The August 2014 shooting of Michael Brown sparked nationwide outrage and closer looks into race relations in our country. The town of Ferguson, Missouri where this occurred is 66% black, with neighboring areas of similar racial makeup.
18 year-old Michael, a black man, was shot and killed by a white police officer after purportedly robbing a store. Footage from the store security cameras showed Michael taking several items from the store and confronting a store clerk. The police officer, Darren Wilson, responded to a police dispatch and found Michael and his friend walking down the street nearby. Wilson fired twelve bullets in total, all hitting the front of Michael.
Unusually, the grand jury was presented the case before the criminal investigation was completed. The majority white jury found Darren Wilson not guilty a few months later, in November 2014.
However, the prosecutor Rob McCulloch received much public criticism over his handling of the case. His father was a police officer and when Rob was a child he was shot and killed in a case with a black suspect. Many believed McCulloch to be impartial because of his personal history. After Wilson was acquitted, McCulloch publicly released thousands of pages of documents from the trial along with audio and video interviews and testimonies.
In early 2017, Director Jason Pollock debuted his film entitled “Stranger Fruit” at the South by Southwest Film Festival in Texas. The film includes a clip of a surveillance video released by the convenience store’s lawyer, apparently showing Michael trading cigarillos for marijuana. McCulloch responded to the film clip, calling the assertions “nonsense”. The clip was not released in 2014 when McCulloch made case information and documents public. He claims that it is “not relevant or material” to the case, and that is why it was never presented in court or released to the public.
The video appears to show Michael placing something on the counter. The clerk behind the counter picks it up, smells it, and then puts it back. Another clerk comes by and does the same. Then, a third clerk places a bag of what appears to be soda and packs of cigarillos on the counter in front of Michael. He picks it up, walks away, and can be seen speaking to the clerks before turning around and placing the bag back onto the counter. Footage shows a clerk taking a box of cigarillos out of the back and putting them back on the shelf. Then the bag is handed to another clerk and is moved off camera. Allegedly, the first item that Michael placed on the counter was marijuana, and he was bartering with the clerks for cigarillos. However, no one can confirm the presence of marijuana or a barter occurring, and the bag is quickly moved off camera.
Filmmaker Pollock asserts that if this video was released years ago, it would have countered the narrative that Michael robbed the store before he was killed. He stated that the store is known to be a place where people can buy marijuana, and that bartering for the drug is also common. McCulloch insists that the video was manipulated, some parts edited out in order to further a narrative of innocence. Nevertheless, the video is generating more backlash from the community and the nation, and Michael’s father has spoken out to say that he would like the case to be reopened.