Ferguson Police Deny Calling Michael Brown Memorial a "Pile of Trash," But the 'Washington Post' Disagrees

So, here's a question: What does the Ferguson Police Department think of the Canfield Ave. memorial to slain 18-year-old Michael Brown? The answer is now the subject of a dustup between the Washington Post and the Ferguson Police Department. Here's the gist: The Washington Post's Jose DelReal posted a blog Friday morning, claiming that a Ferguson police department spokesperson called the memorial a "pile of trash." By Friday afternoon, the Ferguson police denied calling Michael Brown's memorial trash — or, rather, they're insisting that their spokesman didn't mean it quite the way DelReal characterized.

The reason the department was offering comment in the first place is pretty depressing — somebody ran over the Brown memorial in a car, late on Christmas night. It's looking fine again now, thanks to the quick work of some extremely selfless people, but regardless, this seems a pretty worthwhile thing to ask the department about. With months of tension, unrest, and scarce trust and goodwill between many in Ferguson and their law enforcement, asking "hey, any idea what happened with the Brown memorial last night?" Seems like a simple and fair request.

What Ferguson Police Department Public Relations Officer Timothy Zoll allegedly said to DelReal, however, has set some tempers flaring. Again, the department maintains this is a mischaracterization.

I don’t know that a crime has occurred. But a pile of trash in the middle of the street? The Washington Post is making a call over this?

If those sentences were indeed Zoll's, then he made a pretty massive mistake by any measure. Public relations is generally about tamping things down, rather than ramping things up, and suggesting it's not even newsworthy when a memorial to one of the country's highest-profile police shooting victims is destroyed? That's a tact that's sure to upset a lot of people.

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For the department's part, however, they're offering a different explanation: Zoll didn't mean to be offensive when he called the memorial trash, but was merely explaining how a driver might have inadvertently smashed through it. According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Ferguson city spokesperson Jeff Small denied there was any malicious intent in the exchange.

He didn't mean to refer to the memorial as trash, he said the driver may not have known what was there and accidentally drove over what was there. ... He said, 'Maybe someone thought there was a pile of trash and drove through it.'

The idea that somebody might be caught off-guard by the memorial at night, which stretches along the middle of Ferguson's Canfield Ave. where Brown was killed, isn't entirely impossible. It is in the middle of the street, after all. But then again, it's been there for weeks, and anybody from around the Ferguson community probably knows the significance of that stretch of street painfully well by know.

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DelReal has absolutely not backed away from his reporting, either, telling the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that the Ferguson police haven't returned his calls since Small gave their explanation.

If there's any silver lining in all this, however, it's the resilience of the activists, advocates and sympathetic community members who've been tending to Brown's memorial all this time. Despite getting taken out in the waning hours of the Christmas holiday, the site was restored to practically good-as-new by sunrise Friday morning.

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