March 16, 2017
By Jacqueline Souza
This week, the 2017 SXSW Film Festival was held in Austin, Texas, where a variety of independent movies and documentaries premiered on-screen for the first time. Jason Pollock, director of the newly premiered documentary Stranger Fruit instantly created a buzz, as his documentary reexamined Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson, MI, which occurred two years ago. He was accompanied by Brown’s mother, and the two reinvigorated the discussion that Brown’s murder pushed to the forefront of public discourse. The most shocking part of the documentary? New footage of Michael Brown that has been widely unavailable to the public, until this week.
Michael Brown was murdered by police officer Darren Wilson in the fall of 2014. He was shot with his hands up. His lifeless body laid where it initially fell for hours in the street, uncovered for some of that time. His murder sparked historical protests in Ferguson and across the country, where citizens expressed their disdain for police brutality and systemic racism.
In the aftermath, video footage surfaced of Michael Brown allegedly stealing cigarillos from a convenience store; this was later used by right-wing critics to say that Mike Brown had it coming all along- that if he didn’t want to die, he shouldn’t have stolen, and none of the preceding events would have ever happened.
The new footage that Pollock presents in his documentary shows Michael Brown at that same convenience store that morning, leaving what appears to be a small bag of pot at the counter. Perhaps he’d worked something out with the cashier instead of paying for the cigarillos, but it does not matter.
Michael Brown did not deserve to die. Neither did Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, Philando Castile, Corey Jones, or Keith Lamont Scott.
When a black person is killed by police in America, white people try to justify the murder immediately. “He shouldn’t have stolen,” “she shouldn’t have had an attitude with the officer,” “he shouldn’t have done drugs,” “he should have obeyed the law.”
Frankly, it does not matter if a black person obeys the law. It does not matter if they have their hands up. It does not matter if they are unarmed, if they were on their way to school, if they had no prior criminal record, if they respectfully oblige to every order that a cop issues them. They could still be subject to sudden death, for no reason other than racial bias, and their murderer will most likely receive paid leave or a pension.
Jacqueline Souza is an intern for New People and also studies sociology and journalism at the University of Pittsburgh. She is interested in racial justice, social movements, and U.S. politics.