Death is brutal, whether it’s from natural causes, a long bout with cancer, car accident, or from being shot six times by a cop as you walk down the street. But most people are more fortunate than Michael Brown when they die; most people aren’t left lying on the ground in a pool of blood for four hours while cops mill around and family members hover in agony, unable to attend to their deceased loved one.
From jump, the cops in Ferguson demonstrated the disrespect they clearly felt toward 18-year-old Michael Brown. The NY Times article, “Timeline for a Body,” clearly identified this blatant disregard for this particular dead individual. Very shortly after Michael Brown was shot and killed by Ferguson, Missouri, officer Darren Wilson, a paramedic arrived on the scene and stated that Brown’s injuries were “incompatible with life.” Eventually, the officers erected a low fence, used mainly in traffic crashes, in a weak effort to shield the body from view. It was a failed effort. Brown’s family, along with many other bystanders, viewed the body as it lay on the ground in the hot sun for hours, but weren’t allowed to go near. As practicalhomicide.com notes, “. . . [T]he first officer should not examine the contents of the scene. He should, however, stabilize the scene by isolating the body and immediate area, including any visible evidence, from all other persons.”
What happened in Ferguson, besides completely sloppy, incompetent police work?
Interviewed post-killing, Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson said that he was “uncomfortable” with the length of time Brown’s body lay on the ground, in the open, but defended the police department by claiming that there were gunshots ringing out in the surrounding area, which delayed the processing of the crime scene. According to the NY Times, none of the cops at the scene discussed the killing with family members. Nobody gave them information. Nobody offered condolences. The wagon-circling appeared to begin immediately.
Renowned former New York Chief Medical Examiner, Dr. Michael Baden, who conducted the second autopsy of young Michael Brown at the request of the family, said that there is “no forensic reason” to leave a body in the open for that length of time, “particularly given the temperature and the fact that people are around.” A former NY City detective sergeant said that, in a situation involving a struggle between an officer and a shooting victim, the officer’s shirt would be taken as evidence, and added that generally, police conduct very little examination of the body at the scene. And yet, Brown’s blood-soaked body lay in nearly full view for hours.
When Ferguson erupted in unrest following Brown’s death, it appeared to catch local cops off guard. But what could be expected of a community that was forced to view a young black man’s dead body baking in the sun for four hours after he was shot dead by an on-duty cop? What other message but indifference could they possibly glean from that? The Ferguson cops claim that they were calling in state police assistance, that they were simply waiting for help to arrive. But the most astonishing part about Brown’s death was how little attention and interest was given to the fact of Brown’s death. No efforts made to shield him completely from view. No efforts to console or address the family. No efforts to cordon off a large area to preserve the dignity of dead Michael Brown. His feet were left uncovered. As one Ferguson official said, the image of that dead young man baking in the hot Missouri sun for hours fueled the community’s outrage.
This was a dead young man. His family was there, grieving, hoping for even a small amount of information from the cops streaming by. Bystanders were permitted to view Michael Brown’s body for hours. The cops made no serious attempt to grant Brown the dignity any death deserves.
The protesters in Ferguson were, rightfully, outraged at the manner in which Ferguson cops treated the dead victim, Michael Brown, the family and concerned citizens, and the indifference which the cops displayed by treating the body of Michael Brown in a casual way, and failing to address the family immediately post-killing. Chicago social activist, Father Michael Pfleger, weighed in on Ferguson protesters and the way they were treated by law enforcement, saying, “They’re treating them like some third world country of terrorists. That’s not the way you handle American citizens . . . We have to be really careful in America that we don’t continue to do things and say things that allow parts of America [to] feel like they’re not important.”
In some parts of America, the death of a young black male isn’t important to cops and the officials charged with the task of seeking justice. Today, Ferguson has the distinction of being that part of America.