- - Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The languorous dog days of August were shattered by the recent tragic shooting death of an unarmed black teenager in a St. Louis suburb.

Hundreds of youths are fatally shot each year in our country. More than 100 were gunned down in gangland or drive-by shootings in Chicago alone in just one year. The death of Michael Brown, though, who just graduated from high school and hoped to pursue higher education, has seized the nation’s attention like no other.

The still-murky shooting episode by a Ferguson, Mo., police officer, which raised more questions than answers, shoved aside all other big news events — from a repelled Russian convoy incursion across Ukraine’s borders to the widening U.S. air-combat role in Iraq to halt the Islamic State terrorist advances on the Kurdish capital of Irbil.

As civil unrest spread in Ferguson, President Obama interrupted his two-week vacation on Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., flying back to Washington for hastily arranged briefings and a White House news conference.

U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. planned to fly to the St. Louis suburb later this week to oversee the federal investigation. A 40-member team of FBI investigators were already on the ground, going door to door, gathering facts about the shooting. Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon has called out the National Guard to back up local and state police to restore order within the community, where tensions remain high.

Still, the slowly emerging investigation raised a host of questions about the multiple gunshots to Mr. Brown’s body. He was riddled by at least six bullets fired from a distance of more than 30 feet from the officer’s police car, after the two men had reportedly engaged in a struggle.

Why had Ferguson police been so slow to provide any details of the shooting, including an accounting of the officer’s story? Why had they hidden his identity until forced by circumstances to reveal it?

They had quickly released a shadowy surveillance video and an accounting of a convenience store theft of some cigars, allegedly by Mr. Brown. There was no report, however preliminary, of when and in what way the officer responded when he saw Mr. Brown walking down the center of the street with a friend.

There were suspicions the local police were withholding crucial details as the shooting triggered days of protests and unrest that included looting of many downtown stores. Looters were, appropriately, arrested, charged and jailed.

Mr. Nixon apparently concluded that the local police were part of the problem when he effectively relieved the St. Louis County police of the task of handling protesters, sending in state highway patrols who attempted to calm things down and restore order.

In the aftermath of the shooting, events turned chaotic with local, state and federal authorities at the scene of the crime, but with no one authority directing or coordinating the overall investigation.

Three separate autopsies have been conducted, which, in addition to the multiple gunshot wounds in Mr. Brown’s head and body, found traces of marijuana in his system.

Notably, the autopsies indicated he’d been shot from the front. Eyewitness accounts said that was because he had his hands up as he faced the officer, but there were other reports that discounted that.

Other secondary issues arose as well. Critics pointed to the use of military vehicles and high-powered firearms at the scene that conveyed a sense of overkill for what had begun as a bungled police apprehension of a single robbery suspect.

But those issues were circumstantial distractions. The core issue was why the police officer had to shoot Mr. Brown multiple times and kill him.

Story Continues →