"Stranger Fruit," a new documentary that premiered at the SXSW Film Festival, has obtained surveillance video footage that it claims changes the entire narrative of the 2014 shooting death of Michael Brown that sparked the "Black Lives Matter" movement.
The documentary presents this footage as a bombshell revelation that clears Brown of a strong arm robbery at a convenience store shortly before he attacked a Ferguson, MO police officer, who shot Brown in what both local and federal authorities determined to be lawful self-defense.
The newly released footage is from that same convenience store at approximately 1:30 am on the day Brown died and, in a rather puzzling bit of image-rehabbing, the documentary insists that it shows Brown dealing marijuana to the clerks working at the store.
This, filmmaker Jason Pollock insists, shows that Brown wasn't some thug who stole a box of cigars and attacked another clerk on duty, he was just an innocent drug dealer returning to the scene of his crime to pick up some cigarillos that were promised to him!
Because that's much better.
But here's the thing: The new video footage actually doesn't exonerate Brown for the strong arm robbery at all. It merely adds an offense (drug dealing) to the long list of of crimes Brown committed on the day of his death.
Here's the new footage:
Though the Ferguson Police Department almost immediately dismissed it as a "poorly edited snippet of security video," let's take the documentary's claims at face value.
"Stranger Fruit" asserts that the footage shows that Brown sold a bag of marijuana to one or more of the three people behind the counter at 1:30 am. However, the footage also shows that instead of money, one of the three people behind the counter (presumably an employee of the store), pays for the marijuana with two boxes of cigarillos.
Here's the problem: Those cigarillos weren't the clerk's to trade, because they were not his property. He was merely an employee of Ferguson Market and Liquor, not an owner, and could not therefore legally use the store's merchandise as barter in an illicit transaction.
For reasons known only to Brown and the people to whom he sold his drugs, he left the cigarillos behind the counter instead of taking them with him after the deal was done.
Later that day, he came back for them:
In that footage, Brown grabbed a box of cigarillos that perhaps he believed he was owed. The only problem? They weren't his because they weren't the clerk's to trade. They belonged to Ferguson Market and Liquor co-owner And Patel, the man Brown can be seen accosting in the above footage before he storms out of the store.
This is quite literally the statutory definition of strong arm robbery: Brown reached behind the counter, grabbed a box of cigarillos and, when their owner tried to stop him, Brown used physical force and intimidation to get the cigarillos out of the store.
Whether or not Brown knew that the clerk he sold his marijuana to had the authority to trade him store property or not is irrelevant. In the moment he took a store's property without the store's consent and attempted to leave without paying for it as a store employee attempted to stop him, Brown clearly knew he was doing something that the store did not allow.
When a representative from the store (in this case, one of the owners) yelled for him to stop, Brown obviously knew that he was not authorized to take the cigarillos from the store, no matter what had been told to him during his late-night drug deal. A verbal warning to stop followed by a store representative physically attempting to stop Brown from leaving with the store's merchandise made it clear to Brown that what he was doing was not allowed, and Brown responded in a manner consistent with one attempting to get away with something he was not allowed to do.
In other words, Brown was robbing the store and he knew he was robbing the store. This knowledge, though, was largely irrelevant since Missouri Statute § 570.025 defines second degree robbery (a felony) as when one "forcibly steals property and in the course thereof causes physical injury to another person."
Notice that there is no component of the crime that deals with the defendant's mental state. When Brown forcibly took the box of cigarillos (whether or not he believed they were rightfully his) and a store representative informed him that they were not; and when Brown injured the store representative while assaulting him, he committed second degree robbery.
And it was all caught on surveillance video.
All that the new surveillance video that "Stranger Fruit" released has done is to prove that Brown committed a second crime, drug dealing, at the exact same site of his armed robbery a few hours later.