Time to retire Ferguson narrative

“Hands up, don’t shoot” never happened. Somebody tell the Democrats running for president.

Even amid the heated political rhetoric that dominates the news media and social media, resurrected false claims about the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., stand out as egregious.

On Friday and Saturday, Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenThe Memo: Sanders-Warren battle could reshape Democratic primary Environmental activists interrupt Buttigieg in New Hampshire Pence to visit Iowa days before caucuses MORE (D-Mass.), Rep. Tim RyanTimothy (Tim) RyanOffice of Technology Assessment: It's time for a second coming Key moments in the 2020 Democratic presidential race so far GM among partners planning .3B battery plant in Ohio MORE (D-Ohio), Sen. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerSunday shows preview: Lawmakers gear up for Senate impeachment trial DNC announces new criteria for New Hampshire debate The Hill's Campaign Report: Sanders, Warren feud rattles Democrats MORE (D-N.J.), Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisParnas pressure grows on Senate GOP Sanders defends vote against USMCA: 'Not a single damn mention' of climate change The Hill's Morning Report — President Trump on trial MORE (D-Calif.), former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas), Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandSanders defends vote against USMCA: 'Not a single damn mention' of climate change The Hill's Morning Report — President Trump on trial Overnight Energy: Schumer votes against USMCA, citing climate impact | Republicans offer details on their environmental proposals | Microsoft aims to be carbon negative by 2030 MORE (D-N.Y.), Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersBiden alleges Sanders campaign 'doctored video' to attack him on Social Security record Sanders campaign responds to Biden doctored video claims: Biden should 'stop trying to doctor' public record The Memo: Sanders-Warren battle could reshape Democratic primary MORE (I-Vt.) and New York City Mayor Bill de BlasioBill de BlasioThe Hill's Morning Report - Impeachment trial a week away; debate night Trump mocks Booker over suspended presidential campaign Thousands take to New York streets in solidarity after anti-Semitic attacks MORE, all running for their party’s nomination for president, tweeted out statements containing disproven claims or false implications about the incident.

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Booker tweeted: “5 years ago, Michael Brown was killed by a police officer ... I have been thinking all day about Mike and his family, and my prayers are with them. I am also thinking about the everyday citizens who stood against this police violence and racism and were tear gassed for their patriotic acts. Ferguson called to the conscience of our nation and inspired a movement that rightly continues.”

Gillibrand said: “5 years ago, a Ferguson police officer killed Michael Brown, an unarmed teenager. He shot him 6 times. Nothing will bring Michael back, but we can't stop fighting the injustice done to his family and so many others.”

Ryan wrote: “Five years since the tragic death of Michael Brown and we still have significant work to do. We must rebuild trust between police and the communities they have sworn to protect.”

DeBlasio said: “Michael Brown should be here today. My city knows the pain of Ferguson all too well ... NO ONE should die due to the color of their skin.”

O’Rourke tweeted: “Five years ago, Michael Brown was shot dead by a police officer. ... We are reminded of an idea as urgent, and as ignored, today as it was when Michael was killed: Black Lives Matter.”

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Sanders wrote: “Michael Brown should be alive today. Five years after his death, we must finally end police violence against people of color.”

Harris had this take: “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.”

And Warren tweeted: “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.”

I’m not too surprised when I hear friends and members of the public refer to the debunked narratives about the Ferguson shooting. I’ll explain why in a moment. But I was more than a little taken aback to find these presidential candidates — some of them lawyers — passing along divisive, libelous implications.

To back up for a moment, the shooting happened on Aug. 9, 2014. A Ferguson, Mo., police officer named Darren Wilson shot and killed an 18-year-old unarmed suspect named Michael Brown. Brown was black, Wilson is white. Witnesses claimed that Officer Wilson had shot Brown in cold blood while Brown’s hands were raised in surrender. Though without evidence, those accounts were afforded wide credence in the media. They sparked riots. They ignited a movement called “Hands up, don’t shoot!” 

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If ever there were a time for responsible journalists to carefully mitigate uncorroborated and inflammatory claims, this was arguably the moment. At the time, pockets of the nation were a racial tinderbox.

The problem is, all of the racially tinged accusations against Officer Wilson were likely false, according to the final analysis by President Obama’s Department of Justice. The report, issued in 2015, found that Officer Wilson’s accounts were corroborated. He’d acted in self-defense. Brown, the report said, had reached into the police vehicle and grabbed Officer Wilson by the neck. And Brown appeared to be lunging toward Officer Wilson when Officer Wilson shot him in self-defense.  

The Obama Justice Department investigators concluded that original witness accounts claiming that Brown’s hands were up when he was shot, and other key claims, were “unreliable” and — in many instances — directly contradicted by the forensic evidence, while Officer Wilson’s story was supported by the forensics. “Hands up, don’t shoot,” the Obama Justice Department found, was contrary to reliable accounts — and likely fabricated. 

The findings of this important report got nowhere near the news coverage of the original false claims. There were no apologies to Officer Wilson. His career and life were ruined by the false claims.

Now, the very candidates regularly accusing President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump's newest Russia adviser, Andrew Peek, leaves post: report Hawley expects McConnell's final impeachment resolution to give White House defense ability to motion to dismiss Trump rips New York City sea wall: 'Costly, foolish' and 'environmentally unfriendly idea' MORE of being a liar and divisive, of making claims “without evidence,” have made their own divisive, false claims. Not only are these claims “without evidence,” they contradict the evidence, according to the Obama Justice Department.

There are, undeniably, instances of racism and bad policing in our society. Most everyone can get behind the idea of addressing them in a productive way. But to incorrectly forward the notion of the Ferguson shooting as an example of those problems shrouds the search for progress. 

Ferguson, based on the findings of the Obama Justice Department, isn’t an example of bad policing run amok or racism. It’s a tragic case of media malpractice ruining the life of a police officer who was found to have done nothing other than defend himself.

Sharyl Attkisson (@SharylAttkisson) is an Emmy Award-winning investigative journalist, author of The New York Times best-sellers “The Smear” and “Stonewalled,” and host of Sinclair’s Sunday TV program, “Full Measure.”