Michael Brown’s body may be gone, but a serious effort is afoot in St. Louis County to assassinate his character — just as a Missouri grand jury is deciding whether to charge police officer Darren Wilson in his killing last month.
Judge Ellen Levy Siwak, a St. Louis County Circuit Court judge, had to deny two separate petitions Tuesday by media outlets trying to get their hands on Brown’s juvenile criminal records. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch and GotNews.com are both seeking the records, even though a juvenile court official said last week that Brown had no serious felony convictions as a juvenile.
But that hasn’t deterred the media outlets.
This has become a familiar chapter in the journey to justice for unarmed black men and women who are killed by police or vigilantes. It happened to Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, Renisha McBride, Eric Garner and many others who were choked to death or gunned down for no justifiable reason.
St. Louis County police officials made their first foray into character assassination when they released images shortly after his death allegedly showing Brown assaulting a store clerk while stealing a box of cigarillos. Though it has been well established that Wilson had no knowledge of any allegations that Brown had committed a crime when he encountered the teen walking down a Ferguson street, the police were clearly trying to let the public know that Brown was a bad guy.
The release of the images reportedly angered Attorney General Eric Holder and Justice Department officials, who knew they would inflame already smoldering tensions in Ferguson.
In Siwak’s courtroom, Joe Martineau, attorney for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, argued that there is a public interest in Brown’s background. GotNews.com editor-in-chief Charles Johnson has said the public deserved to know whether a record existed for Brown.
Johnson said he is considering appealing the judge’s decision.
Journalistic standards certainly do not dictate that the public “deserves” any information about Brown’s background if that information has nothing to do with the case at hand. Of course it is expected that any publication is going to try to dig up whatever it can about the major actors in an explosive case such as this one. But we are well aware of what will happen if any negative information about Brown is made public — it will give members of the grand jury (nine of whom are white and three are Black) pause in their deliberations about whether to charge Wilson with a crime.
These were the same calculations made by the jury when deliberating the fate of George Zimmerman for killing Trayvon Martin: If the teen really did present a danger, perhaps Zimmerman was justified in killing him.
Now, it appears the same story is being repeated.