Okay, here we go. An anonymous leak from a "person familiar with [St. Louis County’s] investigation" has told the Washington Post that 18-year-old shooting victim Michael Brown had marijuana in his system at the time of his death. What does this mean? Nothing.
That's to say, nothing beyond allowing people who already consider Brown an aggressor to add one more irrelevant, inane detail to a situation already full of them. In the interests of full disclosure, I find this pretty upsetting.
With the situation in Ferguson as loaded as it is right now, here are some things to keep in mind about marijuana, about Michael Brown's death, and what this latest tidbit means.
- Marijuana is a seriously popular recreational drug. How popular? Since 1985, Gallup polling has consistently found that over 30 percent of the American public have used it at least once. In other words, well over 100 million Americans know what it's like to toke a joint.
- The same Gallup polling found that white and nonwhites have marijuana at virtually the same rate, 38 percent and 39 percent respectively. Rates of ongoing use were at 6 and 8 percent respectively. Despite this, black people are arrested for marijuana-related offenses at a far higher rate than whites.
- People tend to be reluctant to admit to illegal behavior, so it's reasonable to suspect these figures might be somewhat higher in reality.
- Michael Brown was fatally shot by Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson six times, twice in the head, in a scene described more or less consistently by multiple eyewitnesses. Nowhere in the story does marijuana come into play, or have any relevance.
- There's no indication yet that Wilson had any idea Brown used marijuana, which would've only been relevant in the event of an arrest — not a shooting.
It's been a rocky and at-times harrowing week for Ferguson.. It was revealed Friday that Wilson left town days prior, and is now in an undisclosed location while chaos plays out in Ferguson's streets.
Conversely, Brown — the victim of the fatal shooting — has been under heavy scrutiny, following local police releasing a video of him allegedly stealing some cigars from a liquor store. It now seems as if the initial altercation between Brown and Wilson had nothing to do with the cigars, as the officer reportedly didn't know about them at the time, making the video's release seem fishy in the best possible light.
Whether intentional or not — the drug test is a part of the autopsy, after all — this new and likely meaningless revelation could stoke further outrage in the Ferguson community. As the Washington Post reports, protesters have been responding by decrying why Wilson himself wasn't drug tested after the shooting.
As one protester blared out via a megaphone at an event Friday: "What was in the system of that cop when he was pumping bullets into that boy’s body?"
To be clear, Wilson's legal culpability for Wilson's death is a matter to be decided by investigation, and subsequent legal proceedings. But at this stage, it can seem like St. Louis police officials are less interested in investigating what Wilson did as they are in litigating the character of the deceased, and that's an unavoidable source of the tumult in Ferguson.
To conclude on a personal note: I'm a white, suburban man who occasionally smokes marijuana. Legally, mind you, but I do it all the same. And despite this, I've never once had to worry about being hassled by a police officer about it. To the contrary, I've been in big groups of people before, billowing pot smoke like an enormous joint, and I've never felt so much as a twinge of anxiety.
One reason why? If I were shot dead, nobody would reflexively point to the THC in my blood to argue why I probably deserved it. If they ever launch the #ConfessYourWhitePrivilege hashtag, that'd be near the top for me.
So let's all come together and strike a blow for collective sanity, rather than subject Brown to recriminations we wouldn't for any of the other tens of millions of marijuana users in America. Sounds simple enough, yeah?
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