On Thursday morning, the hacker collective known as Anonymous made good on their threat to release the identity of the police officer who gunned down Ferguson, Missouri teen Mike Brown. Or at least, they thought they did. In fact, they released the name of a man (which we won't print here) who has no affiliation with either the Ferguson or St. Louis police department, or any Missouri police department, for that matter.
Anonymous' misstep comes at the end of a long series of Tweets sent from the group's now suspended TheAnonMessage Twitter account. For the last few days, the group has been threatening to release the name of the officer who shot and killed Mike Brown. Most of these messages run along the lines of, "We'll tell people who this guy is unless the St. Louis police department responds." What the hacktivist collective hoped to achieve from this response is unknown. In all honesty, it seems like a fairly straightforward (and unproductive) publicity grab.
Even worse, Anonymous' information has proven consistently inaccurate in the Ferguson case, a fact that could prove to be especially dangerous. St. Louis County Police Sgt. Colby Dolly told reporters, "People really need to harshly judge the accuracy of this group, given that they’ve now given false information about several important things.”
In response to the release of the false information, Twitter has suspended TheAnonMessage; Anonymous' YourAnonNews account is still up and running. Anonymous' presence in Ferguson has become has only added more fuel to a fire that's already burning out of control. By releasing the names of "random citizens," they've simply put an innocent man's life (and the lives of his family) at risk.
Let's just be clear here: authorities have withheld the name of the shooter for very good reasons, and it's got nothing to do with police protecting their own or issues of racial discrimination. At the moment, there's just too many conflicting reports to accurately judge how things went down last Saturday in Ferguson, Missouri.
According to police, Mike Brown - who, by all accounts, was a "gentle giant" - and a friend were walking down the street when they were stopped by officers. One of the cops tried to exit their squad car, only to have Brown push the door closed. At that point, a physical scuffle ensued during which Brown allegedly reached for one of the officer's guns. For this maneuver, he was shot and wounded. Bleeding, Brown fled the scene. The officers gave chase, running the teenager down on foot and then shooting him several times.
According to eyewitness Dorian Johnson, though, things played out a bit differently. Johnson's account directly conflicts with the police's version of events. Johnson claims that he and Brown were simply minding their own business when the police showed up and demanded they get on the ground. Johnson also says that Brown, "never once attempted to grab for [the] officer's weapon."
Johnson goes on to explain that Brown stopped running after a short chase, turned to the cops and put his hands in the air. "He started to tell the officer he was unarmed and that you should stop shooting me. Before he can get his second sentence out, the officer fired several more shots into his head and chest areas."
The problem with both stories is that they're exactly the account you'd expect depending on which side of the conflict you're on. How many times have guilty criminals claimed they were "minding their own business"? How many times have police falsely accused innocents for being overly aggressive? In other words, it's almost impossible to reliably tell who was at fault.
For their part, the folks at the Ferguson Police Department seem to want justice, whether or not that means prosecuting one of their own. Their move to bring in the FBI to run a parallel investigation seems evidence enough of that fact. After all, if they were simply trying to cover up a mistake on their part, it seems like they'd try to keep the investigation as close to the vest as possible. Instead, they've invited an agency who has no ties (and therefore no loyalty) to the department.
Even if you're not impressed with the FBI's ability to solve a crime of this nature (which is understandable), the ACLU has you covered. This morning, the organization filed a petition to gain access to the case files. In other words, there are people out there who are going through the proper channels (as opposed to stealing information off of a computer) to help ease this case down the road to a just conclusion. It won't be quick, but there are still dedicated activists fighting to see the truth made public. Best of all, they actually know what they're doing.