief amongst them was its role
in helping to spark the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement and raise the consciousness of a new
generation of Americans. This movement has been compared to a new incarnation of the Civil Rights
groups which helped to end many of the provisions which made racism intrinsic to the American
experience. Since its inception, BLM has maintained that MJB was murdered by Officer Wilson and that
murder was covered up by the criminal justice system. This claim arises primarily out of the belief that, at
the time he was shot, MJB was holding his hands above his head while proclaiming, Dont shoot. Based
upon this, BLM has organized thousands of people across the country in order to show the public in
general, and the police specifically, that police violence against African Americans has gotten out of hand
and must be addressed. While ensuring that police are only using lethal force when it is absolutely
necessary is a valiant effort, there have been serious doubts raised about the narrative BLM has offered
about the death of MJB. For many, doubting the narrative about MJB allows for the dismissal of the BLM
movement as a whole potentially muting their efforts. This paper will use three main sources in order to
determine the answer to two important questions: is the Ferguson Police Department (FPD) racially
biased? And did Officer Wilson shoot MJB while his hands were up? In analyzing these questions, this
paper will highlight many of the problems with the FPDs relationship with the African American
community in Ferguson as well as the inconsistencies with the BLM narrative of MJBs death.
In order to analyze this problematic situation, this paper will use three primary sources: the
Federal investigations into the shooting as well as the Wrongful death suit brought by the Brown family
against the FPD. Following the shooting of MJB and the public outcry surrounding the circumstances,
there were two investigations ordered by the Department of Justice (DOJ). The first of these
investigations was to determine whether or not the shooting of MJB by Officer Wilson was a criminal act
(Shooting Investigation ). The second investigation was of the FPD as an organization and whether or
not they carried any institutional bias which could have had an effect on Wilsons interaction with Brown,
(DOJ Ferguson Report) These investigations were ordered after the Ferguson District Attorney failed to
secure an indictment of Officer Wilson from a Grand Jury and the subsequent public backlash. In both
investigations, the DOJ (through the FBI) interviewed a multitude of witnesses throughout the community
as well as the FPD and reviewed the physical evidence when they could. These two sources will provide
the necessary context for Federal Civil Rights and Criminal laws which the BLM accuses the FPD and
Officer Wilson of violating. The third primary source for this analysis will be the Wrongful Death lawsuit
(WDL) brought by the Brown family against the city of Ferguson, the former Police Chief Thomas
Jackson and former Police Officer Darren Wilson. This will serve as the point of view of the family
regarding the shooting and its aftermath. For many of the factual elements concerning both the conduct of
the FPD and the actions of Officer Wilson, the Brown familys council utilized the findings of the FBI
and their investigations when bringing their allegations. Taken together, these three sources provide for a
complete picture of the FPDs culture, its tensions with the African American community in Ferguson as
well as what happened between Officer Wilson and Michel Brown on 9 August, 2014. All three sources
agree that both the City of Ferguson and the FPD both have a history of racial discrimination and racial
hostility.

Ferguson, Missouri is a small city in Saint Louis County located between the St. Louis
International Airport and the City of St. Louis (City Data). According to population estimates from the US
Census bureau, the total population in 2015 was 21,086. Of this small population, they estimate the
demographics are: 67.4 per cent African American, 29.3 per cent European American and that 22.7 per
cent of the total population lives below the poverty level (US Census Bureau). The city has a six-member
City Council and Mayor who are all elected as well as an Appointed City Manager, (DOJ Ferguson
Report). The City Manager, though unelected, is responsible for carrying out all functions of the Chief
Executive within the city. They are assisted by the Chief of Police for matters relating both to policing
and the Municipal Court (Id).
Following the tragic shooting of MJB by Officer Darren Wilson, the DOJ was ordered to
investigate both the circumstances of the shooting and the FPD as a whole for any potential Civil Rights
violations (Id; DOJ Shooting Investigation). In conducting this investigation, the DOJ Interviewed many
witnesses throughout the community including civilians affected by the FPD as well as FPD officers of
varying ranks (DOJ Ferguson Investigation). From these interviews the DOJ concluded:
Fergusons law enforcement practices overwhelmingly impact African Americans.
Data collected by the [FPD] from 2012 to 2014 shows that African Americans
account for 85% of vehicle stops, 90% of citations, and 93% of arrests made by FPD
officers, despite comprising only 67% or Fergusons populationOfficers are
impermissibly considering race as a factor when determining whether to searchWe
have found substantial evidence of racial bias among police and court staff in
Ferguson.(DOJ Ferguson Investigation, 4 5)