Don’t confuse anyone with the truth. Better late than never, I guess.


‘Hands Up, Don’t Shoot’ makes WaPo’s list of outlandish claims

By T. BECKET ADAMS (@BECKETADAMS) • 12/14/15 12:55 PM

The story of a Ferguson, Mo., police officer fatally shooting an 18-year-old African-American who was trying to surrender is one of the “most outlandish claims of 2015,” says the Washington Post’s fact checker.

Michael Brown was unarmed when he was killed on Aug. 9, 2014, by a white police officer, Darren Wilson.

Physical evidence ultimately established that Brown and Wilson had been engaged in a physical altercation at the time of the shooting. But initial eyewitness accounts claiming that the 18-year-old had raised his hands in surrender gave rise to the popularized “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” rallying cry of the Black Lives Matter movement, which seeks to address police brutality in minority communities.

“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 Post’s fact checker, Glenn Kessler, wrote in his annual roundup of the year’s “most outlandish claims.”

“Democratic lawmakers raised their hands in solidarity on the House floor,” he added.

Lawmakers weren’t alone: The eyewitness version of Brown’s alleged execution-style death was repeated by the biggest newsrooms in the country, and television pundits, including CNN contributor Sally Kohn, also made a show of solidarity by raising their hands in mock-surrender on-air.
“Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” quickly gained traction, and the story soon became part of a widely accepted narrative involving Brown’s death.

As it turns out, however, Brown never put his hands up surrender, he never shouted “don’t shoot,” he wasn’t killed execution-style and claims to the contrary are totally false, according to the Post.

“[V]arious investigations concluded this did not happen — and that Wilson acted out of self-defense and was justified in killing Brown,” Kessler wrote.

The inclusion of the “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” myth on the Post’s list of the year’s “biggest Pinocchios” comes after the newspaper’s thorough debunking of the issue earlier this year.

“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,” the Post’s Michelle Ye Hee Lee wrote in a March 19, 2015, fact check.

“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,” she continued.

“But we also care about setting the record straight,” Hee Lee wrote. “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 … Politicians should step carefully if they try to highlight this expression in the future.”

The Post awarded the claim four Pinocchios, which is the worst possible rating.

Despite this and similar fact checks from competing newsrooms, and despite that the Justice Department itself debunked the claim, “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” lives on, serving as a symbol of something much broader for activists involved in the Black Lives Matter movement.

Wilson was not charged with any crime, and a DOJ investigation found no grounds for a civil rights charge. He left the force in 2014. Ferguson’s chief of police later stepped down in March of 2015.

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