'Hands Up, Don't Shoot' Movement Built On False Rumors, Columnist Says
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
The column is titled "Hands Up Don't Shoot Was Built On A Lie," and Washington Post opinion writer Jonathan Capehart calls it the hardest piece he's ever had to write. In it, he confronts what he calls two uncomfortable truths exposed by the Justice Department's extensive investigation into last summer's shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. The uncomfortable truths he identifies - first, that Michael Brown never surrendered with his hands up, and second, that Officer Darren Wilson was justified in shooting him. Jonathan Capehart joins me now. And Jonathan, one of the things you write is that what the Justice Department found made you ill. Why don't you explain?
JONATHAN CAPEHART: Well, there were three things that made me ill. One was reading there in black and white that Michael Brown and Darren Wilson fought inside the officer's SUV. The second thing was reading - again, in black and white - that DNA evidence of ballistics evidence shows that Darren Wilson and Michael Brown fought over his gun. And the third was reading the various witness statements, matching those up with DNA evidence and the ballistics evidence and finding out with certainty that Michael Brown never had his hands up in surrender, didn't say don't shoot and, in fact, was moving towards Officer Wilson. Putting all of that together is what made me ill.
BLOCK: Jonathan, since your column was posted you have taken a lot of flak. On one side, people are saying you are terribly late to this conclusion. This is what they had been saying all along, and perpetuating the narrative of hands up did real damage. On the other side, you've heard from a lot of people, especially in the African American community, who say you have sold out. And let me read you one tweet that came in response to your column. (Reading) Hands up was more than Mike Brown. You just demeaned this child to be accepted by white people.
How do you react to all that reaction?
CAPEHART: Well, I mean this is one of the reasons why it was the hardest piece I had ever written because I could have anticipated this kind of reaction. That tweet, to me, shows that the person did not actually read what I wrote because the whole point of the piece was to make it clear that what happened in Ferguson was a spark of something that went well beyond Michael Brown and that there was a reason why Ferguson exploded after he was shot. And we know that from the Justice Department report on the Ferguson Police Department. The constitutional rights of the people of Ferguson were being trampled. I also make a point of saying that Michael Brown was shot and killed on August 9. A few days before, John Crawford was shot and killed in a Wal-Mart in Ohio. Eric Garner was killed on a street by police in Staten Island in July. Tamir Rice was shot and killed by a Cleveland police officer a couple of days before or after the grand jury came back deciding not to indict Darren Wilson.
The movement moved from hands up, don't shoot, to black lives matter. That's the larger movement that that person in the tweet was talking about. And if that person had read my entire piece, they would have seen that.
BLOCK: Putting it in the context of other cases, in other words.
CAPEHART: Right, and, you know, with regard to the folks on the right who say that I'm late to the party here, you know what? They're right, but I take my job as a journalist personally and especially on this particular story. I'm African American, and I'm an African American man, and, you know, I recognize and understand and appreciate the fact that there but for the grace of God go I. I could be one of these many people we've been talking about over the last year. But I also take it personally because I am a journalist. I base my pieces on fact, and people, I hope, read me because they trust what I have to say. And I couldn't possibly go on writing about this without acknowledging my error and without saying how I felt about it. Why would anybody trust anything I would have to say if I continued to ignore something so pivotal going forward?
BLOCK: Jonathan Capehart is an opinion writer with The Washington Post. Jonathan, thanks for talking with us.
CAPEHART: Thanks, Melissa.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.