Descent Into Madness

Brian Beutler’s characterization of the latest turn of events in Ferguson, Missouri pretty much says it all:

Five days after a police officer fired multiple rounds at and killed 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, we now know that the officer’s name is Darren Wilson. Thanks to Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson, we also know that officers believe Brown had just strong-armed a convenience store clerk for a $48.99 box of Swisher Sweets cigars. Jackson provided the incident report from that robbery to reporters in Missouri this morning. He took no questions, suggesting reporters take some time to “digest it.”

Having read it and re-read it and digested it, I find the Ferguson police department’s behavior over the past week even more baffling than I did before.

For the sake of argument let’s assume (a huge assumption) that the Ferguson police are not trying to build a public case for Wilson’s innocence by assassinating a dead man’s character.

Why did it take five days for them to release this information, none of which has anything to do with the circumstances of Brown’s death?

What happened to the box of Swisher Sweets?

Per Matt Yglesias, if Brown was a suspect in a robbery, why wasn’t his accomplice Dorian Johnson arrested and charged rather than allowed to escape and appear in multiple television news interviews?

Was Johnson lying when he claimed that Wilson approached him and Brown not to question or arrest them for robbery but to tell them to “get the f**k onto the sidewalk”?

We don’t know because Jackson says he “cannot discuss the investigation about the attempted apprehension of the suspect in that strong-arm robbery. That goes to the county prosecutor’s office.”

I’m sure there are more questions. This is just for starters. But it smells very bad when a police department refuses to release any information about a deadly officer-involved shooting, unleashing five days of madness, and then reverses course to assure the public that Brown was a menacing, cigar-stealing thug.

All I’d add is that the Ferguson police, having already lost operational control of peace-keeping in the town, should now lose operational control over the investigation of their own personnel. Even if their pattern of behavior isn’t as bad as most of us have already concluded, they’re now descending into an inflammatory pattern of missteps that resemble something out of Mississippi in the 1960s.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.