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a witness to michael brown’s killing tries to move on

August 9, 2019
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In stories of police violence, we remember the victims and the perpetrators of that violence but too often we ignore the plight of the witness after the event has transpired. By now you’ve likely heard the story of Ramsey Orta, the man who filmed the NYPD’s arrest and killing of Eric Garner via the use of officer Daniel Pantaleo’s illegal chokehold. Orta’s only reward for documenting the tragedy has been arrest, incarceration, harassment at the hands of the NYPD and then corrections officers at Riker’s Island and the Groveland Correctional Facility where she’s been locked up since October 2016. On this, the five-year anniversary of the killing of unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson (Aug. 9 2014), the Washington Post is telling the story of yet another witness to police violence and what his life has been like in the aftermath of that fateful day.

Dorian Johnson, or “Witness 101” as he was known in the Department of Justice report on the shooting of Michael Brown, is the man who was with Brown on that night and whose controversial account of what happened gave protesters nationwide the chant: “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot!” According to Johnson, Brown had his hands up in surrender but was shot by Wilson anyway. The Department of Justice’s subsequent report would contradict Johnson’s account, making him a target of right-wing pundits and the “Blue Lives Matter” set. Johnson, a recent transplant to Ferguson from  North St. Louis, had been a victim of violence in the past but was unprepared for the death threats and upheaval that his testimony would inspire. The undesired celebrity the case brought him has cost him jobs and made him fearful for his and his family’s safety.

Despite all of the negative consequences of his testimony, Johnson is sticking to his story. He asserts that his friend — though admittedly behaving oddly prior to the fatal encounter with Wilson that night — had his hands up before he was fatally shot. Johnson has started rapping and recording music as a means of therapy to deal with all of the trauma he’s dealt with related to the case and from simply from existing as a Black man in St. Louis and Ferguson. It’s still his word against Wilson’s and the DOJ’s, but as far he’s concerned what he said in 2014 is what he meant and what he saw.