In the days after Michael Brown was shot in Ferguson, Missouri, there was a behind-the-scenes tug of war between the local police officials and the Justice Department over the integrity of releasing a video of the 18-year-old Black man shoplifting some cigars from a neighborhood convenience store.
Justice Department officials contended that releasing the unflattering video of Brown served no practical purpose and that it was motivated by a desire to portray the young man in a negative light. That, they wisely concluded, might further stir passions on the streets of Ferguson in an already tense period.
The Ferguson police, however, dismissed the concerns and requests of the Justice Department and went ahead with the release of the video. The video, shot in a convenience store, have no bearing on the shooting of Brown. In fact, the police officer who shot the young man made clear that he knew nothing of the event when he confronted Brown on that fateful afternoon on a Ferguson street.
In cases like that of Michael Brown, just as in the case of Trayvon Martin, there is always an undercurrent of character assassination. There are forces that always seem to make effort to portray the unarmed, dead teenager as someone whose life was so checkered that the average person paying attention to the story might feel some degree of sympathy for Darren Wilson, the Ferguson police officer who shot and killed Brown.
The issue of digging into Michael Brown’s past did not end with the video taken in the convenience store. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch and an online journalist in California filed separate actions in the Family Court of St. Louis to expose whether Brown had legal troubles as a youth. In making their case, the organizations said the public had a right to know about any past indiscretions on the part of young Brown.
Such history is completely irrelevant to the decision to kill him (in the interest of full disclosure, I worked for the St. Louis newspaper during a summer while in college and my father had been the first Black reporter there in the 1940s through the early 1960s). Juvenile records are confidential in the state of Missouri. However, police have maintained that Brown had no criminal record as an adult. More than anything, Michael Brown deserves the same level of privacy that everyone else is entitled to in the state of Missouri.
People should abandon their witch hunts. If there is significant baggage to the life of Michael Brown, let it come out in the course of a swift trial against Darren Wilson, which would be the best outcome of this tragic event.
The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.
Follow Jonathan Hicks on Twitter: @HicksJonathan
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(Photo: AP Photo/Atlanta Journal Constitution, Curtis Compton, File)