The Murder of Michael Brown: Reading the Ferguson Grand Jury Transcript

Based on a full reading of the transcript of the grand jury hearings concerning the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, on 9 August 2014, this article uses the transcript as an archive to demonstrate how the informal systems of racial hierarchy in the United States operate today. Arguing that the #BlackLivesMatter movement has created a persistent looking as a means of making such issues visible, Mirzoeff describes how the grand jury prosecutors turned the event into a high-definition visual space in which only physical evidence and police testimony could be trusted, discounting all eyewitness accounts. This reading shows that the event lasted less than a minute. Discrepancies, contradictions, and oversight abound in the prosecution case that was never cross-examined. At the same time, the transcripts provide insight into Michael Brown’s life and the long-term policing issues in Ferguson. Far from proving the innocence of then Officer Darren Wilson, this account leads to more questions than answers. However, the Department of Justice review not only concluded that Wilson was justified in the use of force but also cast doubt on the signature question of whether Brown’s arms were raised. Looking at the three medical examiners’ reports in detail, Mirzoeff shows that Brown’s arm was broken by a bullet that (in all likelihood) was fired either from behind or when his hands were raised. Prosecutors assert neither happened. We are left with a smoking gun but no bullet.

Nicholas Mirzoeff

Nicholas Mirzoeff is a member of the Social Text Collective.