New facts in Ferguson shooting may do little to change minds

Aug 18, 2014, 3:22 PM | Updated: 3:23 pm

Forensic pathologist Dr. Michael Baden said Michael Brown was shot six times by Ferguson, Missouri policeman Darren Wilson.

Baden, who has performed over 20,000 autopsies, found that Brown has been shot four times in the right arm and twice in the head, once while his head appears to have been leaning forward. Many thought Brown was shot in the back as he was fleeing the officer. According to Baden’s work that is not true.

From the New York Times:

The bullets did not appear to have been shot from very close range because no gunpowder was present on his body. However, that determination could change if it turns out that there is gunshot residue on Mr. Brown’s clothing, to which Dr. Baden did not have access.

So, it seems the story behind the fatal shooting on Aug. 10 has become a little clearer, but the results of this autopsy might be too late to alter perceptions because of witness accounts.

Witness accounts, which came first and helped shape the narrative of Michael Brown’s shooting, accounts that offered different, opposite points of view.

The first witnesses said Wilson shot Brown as he was running away after the two scuffled. Protests, riots and looting followed in the St. Louis suburb.

A few days later, other witnesses disputed those accounts. They said Brown was running towards the officer in a full charge when he was shot. That didn’t slow things down in Ferguson or around the nation as protests, some peaceful and some less so, continued. For many, they had already reached their conclusion.

As KTAR’s Ned Foster argued, jumping that quickly to conclusions can be dangerous. But quick judgments are part of human nature, it’s evolutionary. People have adapted to quickly judge scenarios to protect themselves from danger. In the case of Ferguson the danger either lies with the police or with Michael Brown.

Here’s why quick judgments based on eyewitness accounts can be dangerous. From the New York Times:

Memory does not operate like a video camera. It captures only a selective part of the events we encounter. People cannot prevent new information and suggestions from altering their memory, and time erodes memory, making retrieval difficult.

Also from the New York Times:

“Memory is weak in eyewitness situations because it’s overloaded,” said Barbara Tversky, a psychology professor at Columbia University’s Teachers College in New York. “An event happens so fast, and when the police question you, you probably weren’t concentrating on the details they’re asking about.”

Despite these facts, witness accounts are what so many (including this author and the justice system) rely on to reach their conclusions. In the case of Michael Brown, witnesses were often emotional and sensational. They created debate, even if they are later proven to be incorrect.

See, one of the byproducts of the fast-paced information age is facts are less important than immediacy.

Eyewitness accounts happen now, just like today’s news. It’s led to more impatience, so much so that even a week has become too long to wait for answers. Maybe it is time to slow down, if only to allow more of the truth to come out.

Rob Hunter

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New facts in Ferguson shooting may do little to change minds