Stranger Fruit Meets Rotten Fruit: Robert McCulloch and the Michael Brown Shooting

A makeshift memorial placed during protests -- photo by Jamelle Bouie via Wikipedia
A makeshift memorial placed during protests — photo by Jamelle Bouie via Wikipedia

As the 2014 shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson was litigated in the court of public opinion, Ferguson’s police department released video which appeared to show Brown robbing a local store a few minutes before his fatal encounter with Wilson.

A new documentary, Stranger Fruit, includes additional, mostly previously unnoticed, footage which seems to call that interpretation (and the attendant perception of Brown’s character) into question. Filmmaker Jason Pollock believes it shows that what happened was not a robbery, but an exchange of marijuana for cigarillos.

I’m no more sure what to believe about the footage and its import than I am of precisely what happened that day between Brown and Wilson. But I am sure that the last person entitled to have his opinion on the matter taken seriously is St. Louis County, Missouri prosecutor Robert McCulloch.

McCulloch calls Pollock’s theory “just stupid” and “just nonsense.” But it was McCulloch whose epic, and apparently intentional, mishandling of the formal investigation made speculative inquiries like Pollock’s inevitable. Stranger Fruit exists because Robert McCulloch wanted neither to do his job nor to be seen as not doing it.

As a prosecutor, McCulloch had discretion to do one of three things.

He could charge Wilson with a crime, presenting evidence to sustain the charge in a public preliminary hearing.

Or he could take the case to a grand jury where the evidence would be considered in secret.

Finally, he could decide not to pursue the matter further if he didn’t believe the evidence was there to convict Wilson.

At all times when taking any of these three courses, McCulloch’s job remained the same: To pursue charges if he believed he could prove the case, to not pursue charges if he didn’t.

Instead, McCulloch set up shop as Wilson’s defense attorney behind the closed doors of the grand jury proceedings. For all intents and purposes he quit his job as prosecutor and concentrated solely on NOT doing what he was supposedly there to do, which was to get an indictment.

McCulloch’s machinations created the impression that “the fix was in” — because it was. His priority wasn’t to do his job, or to reach the truth, or to serve justice. It was to exonerate Darren Wilson because, and only because, Wilson was a police officer.

McCulloch has a long and legendary record of bending over backward to ensure that no police officer is ever held responsible for his or her actions, even when those actions are clearly criminal.

Granted, his personal history plays a role. When he was 12, his father, a police officer, was killed in the line of duty. But that’s no excuse. He’s supposedly a prosecutor, but instead works tirelessly to exonerate accused cops, including the killers of two unarmed men at a Berkeley, Missouri restaurant in 2000.

Wilson may or may not be one of those rare bad apples we always hear about from defenders of police as such. McCulloch undoubtedly is. Stranger Fruit, meet rotten fruit.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism ( He lives and works in north central Florida.


Sorry, Non-Interventionists: Donald Trump is a War President

Rescue and clean-up crews search for casualtie...
Rescue and clean-up crews search for casualties following the barracks bombing in Beirut on October 23, 1983. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

During the 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump claimed to have opposed the Iraq war, wanted better relations with Russia, and even briefly put his hand on the hot stove of the Arab-Israeli conflict, calling himself “neutral” on Palestine.

On the other hand, he called for “rebuilding” the US armed forces, which hardly need it (they’re already the most expensive and bloated war machine on the planet). And he yanked his hand off the stove when he got his fingers burnt, turning 180 degrees to announce that he’d be “the most pro-Israel president ever,” when he decided that’s what it took to win the election.

Clearly candidate Trump was a mixed bag on foreign policy, but he was marginally better than most of his opponents. Some antiwar activists took heart at the possibility that he might, as president, cut back on US military adventurism.

No such luck.

The first major post-inauguration evidence that Trump is just a typical political con man came in February with a raid in Yemen resulting in the murder of an 8-year-old American girl and dozens of other civilians by US Navy Seals (one of whom also died). The raid was planned under and approved by then-president Barack Obama prior to Trump’s inauguration, but instead of condemning the action he defended it. He invited the widow of the fallen SEAL, but not the surviving members of young Nawar Anwar al-Awlaki’s family, to attend his speech before Congress.

Now he’s  deployed 400 artillery and infantry troops from the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit and 100 US Army Rangers to Syria, effectively doubling the number of US military boots on the ground there.

Mainstream American media outlets seem to consider it novel, perhaps even controversial, that Syrian president Bashar al-Assad refers to the US troops as “invaders.” I’m not sure why. Sending troops into a country against the will of its government is, by definition, an invasion.

Apart from a few bitter-enders still trying and failing to get the words “I was wrong” out of their mouths like Fonzie in Happy Days,  antiwar Trump supporters seem to understand that they got played.

Perhaps Trump will change course yet again and start pulling American troops out of the Middle East when (not if) things blow up in his face, as Ronald Reagan did after the 1983 Beirut Marine barracks bombing. But I wouldn’t bet on it. His temperament and, so far, his actions scream “war president.”

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism ( He lives and works in north central Florida.


The First Step Toward Fiscal Discipline: Cut Up The Credit Card

Hundreds (RGBStock)

In 2015, Congress temporarily did away with the US government’s fictional “debt limit.” I call that limit fictional because it’s not really a limit. Every time the government gets close to it, Congress raises it. It’s as if signs on the highway changed to display a number five miles higher every time you got within a mile of the existing “speed limit.” So anyway, Congress decided to stop pretending the limit actually exists, through March 15 of this year.

After that? The Congressional Budget Office forecasts that the government can continue to operate until this fall without busting the new debt limit, but US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin is already asking Congress to raise it ASAP.

I’ve got a better idea: This time, Congress should refuse to increase the debt limit, and in fact should provide for that limit to automatically decrease as the existing debt (now closing in on $20 trillion) is paid down.

As of 2014, government spending came to more than 40% of the country’s Gross Domestic Product annually. Yes, you read that right: American politicians spend 40 cents from every dollar of wealth created in our economy.

About 25% of that looting is overt taxation. The other 15% is borrowed. Borrowing is just deferred taxation. Those who loan American politicians money are told — and believe — that for every dollar it borrows, the US government will find a way to take a dollar, plus interest, out of your hide at some point in the future.

The politicians are spending all of the money they directly pick out of our pockets. Then they’re borrowing more and pretending we’re their co-signers.

If a regular person ends up in deep debt, he knows that the very first step to getting out of the hole is to cut up the credit cards and stop borrowing money.

Supporters of continuously growing government debt try to make the matter seem more complicated for Congress than it is for you or me. In reality, it is exactly as simple.  The first step is to stop the borrowing.

And after the borrowing stops? Well, there’s always bankruptcy — repudiation of the debt in its entirety — or, as president Donald Trump suggested during his campaign,  at least negotiating with creditors to settle for less than the government owes.

Sooner or later, the borrowing IS going to end. It can end with fiscal discipline or it can end with political and economic disaster. Your call, Congress.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism ( He lives and works in north central Florida.