A new documentary includes previously unreleased surveillance footage that calls into question the police's handling of the investigation of the death of Michael Brown.
About 100 protestors gathered outside of a Ferguson convenience store last night, causing the store to close. The protest was incited by newly released surveillance footage -- taken from the same store -- of Michael Brown engaging in a transaction with store employees shortly after 1 AM on Aug. 9, 2014, about 11 hours before he was shot and killed by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson.
The surveillance tape was obtained by filmmaker Jason Pollock and included in his new documentary, Stranger Fruit, which premiered at SXSW this weekend. He has now made the footage available to the public, thus inspiring concern over why police had never released it themselves. Watch it here, via The New York Times.
Pollock claims he discovered the existence of the footage in a police report that failed to document what can actually be seen transpiring on camera. The new footage calls into question the police-affirmed narrative that Brown had robbed the convenience store minutes before he was killed.
The new tape appears to show Brown going up to the counter and handing a bag to an employee, who seems to sniff what Brown has given him. Pollock believes it was a small bag of weed. The store clerk then places two cartons of cigarillos into a bag, which he hands to Brown. After taking a few steps toward the exit, Brown walks back to the counter and gives the bag back to the same clerk. Pollock suggests that Brown did this for "safekeeping."
Brown would return to the store about 11 hours later. Footage of him coming and going at this time was made available by police and used to bolster the notion that Brown had robbed the store of cigarillos soon before his fatal encounter with Officer Wilson. This tape shows Brown taking several boxes of cigarillos and then shoving an employee out of the way before leaving the store.
Wilson would find Brown and a friend walking in the middle of a nearby street minutes later. While still in his police vehicle, a struggle ensued between Wilson and Brown. Wilson's gun went off during the initial altercation, and a bullet hit Brown's hand, causing him to flee. Brown, unarmed, would eventually turn around, and Wilson shot him several times. Wilson claimed that his 18-year-old victim was rushing toward him at the time and that he thus acted in self-defense, though those final moments are at the heart of the fervently contested inquiry.
Wilson was not indicted for shooting Brown, and he was cleared of any criminal wrongdoing for his role in the incident. His non-indictment led to nationwide protests and outrage over the use of police violence against black citizens.
Pollock feels that police intentionally only shared the one surveillance video -- and not the one from the night before -- in order to paint a hostile image of Brown to the public and to protect their narrative. “They destroyed Michael’s character with the tape, and they didn’t show us what actually happened,” he said.
However, attorney Jay Kanzler, who represents the store and its employees, contends that Pollock's footage has been doctored, and he promised the imminent release of the full, unedited video of Brown's visit to the store on that night. "My clients did nothing wrong," Kanzler said. "They love the people of Ferguson and truly want to get on with their lives."
"There was no transaction,” he continued. “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.”
The St. Louis Police Department has said that the new footage has no relevance to the investigation into Brown's death or to Wilson's non-indictment.