Accuracy in Media

The Washington Post Fact Checker awarded the maximum four Pinocchios to Sens. Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) for mistakenly claiming that Michael Brown was “murdered” in Ferguson, Mo despite Justice Department findings to the contrary.

Both Sens. made their claims in tweets marking the fifth anniversary of his death.

The Post pointed out that the problem with these tweets is that Harris and Warren have embraced a popular but inaccurate narrative as to what happened in Ferguson.

Both appear to be echoing a narrative that emerged shortly after Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson shot and killed Brown, 18. The legal definition of murder varies according to jurisdiction, but generally it means killing someone with malice aforethought.

In November 2014, a grand jury decided not to indict Wilson after finding that witness reports did not match with evidence. On March 4, 2015, the Obama administration’s Justice Department issued an 86-page investigative report, based on testimony from 40 witnesses and a review of forensic evidence, on the shooting that concluded “there is no credible evidence that Wilson willfully shot Brown as he was attempting to surrender or was otherwise not posing a threat.”

According to the Post, the Justice Department found enough evidence that Brown posed a threat to Wilson and was backed up by numerous witness accounts which they listed.

Wilson initially encountered the pair when they were walking in the middle of the street, and he told them to get on the sidewalk. He then realized they were suspects in the robbery he had heard on the police radio and backed his vehicle, an SUV, to stop them from walking any farther. Brown then reached through the open driver’s window and punched and grabbed Wilson, according to the report.

There were numerous witnesses deemed credible by investigators. (Others were found not to be credible because their accounts were inconsistent or did not match the forensic evidence.) We will let their accounts, taken from the Justice Department report, tell the rest of the story. Some testified reluctantly, with one recounting signs on the street where Brown was shot that said: “snitches get stitches.”

The Fact Checker concluded that while questions can be raised as to whether Wilson should have fired as many shots as he did or acted appropriately under the circumstances that it doesn’t give Harris and Warren the right to ignore the Justice Department report and perpetuate a popular but inaccurate narrative on the shooting..

Instead, the Justice Department found that the popular narrative was wrong, according to witnesses deemed to be credible, some of whom testified reluctantly because of fear of reprisal. The department produced a comprehensive report to determine what happened, making the senators’ dismissal of it even more galling. Harris and Warren both earn Four Pinocchios. noted that other Democratic presidential contenders also tweeted about Brown on the same day but said he was “killed” not “murdered” by a police officer.


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