Before I begin I want to state that I have no agenda here and I am not taking sides. This post has no racial or political undertones. As a body language expert and communication expert, I pose questions which in my view, may give us some insight as to another underlying factor that has not yet been discussed in the press until this blog post.
We all know that The Grand Jury has spoken after scrutinizing the evidence which lead to Michael Brown being shot and killed by Officer Wilson and Officer Wilson not being charged with murder or manslaughter.
In reporting my observations about Officer Darren Wilson’s body language and tone of voice and speech content and facial language during the ABC interview , I found it to be as disturbing as when I watched Michael Brown’s body language in the surveillance video.
In examining Officer Wilson’s account of the events, he did appear to be telling the truth about what happened as I did not see any outward signals of deception. However, I was particularly struck by Officer Wilson’s robotic and monotone vocal tone and command terms when relaying the exact words he used to Michael Brown. Thus, it made me question if Wilson’s tone and words may have possibly been a contributing factor to this disaster.
As we all saw on the video, Michael Brown robbed a store where he took some cigarillos. Brown then bullied and roughed up the store clerk as we can see in the screen shot above, leaving the clerk with a fearful body language. . While I have all the sympathy in the world for Michael Brown’s mother in losing a son, after her public comment that her son would never do anything wrong, she needs to carefully examine the video with regard to her son’s entitled and bullying behavior. That said, many teens have robbed and bullied and have not been shot dead.
No doubt when Michael Brown left the store feeling empowered that he was able to intimidate the clerk just by his size and get away with taking whatever he wanted. Most likely, as Brown walked in the middle of street, which was reported, he may have continued that feeling of empowerment and entitlement, especially when Officer Wilson approached him.
Reports say that when Officer Wilson saw him and a friend walking in the middle of the street. Wilson said he told Michael Brown to “get out of the middle of the street”. But the question here is, how did Officer Wilson tell Michael Brown to get out of the middle of the street? What tones did he use and what exact words did Officer Wilson say to Brown?
The reason I bring this up is that even though Darren Wilson was doing his job as he repeatedly said, I wonder if perhaps it may have been Wilson’s tone or the specific words he used that helped spark the fire that ignited an already entitled and empowered Michael Brown’s anger, which in turn escalated to the event that lead to Brown’s being shot to death.
Research has shown that the tone of a person’s voice and the words they use can either inflame or diffuse a situation. This is one of the things I continuously emphasize in my lectures to Police Departments across the country on body language and communication skills. Sometimes a simple “Please” before a command can change an entire attitude for all parties involved. Oftentimes a “please” doesn’t make the request sound like a threat. Perhaps Brown interpreted the command as a hostile threat and reacted as he did. So often things can escalate and get out of hand due to tones and words.
As a side note, throughout the years, the Beverly Hills Police Department has been very aware of this very factor. One of the things that has been observed by many who have been stopped by a BHPD officer is that they are conscious of being very respectful and polite when they engage a person. In fact a friend of mine who is a retired Beverly Hills officer shared with me that being respectful and polite was always drummed into all the officers.
In the Ferguson Police situation, If Brown did attack Officer Wilson, Brown’s judgment was clearly impaired at that moment as any 17 or 18 year old high school student has to know that attacking a police officer will end badly. For Brown to return and attempt to tackle Officer Wilson, there was clearly something which enraged Brown which may very well have been a vocal and verbal stimulus from Wilson.
Also as a side thought, why did the officer have to shoot Brown in the head as he charged towards him? Couldn’t Wilson have shot Brown in the legs or in the feet so he would fall down. It seems to me that shooting Brown in the head was excessive and “overkill” to excuse the pun.
The first thing which struck me about Officer Wilson’s demenor on his ABC interview was his lack of facial animation and his tone of voice where there was a lack of vocal inflection and animation. He appeared detached in terms of emotion and robotic in his tones . This may be in keeping of the type of police officer he is – a “by the book” officer. As he described his actions of the night, this was quite evident. But his facial expression showed no sadness or distress when relaying how Brown died.
Since nothing happens in a vacuum and there is always a cause and affect, after listening to Wilson’s tones I wondered what it was that ultimately caused things to escalate to Michael Brown’s death. What caused this young man to react so angrily to Officer Wilson to led him to engage in a physical attack on the officer and the officer subsequently shooting him to death?
Was it the officer’s tone of voice when he first approached Michael? Did he speak in harsh hostile robotic and angry tones when he told him to get out of the middle of the street where Michael was walking with a friend? Based on his account it is doubtful that Wilson used terms of politeness or respect like “Can you please not walk out in the middle of the street?” BAsed on the other harsh command terms he relayed, it is most likely that he gave Michael a harsh command? That may have made a huge difference in what may have set the tone for what unfortunately followed.
Could all of this have been avoided if the officer would have used different words or different tones with this young man? What would have happened if he engaged Michael Brown and was polite and respectful, at least until his backup unit came by?
When Officer Wilson described the incident on ABC News , Wilson did reveal that he used the command terms “Get back or I’ll shoot you.” This resulted in Brown replying “You’re too much of a pu**y to shoot me.” In essence, an angry Brown was testing Wilson and reacting to what he perceived as a threat. But what if Wilson said “ Please get back. I don’t want to have to fire at you? Would that have made a difference or was the dye already cast? Only Brown and Wilson will ever know the answer to this.
Another thing which disturbed me the most in the interview was Wilson’s detached vocal coldness, when asked by ABC interviewer George Stassinopoulos about Wilson’s conscience. When Wilson said he had a “clear conscience”, it sent off a red flag to me. If someone is shot and killed, no matter the circumstances, their conscience should not have been clear in my view.
Many officers have shot in the line of duty, in fear of their lives, or to save the lives of others. For the majority of officers, their conscience is not clear but as a human being it is disturbed for taking a human life. No matter how trained they are, taking a human life does and should have an emotional effect on a person.
Look what has happened to Veterans in so many wars, who have been trained to kill the enemy. Even though they are doing their job, it still often affects their conscience, so much so that they get post traumatic stress syndrome, which has ruined so many Veteran’s lives. PTSD is an epidemic among Veterans as it has been since World War II where it was referred to as “shell shock.” Vietnam Vets were the first to put a face on this disorder.
Just like Veterans, police officers who have killed someone in the line of duty, can and have easily suffered from PSTD . Oftentimes their consciences are so disturbed that they often undergo extensive psychotherapy to deal with the implications of taking a life . They are often counseled right after the incident and many remain in treatment for a long period of time.
In listening to Darren Brown speak, his robotic and detached tones spoke volumes to me . Darren Wilson is not a warm nor engaging or even a personable type of policeman based on his observed demeanor. I wonder if he had been such a police officer if would Michael Brown still be alive today?