Thursday night, Wonkette’s not-so-secret nerdcrush object Rachel Maddow — a fan of Yr Wonkette, of course — compared the post-shooting communications strategies of two police departments.
First, the story of Kajiene Powell, shot to death by police in St. Louis on Tuesday in what some are calling a suicide by cop. In a bystander’s video, Powell can be seen approaching the officers who arrived on the scene after he allegedly walked out of a store with two energy drinks. Within 30 seconds, the police have shot him dead. Police later said that Powell was carrying a knife. A lot of people are calling the shooting unjustified; others say that deadly force is SOP when someone approaches with a weapon, but the point, said Maddow, is that the St. Louis Police Department released the amateur cellphone video within 24 hours. The chief of the St. Louis PD showed up at the scene within 90 minutes and took questions, and the department has been scrupulously open about the information in their officers’ reports since, down to the number of shots fired. They even answer emailed questions from news organizations, quickly. There’s plenty of debate about the killing of Kajime Powell, but no wild speculation, and notably, no demonstrations or riots.
Contrast that, Maddow said, to the situation in the nearby suburb of Ferguson, where the police have held information about the shooting of Michael Brown so closely that only today, 13 days after the shooting, we finally learned that there IS NO REPORT by the Ferguson PD on the shooting, since they immediately turned the investigation over to St. Louis County Police Department (not to be confused with the city police). St. Louis County finally released a “report” today, with no details whatsoever about the shooting. In an atmosphere of secrecy and intransigence from the police department — plus deliberate attempts to paint Brown as responsible for getting himself killed, since he robbed a convenience store that Officer Darren Wilson knew nothing about — there’s little wonder that rumors and suspicions and speculation have been the norm. It took over a week and a private autopsy commissioned by the family to even learn that Brown had been shot six times, and the county autopsy report still hasn’t been released (although someone at the county was kind enough to leak the information that toxicology tests showed marijuana in Brown’s system). The Ferguson PD even refused a request for Darren Wilson’s personnel file, but did release a video of him receiving a commendation.
Maddow’s point: Cable news and public opinion abhor an information vacuum, and so you get no end of fear, paranoia, and argument based on very inconclusive, partial information, which quickly hardens into dead certainty for some, regardless of the quality of the information that’s out there. Especially on the interwebs.
Which brings us to our very own Rachel Maddow Show-style closing: We’ll have a really good “worst new thing in the world” story for you that illustrates what happens when officialdom refuses to release information in a timely manner, right after this break.