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Poll: Public Broadly Unaware that 'Hands Up, Don't Shoot' Was Disproved

Nearly two-thirds of voters don’t know that the Obama administration debunked the claim that Michael Brown held up his hands in surrender before he was shot.

Protesters hold up signs, Friday, Aug. 15, 2014, in front of a convenience store that was looted and burned following the shooting death of teenager Michael Brown by police in Ferguson, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

A nationwide scientific poll has found that nearly two-thirds of voters don’t know that the Obama administration debunked the claim that Michael Brown held up his hands in surrender before he was shot.

This outcome reveals a high level of public ignorance about the key event that sparked the “Black Lives Matter” movement.

Protesters hold up signs, Friday, Aug. 15, 2014, in front of a convenience store that was looted and burned following the shooting death of teenager Michael Brown by police in Ferguson, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel) Protesters hold up signs, Friday, Aug. 15, 2014, in front of a convenience store that was looted and burned following the shooting death of teenager Michael Brown by police in Ferguson, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel) 

In March 2015, the U.S. Department of Justice, which is under the authority of President Barack Obama, issued a report proving that Brown had attacked police officer Darren Wilson and that Wilson used his gun in self-defense. Contradicting widely reported assertions that Brown held up his hands in surrender, the Department of Justice found that such claims were either:

  • “inconsistent with the physical and forensic evidence,”
  • “significantly inconsistent with the witness's own prior statements,” or
  • recanted when people in the neighborhood admitted “that they did not witness the shooting," in contradiction to what they had told the media.

The Department of Justice also found that:

  • Brown attacked Wilson in his police car, as proven by the fact that Brown's DNA was found on Wilson's shirt collar and on the inside and outside of the driver's door of Wilson's car.
  • Brown was advancing towards Wilson when he was shot, as evidenced by the pattern of blood stains in the street.

Despite the import of these facts and the firestorm of media about Brown’s death, a recent poll commissioned by Just Facts has found that the vast majority of voters do not know the correct answer to the question: “Did the Obama administration’s investigation of the Ferguson shooting find merit in claims that Michael Brown held up his hands in surrender before he was shot by police officer Darren Wilson?”

The poll reveals that 63 percent of all voters, 81 percent of Democratic voters, 42 percent of Republican voters, and 68 percent of undecided voters do not know the truth of this matter. These figures include voters who gave the incorrect answer and those who said they did not know the answer. People who gave the incorrect answer included 27 percent of all voters, 45 percent of Democratic voters, 12 percent of Republican voters, and 26 percent of undecided voters.

These poll results may stem in part from the fact that certain prominent individuals are still spreading the narrative that Brown’s killing was the result of police brutality.

For example, U.S. Congressman Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) recently sponsored a bill that cites “the death of Michael Brown” as an example of “the unjustified use of lethal and excessive force by police officers against African-Americans.” Nine other members of Congress have already signed onto the bill as cosponsors.

Likewise, surrounding the occasion of this year’s Martin Luther King Day, hundreds of reporters and commentators are citing the death of Michael Brown while failing to mention that the central storyline that made this a national issue is untrue. Over the course of the MLK holiday alone, Google News shows 429 results for a search on “Michael Brown” Ferguson. Only one of the first 30 results gives any indication that Brown attacked Wilson and was shot while charging at him.

In his famed “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” King wrote that the first step in a “nonviolent campaign” to achieve justice is to gather “facts to determine whether injustices exist.” Yet, people who claim to honor King’s legacy are promoting a falsehood that has fueled riots and enraged a gunman who executed two New York City police officers.

The poll results were obtained through live telephone surveys of 700 likely voters across the continental United States on Dec. 15–20, 2015. This poll also contained 23 questions to measure voters’ knowledge of policy issues, such as education, healthcare, taxes, global warming, and hunger. Further details are available here.

James D. Agresti is the president of Just Facts, a nonprofit institute dedicated to researching and publishing verifiable facts about public policy.

TheBlaze contributor channel supports an open discourse on a range of views. The opinions expressed in this channel are solely those of each individual author.

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