Last week I had a Facebook discussion about the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, during which I responded to a friend who was saying Michael Brown was an upstanding citizen with no police record who was killed by police for an incident that started because he was "walking while black"
I compared that to the early Trayvon Martin accounts from ThinkProgress.com that later turned out to be false, and I wrote in part:
You're taking a gamble by saying that Brown was an upstanding citizen outside of the shooting, which is both irrelevant and is not proven.
Even if Brown was a career criminal, it would not justify an unprovoked shooting by police...
[The early Trayvon activist articles online] falsely portrayed Trayvon as a honor student who never got in trouble. When that turned out to be false and people wrote about his suspensions, theft and pot dealing they were accused of victim blaming when they we really setting the record straight.
If we hold Brown up as an angelic figure the same thing could happen.
Well, that gamble blew up in their face, which is a complete shame for intelligent discussion.
We now we have security footage that Brown's family has agreed appears to show him assaulting a store clerk to steal $50 worth of cheap cigars just before the shooting.
Ken White at Popehat wrote a great piece explaining why this revelation should not be used to justify the shooting. If indeed police officer Darren Wilson shot and killed a suspect who had clearly surrendered then he is guilty of a great crime.
I agree with White that the biggest impact this revelation should have on the case is as something to consider when trying to figure out Brown's mindset when he interacted with Wilson, as police have said Wilson did not know Brown was a violent robbery suspect.
But unlike White I think the robbery does deserve a place in the public discussion because Brown's character was something his supporters frequently brought up, including his family who knew better. They are now saying discussion about the robbery and his gangsta rap attempts are character assassination, but they are really just setting the record straight. The issue is only on the table because one side put it there, but they lost control of the facts and now they want it off the table. Too late.
When they brought up Brown's alleged non-violent disposition, some supporters said what they thought was true, but those who knew him lied to the public or exaggerated. Which is normal, as people usually only say nice things about the recently departed, but the rest of us should have known better than to repeat it as gospel.
Talking about Brown's character in the media is not the same as factoring it in to a legal decision, so let's not conflate the two. Bad people are able to be victim's of abuse of authority figures just like anyone else, so let's not conflate the realm of public opinion with that of the judicial system.