Democratic presidential candidates Sens. Kamala Harris of California and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts are taking heat from fact-checkers for claiming the white officer who fatally shot Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri five years ago “murdered” the black teenager.
“Harris, Warren Wrong About Brown Shooting,” read a headline Monday from the non-profit website factcheck.org.
Washington Post Fact Checker Glenn Kessler on Monday also awarded both senators four pinocchios over their claims.
Harris and Warren's comments were made last week as Democratic presidential candidates marked the five-year anniversary of the unrest in Ferguson after the controversial shooting of Brown.
In a tweet on Friday, Harris wrote: “Michael Brown’s murder forever changed Ferguson and America. His tragic death sparked a desperately needed conversation and a nationwide movement. We must fight for stronger accountability and racial equity in our justice system.”
Warren tweeted that “5 years ago Michael Brown was murdered by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. Michael was unarmed yet he was shot 6 times. I stand with activists and organizers who continue the fight for justice for Michael. We must confront systemic racism and police violence head on.”
But the fact-checkers said the evidence in the case contradicts the comments by Harris and Warren: Three months after the shooting, a grand jury decided not to indict Wilson. And in March of 2015, a report released by President Barack Obama’s Department of Justice found that Officer Darren Wilson most likely had reason to fear for his life and did not break the law when shooting Brown.
In awarding the pinocchios, the Washington Post’s Kessler wrote: “Harris and Warren have ignored the findings of the Justice Department to accuse Wilson of murder, even though the Justice Department found no credible evidence to support that claim.”
And Factcheck.org pointed out that other Democratic presidential contenders also tweeted on the anniversary of Brown’s death, but didn’t use the word “murdered.” Instead, they noted Brown was “killed” by a police officer.
The August 9, 2014 shooting of the unarmed Brown dominated national headlines five years ago, igniting protests and riots in Ferguson.
Protesters charged that Brown had his hands raised up in the air before he was shot multiple times by Wilson, as Ferguson became the national symbol of racial bias by law enforcement. But while the phrase "Hands up, don't shoot" originated after the shooting, the Justice Department investigation at the time found no evidence that Brown's hands were up.
At the same time, the city’s police department faced allegations of racism and racially biased policing of the community, and the Justice Department said it uncovered a widespread systemic pattern of racial exploitation and profiling of the city’s black residents by the Ferguson Police Department.