“Hands Up, Don’t Shoot!” Did Michael Brown Really Have his Hands Up?

Unlike the Eric Garner case in New York in which the entire “choking” incident was caught on tape, the Michael Brown shooting details remain somewhat of a mystery. Was Michael Brown charging the police officer when he was shot and killed, or was he throwing his hands up as a gesture of surrender? No one really knows for sure, although some witnesses testified his hands were, in fact, raised. Other witnesses tell a completely different story, making it very difficult to ascertain the truth with the wildly conflicting stories.

Perceptions of the Incident Vary Widely

A PBS News Hour analysis of witness testimony determined that approximately 16 out of 29 statements claimed Brown had his hands up when Officer Wilson shot him, while another 13 could not confirm Brown’s arms were raised. Still others disagree over what the “hands up” gesture actually meant, if, in fact, Brown’s hands were raised.  While some saw it as a gesture of surrender, more than one witness claimed Brown was charging, and his hands were balled up into fists. Even some of those who believed his hands were raised, stated they were not raised in the “traditional” way with hands high and palms facing forward. Still others believed Brown touched a wound on his body, raising his hands in disbelief.

To show how differently people could interpret a gesture, the Washington Post published a “Descriptions of Brown’s Movement,” which detailed the different ways the same action could be interpreted. When showed the exact same illustration, some witnesses saw it is “charging,” others as “surrendering,” and still others as a variety of descriptions in between the two. A maintenance company employee stated Brown ran away from Wilson, then turned, moving toward the officer in an “I’m giving up, hands up,” gesture. Yet another witness claims Brown was charging at Officer Wilson and was not in any way in a “surrendering” mode.

Football Players and Lawmakers Make “Hands Up” Gesture

Earlier this month, five players for the St. Louis Rams made the “hands up” gesture as they came onto the field in preparation for Sunday’s game against the Oakland Raiders. Later, on Monday, several lawmakers made the gesture on the House floor. Others have vocally criticized the gesture, saying Michael Brown was not shot with his hands in the air, and the people perpetrating the gesture “know it’s a lie.” There were three separate autopsy reports which have attempted to determine the truth, yet perhaps have only added additional confusion to the issue. The County autopsy showed the trajectory of the sixth gunshot which struck Michael Brown was inconsistent with Brown having his arms in the air.

Officer Darren Wilson told investigators that Michael Brown reached for the police officer’s gun inside the patrol car. Wilson subsequently fired two shots, hitting Brown in the right hand. Brown’s tissue was found on the exterior of the driver’s side of the officer’s vehicle, which, according to the St. Louis medical examiner, supports the claim of an altercation at the car. As for the shots which killed Brown, Dr. Melinek said Brown was facing Wilson when he was shot once in the forehead, once in the upper right arm and twice in the chest. The head shot indicated Brown was falling forward or in a lunging position toward Wilson; the head shot was instantly fatal.

Life Experiences Color Perception

A psychology professor, Elizabeth Brondolo, understands why the reports were so disparate. Brondolo says the differences in the backgrounds and life experience of the witnesses will color their perception of the same event. Further, there are those who believe it doesn’t matter one way or the other whether Brown’s hands were up in a surrendering mode, or whether his hands were down. This group believes the “hands up” image is a representation of all those who have received racially influenced treatment by those in positions of power such as the police.

Boulder Criminal Defense Lawyers

Was Michael Brown's hands up or down? Criminal Defense Attorney Steven LouthIf you or someone you love has been a victim of police brutality or you feel your rights have been violated, contact an experienced Boulder criminal defense lawyer immediately. Contact the Boulder criminal defense lawyers at Steven Louth Law Offices today for a free consultation and review of your case. Call us at (303) 422-2297 or visit us online to start building a solid defense against these serious criminal charges.

Posted in Blog, Boulder, Criminal Defense


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