New York Times' writer John Eligon's profile of the deceased Michael Brown, killed by Ferguson police officer Daren Wilson, was released on the same day as his funeral, and the profile has drawn the ire of many who believe its depiction of Mike Brown as "no angel" is tinged with racial bias. Eligon's work reads as follows:
"Michael Brown, 18, due to be buried on Monday, was no angel, with public records and interviews with friends and family revealing both problems and promise in his young life. Shortly before his encounter with Officer Wilson, the police say he was caught on a security camera stealing a box of cigars, pushing the clerk of a convenience store into a display case. He lived in a community that had rough patches, and he dabbled in drugs and alcohol. He had taken to rapping in recent months, producing lyrics that were by turns contemplative and vulgar. He got into at least one scuffle with a neighbor."
Later in the piece, Eligon wrote, "He did not have a criminal record as an adult, and his family said he never got in trouble with the law as a juvenile, either."
Critics have pointed out that profiles of young white men who made national headlines by committing terrorist acts have been treated more kindly by the the New York Times and the media as a whole.
— Jemele Hill (@jemelehill) August 25, 2014
In a phone interview conducted by The New York Times on the same day the profile was released, Eligon expressed regret for the choice words, "no angel."
"We wanted to tell the story of who he was, the deeper story," said Eligon. For Eligon, Brown was someone who "despite his challenges and obstacles, was someone who was making it."
The facts of the case beyond Brown's death by gunshots are all shrouded in controversy. The prevailing account that made this issue a national story is that Michael Brown was gunned down from distance after getting on his knees, putting his hands in the air, and asking Officer Wilson not to shoot. Others have claimed that Brown beat Wilson until he was nearly unconscious, walked away, and then charged at Wilson as the officer pulled out his gun which would have justified Wilson's use of deadly force.
The Ferguson Police Department of Missouri has done a poor job releasing information relevant to the case, and providing proper documentation related to the events of Brown's death. For example, the incident report was filed on Aug. 19, 2014, some 10 days after the incident and only records who was present, where the accident happened, and leaves out all details of how it occurred. On Aug. 15, Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson released video of Michael Brown allegedly committing strong-armed robbery from a local convenience store less than 20 minutes before interacting with Officer Wilson.
Jackson said that he released the video in compliance with the Freedom of Information Act requests which require law enforcement to release information requested by the general public or media. However, this is a dubious claim because no one knew of the alleged Brown robbery before the release of the tape, and it wouldn't explain why it took 10 days to receive an incident report that protesters had asked for more than a week. Missouri's ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) took the Ferguson and St. Louis Police Departments to task.
"It is deeply troubling and unacceptable that the two incident reports we've received completely lack any detailed information of what happened when Officer Darren Wilson encountered and then shot an unarmed Michael Brown," the ACLU said in an official response. "Two weeks after the shooting, this demonstrates a continued lack of transparency and adds to confusion about the events of the day. We still do not have what should be publicly available information about the police shooting of Michael Brown."
Other police actions have been puzzling such as the use of military gear to subdue peaceful protesters, a no-fly zone implemented over Ferguson, unnecessary attacks on and arrest of media covering the protests, nightly curfews, and several other brazen actions have called the integrity of the local police departments into question.
All of that is mentioned to make this point: Fairly or unfairly, Eligon's profile of Brown is being read in a situation abundant with racial tension, factual uncertainty, and the a lack of accountability by the local police departments in the St. Louis area. Though Eligon stated that he wanted to tell "the deeper story" of Brown, given the circumstances, the profile should have been handled with more nuance. This is especially true given the fact that the paper's profile of Officer Darren Wilson describes him as a "well-mannered, relatively soft-spoken, even bland person who seemed, if anything, to seek out a low profile." There is no mention of Wilson's teenage years, of whether he ever drank alcohol or roughhoused in a convenience store. For the "deeper story" reasoning to have a chance at seeming valid for the New York Times, it needed to be executed through all sides of the storytelling.