Police Critics Will Continue Even If “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” Was Wrong


“Hands up, don’t shoot” became the rallying cry of a new civil rights movement after the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, but the U.S. Justice Department’s report on the episode out this week says it may not have happened that way. The New York Times says Attorney General Eric Holder cast doubt on the “hands up” account even as he described Ferguson as having a racially
biased police department and justice system. “It remains not only valid — but essential — to question how such a strong alternative version of events was able to take hold so swiftly, and be accepted so readily,” Holder said. The answer may be in a second Justice Department report that described in blistering detail how Ferguson used its police department and court system as moneymaking ventures that disproportionately targeted African Americans and routinely violated their constitutional rights.

Still, the “hands up, don’t shoot” narrative is disputed. “The lie got repeated over and over again,” said Ron Hosko of the Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund, which supports officers accused of crimes. “It was the headline in major newspapers and other major media publications all summer, all fall. And the subtext was: Racist rogue cop kills innocent black teen. And it was a lie.” Protest leaders who marched with their arms raised and founded groups such as Hands Up United or the Don't Shoot Coalition said the report did not undercut efforts to push for police reforms and advocate for victims of law enforcement violence. “While there is an issue as to whether his hands were up, the bigger question is whether we as a nation are going to step up to try to bridge this gap of distrust between police and those who they are sworn to protect and serve,” said U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), who appeared on the Capitol steps with other black members of Congress, posing with their hands up.

For more on the role of courts in fine collections, see this story from The Crime Report’s “Guilt Mill” package.

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