Ferguson: Convenience store video prompts new questions into 2014 police killing of Michael Brown
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UPDATE: Links to the raw video footage from the convenience store are up at the St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney’s page: http://www.stlouiscopa.com/Press.aspx?ID=211

FERGUSON, Mo. — Around 100 protesters gathered outside of the Ferguson Market and Liquor convenience store Sunday night March 12, in response to previously undisclosed surveillance footage that shows Michael Brown coming into the convenience store hours before his fatal encounter with police in 2014.

The surveillance footage calls into question the Ferguson and St. Louis County police narrative of the killing, that led to nationwide protests and debates about the treatment of African-Americans by U.S. law enforcement.

Director Jason Pollock, whose documentary “Stranger Fruit” was shown over the weekend at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, TX, says that the footage, which he used in the film, shows Michael Brown did not rob the store but instead had returned to pick up the cigarillos store clerks had given him.

The new footage shows Brown entering the store, speaking with the clerks while handing over a small bag of marijuana, according to Pollock, and receiving two boxes of cigarillos inside a small shopping bag.

Brown takes a few steps away before turning back and handing his bag to the clerks; the documentary claims Brown left the merchandise behind to pick up later and did not engage in a strong-arm robbery as was claimed by police hours after Brown’s death.

“Mike traded the store a little bag of weed and got two boxes of cigarillos in return,” Pollock says in the documentary. “He left his items at the store and he went back the next day to pick them up. Mike did not rob the store.”

A robbery or a barter?

Attorneys for St. Louis County and for the store itself dispute this version of events documented in the video. Jay Kanzler, an attorney for the store and its employees, told the New York Times, that his clients disagree with Pollock’s film’s version of events, and say that the footage was edited.

“There was no transaction,” Mr. Kanzler said. “There was no understanding. No agreement. Those folks didn’t sell him cigarillos for pot. The reason he gave it back is he was walking out the door with unpaid merchandise and they wanted it back.”

At 1:30pm Monday, St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch, the public prosecutor who in November of 2014 declined to bring charges against Brown’s shooter, Officer Darren Wilson, held a press conference outside his office, addressing the newly released footage of Michael Brown. In his opening statement, McCulloch disclosed that although the footage is being released to the public now, his office has been in possession of it for more than a year – since August of 2015.

McCulloch echoed Kanzler’s version of the interaction at the convenience store, saying he thinks Pollock’s film showing Brown bartering marijuana for the cigarillos wasn’t correct.

“It was clearly an attempt to distort this and to turn it into something it isn’t. There was no transaction- there was an attempt to barter but the employees did not accept it,” he continued.

In response to the director’s claim that Brown had left the boxes of cigarillos there for “safekeeping”, McCulloch said, “what this fellow [director] is suggesting, that the clerks were safekeeping this [cigarillos] for him, is just stupid. I wish I had a different word for it but that’s what it is.”

Kanzler said the full unedited video footage would be released Monday; it has not been released as of this writing.

St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar and Former Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that they had not seen this footage before. A County Police spokesperson said the footage had not been previously released because it was not deemed to be relevant to the investigation.

Renewed protests

Outside the convenience store the night of March 12, interactions between police and protestors became heated as officers began to forcefully move people out of the parking lot.

7 or 8 gunshots were fired shortly before midnight but no injuries were reported.

According to legal observers present there were 3 to 5 arrests, and reports today show that a 45-year-old-man has been charged with attempting to light a police car on fire. Charges are also expected against a woman who allegedly punched a Ferguson officer in the face, breaking his nose.

Protestors plan return to the market Monday night according to Ferguson Police Chief Delrish Moss.

Rasheen Aldridge, 5th Ward Committeeman and Former Ferguson Commissioner, told Peoples World:

“It’s a shame that it took so long to see more parts of the video. It would have been great to have seen this as the whole situation took place, maybe folks wouldn’t have dehumanized him [Brown} the way they did.”


Al Neal
Al Neal

Award winning journalist Al Neal is PW associate editor for labor and politics. He is also the chief photographer for People's World. He is a member of the Chicago News Guild, Society of Professional Journalists, Professional Photographers of America, National Sports Media Association, and The Ernest Brooks Foundation.