OK, remember how George Zimmerman’s legal team in the Trayvon Martin case attempted to introduce as evidence that the youth’s autopsy had shown trace amounts of THC in his bloodstream—a blatant play at exploiting the irrational cannabis stigma? Well… here we go again. This time it concerns Michael Brown, the 18-year-old African American shot by police on Aug. 9 in Ferguson, Mo., sparking a local intifada. A copy of Brown’s autopsy was leaked to the St. Louis Post Dispatch, which offers the following headline: “Official autopsy shows Michael Brown had close-range wound to his hand, marijuana in system.” Other papers that have picked up the story have also headlined the absolutely irrelevant cannabis claim—for instance, New York’s Daily News, which opted for “Michael Brown autopsy, officer’s account indicate teen went for Ferguson cop’s gun, had marijuana in his system: report.”
Now, we aren’t saying that the THC finding shouldn’t be reported. But placing it in the headline, alongside forensic evidence actually related to the killing, such as that “close-range wound to his hand,” elevates its status from merely incidental to central—which it ain’t.
And media may be jumping to conclusions in the assumption that Brown “went for the cop’s gun.” Talking Points Memo notes that Judy Melinek, one of the forensic experts who was quoted by the Post-Dispatch about the autopsy report, is taking issue with how the paper portrayed her comments. Mellinek was quoted saying the autopsy “supports the fact that this guy is reaching for the gun, if he has gunpowder particulate material in the wound. If he has his hand near the gun when it goes off, he’s going for the officer’s gun.” But after the article appeared, she told MSNBC that her comments had been taken “out of context” and that she believed the findings could be explained by other scenarios as well. “What happens sometimes is when you get interviewed and you have a long conversation with a journalist, they’re going to take things out of context,” she said. “I made it very clear that we only have partial information here. We don’t have the scene information. We don’t have the police investigation. We don’t have all the witness statements. And you can’t interpret autopsy findings in a vacuum.”
So let’s not rush to judgment here—and let’s leave Brown’s choice of smoking herbs out of it, thank you.
The leak of the autopsy report and attendant media smear against the late Brown re-ignited the Ferguson uprising, at least briefly. After the news broke Oct. 23, hundreds of protesters converged on the Ferguson police headquarters, knocked over barricades and started chanting the slogan of the uprising, “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot!” This, of course, brought out the riot police – and clashes ensued in which five were arrested.
We may now be looking at dueling autopsies. An earlier autopsy conducted for the Brown family revealed the youth was shot at least six times, including twice in the head, during the incident with Ferguson cop Darren Wilson. A grand jury is deciding whether to indict Wilson on criminal charges. NBC reports that an attorney for the Brown family has asked protesters “to take their frustrations to the ballot box, not the streets” once a decision is reached. But slanted reportage is not exactly helping to chill people out.