Hands Up. Don’t Shoot!
–Protesters in the aftermath of the August 2014 shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.
This phrase became a rallying cry for Ferguson residents, who took to the streets to protest the fatal shooting of a black 18-year-old by a white police officer, Darren Wilson. Witness accounts spread after the shooting that Brown had his hands raised in surrender, mouthing the words “Don’t shoot” as his last words before being shot execution-style.
The gesture of raised hands became a symbol of outrage over mistreatment of unarmed black youth by police.
That narrative was called into question when a St. Louis County grand jury could not confirm those testimonies. And a recently released Department of Justice investigative report concluded the same.
We care about facts, how they’re used and the context in which the facts are portrayed. In this case, it is important for us to note that the initial “Hands up, don’t shoot” chant after Brown’s shooting has evolved into a message that is no longer connected solely to the Ferguson event. A series of other fatal shootings by police occurred following Brown’s death, and the “Hands up, don’t shoot” came to symbolize the need to hold law enforcement accountable. And the DOJ report on Ferguson Police Department confirmed the agency systemically profiled black residents.
But we also care about setting the record straight. Investigators have overwhelmingly rejected witness accounts that Brown had his hands up in a surrender before being shot execution-style. The DOJ has concluded Wilson did not know whether Brown was armed, acted out of self-defense and was justified in killing Brown. The majority of witnesses told federal investigators that the initial claims that Brown’s hands were up were not accurate. “Hands up, don’t shoot” did not happen in Brown’s killing, and it is a characterization that deserves Four Pinocchios. Politicians should step carefully if they try to highlight this expression in the future.