David A. Lieb and Holbrook Mohr, AP, November 27, 2014
The word spread within minutes of Michael Brown’s death–a young black man with his hands raised in surrender had just been shot by a white cop.
Soon, “Hands Up. Don’t Shoot!” became a rallying cry for protesters in the streets of this St. Louis suburb and a symbol nationwide of racial inequality for those who believe that minorities are too often the targets of overzealous police.
Yet the witness accounts contained in thousands of pages of grand jury documents reviewed by The Associated Press show many variations about whether Brown’s hands were actually raised–and if so, how high.
Some witnesses said the 18-year-old had his hands held high toward the sky as Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson gunned him down midday Aug. 9. Others thought they saw his hands partially raised, about shoulder high. To some witnesses, his palms appeared out, as if surrendering. To others, his palms seemed open, as if glancing at his wounded hand or gesturing with an attitude of “what are you going to do about it.” Some said Brown’s hands weren’t raised at all.
After a Missouri prosecutor announced Monday night that the grand jury had decided not to indict Wilson, the symbolic chant of “Hands Up. Don’t Shoot!” rang out from protesters from Los Angeles to New York to London.
Wilson told the grand jury that Brown had his left hand in a fist at his side and his right hand under his shirt at his waist, and was charging toward him.
Some of the witness accounts of the shooting differed so much they didn’t seem like the same scene.
“I saw him in the middle of the street on his knees with hands up,” one witness said. “(The) officer came up to him and shot him in his head and he fell.”
Another witness was insistent that Brown was on his feet and did not raise his hands.
“The officer was already in pursuit of him. He stopped. He did turn, he did some sort of body gesture, I’m not sure what it was, but I know it was a body gesture,” the witness said. “And I could say for sure he never put his hands up after he did his body gesture, he ran towards the officer full charge.”
Architect Evan Chakroff was among the protesters this week in Seattle. He said the “Hands Up” gesture is far from a literal representation of the circumstances of Brown’s death.
“My sense is that it’s totally symbolic and a way of representing powerlessness” in the face of inequality and militarized police, he said.