Did Officer Darren Wilson’s Vocal Tone and Words Inflame Anger and Actions of Michael Brown Causing His Fatal Shooting?

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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.

 

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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.

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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?

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16 thoughts on “Did Officer Darren Wilson’s Vocal Tone and Words Inflame Anger and Actions of Michael Brown Causing His Fatal Shooting?

  1. Lillian I totally agree with you. I still find it very hard to believe the cop’s version of events. However, let me say that the protesting is not in vain. I will tell you why. The cops are a menace as much as the criminals are..or a vast majority. I have had to call the cops 4 times for assault and battery and even once for my ex mother-in-law for forcibly kidnapping my 6 month old baby and ripping my clothes in the process….3 other times I have had to call the cops…911…for assault and battery. On ALL of these instances that I called 911 in terror and panic….. The cops victimized me! Each and every time they did nothing and told me to leave…2 times the assaults occurred in a home in which I was dwelling and yet they STILL told me to leave! They told me to leave once in the night with my 6 year old son with nowhere to go after I called the cops on my brother for assault and battery! No one was ever taken to jail. No one was ever held accountable for their abuse! My ex mother in law lied her way through the whole thing and the police just ignored her neat appearance and also ignored my torn clothes! I will not call the cops now if you paid me money. They do not help those in need or victims of crime.. They take sides they judge and they also seem to be very sexiest in my observations. I was younger when all of this took place and I was a single mother in all of it as well. I was a vulnerable person who needed protection from controlling & abusive family members…and that is true for my entire life. Now that I am older and I have more confidence I look back and I am horrified. The police are totally out of control…sexiest, raciest, controlling, power mongers & bullies. I have unplugged from the abusive people and I am so much healthier and happy for it! Unplugging from the police was needed as well. They do not help…they hurt worse in my case.

  2. I agree with you and also found it very disconcerting when when
    Wilson said his conscience was clear. It would seem as though he should have some remorse in killing an 18 year old even if he felt he acted appropriately.

  3. Dr. Glass – I had the same reaction as you. Mr. Wilson seemed robotic in the interview. He showed no remorse about talking a life. I expected remorse over the loss of human life. I know the media reported falsely, I wish they could sound impartial until all the facts are gathered…that is what a journalist should do.

    Two things come to mind: does Mr. Wilson feel if he takes a “softer tone”, he will be perceived as weak, and the media will come after him with more prejudiced stories, and is he “depressed or suffering PTSD” in the interview. No doubt he has been under tremendous stress.

    Another tragic story related to Ferguson: on the first night of Ferguson looting, a black man named DeAndre Joshua , 20 years old was shot in the head and his body set on fire inside his car. He was employed, no history of drugs, or criminal behavior. It is believed he testified to what he saw when Michael Brown was shot and killed. His testimony, one of several, supported Mr. Wilson’s story. There are photos on line of “snitches get stitches” painted onto a wall in Ferguson. Mr. Joshua’s family believes he was executed. Two other witness who testified left town, one is supposedly under FBI protection. The story of Mr. Joshua’s murder was briefly covered in the dailymail uk, but not all the details were reported. This is huge because it begs the question, were witnesses threatened as to what they should report to LE, or to the grand jury?

  4. I disagree. I feel like WIlson was keeping his emotions in check. Especially when he described what it was like watching Michael Brown die. His voice became more pinched, more tense. I get the impression that he has had to practice this “skill” more than once in his life, and that is a somewhat sad to me.

    He also describes how he felt immediately after the shooting and how his first thought was, “I need help.” Notice that the whites of his eyes are pink and his voice is small.

    I dunno. I’m not an expert, but I find this fascinating. I was surprised how convinced I was by this interview.

    1. I agree with Gretchen, I think Officer Wilson was extremely guarded in this interview and I do not fault him for that. I read ALL of the witnesses’ statements, medical reports and grand jury testimony transcripts. Officer Wilson’s testimony matches with the evidence and the stmt and testimony of a (AA) non-interested bystander. Cops are not trained to shoot people in the legs, they train for center body mass. Mike Brown brought about his own demise. I’m curious as to your thoughts on TV shows like “the Mentalist” and “Lie to Me” that focus on what you do, interpret body language. I have learned some much from you over the years.

      1. Hi Ellen I love the shows you mentioned. What disturbed me about the Wilson interview is that he said he had no remorse. he was cold in his delivery and it did not make him look like a sympathetic figure. Perhaps cops need to be trained to shoot to not kill as no matter what this young man did not deserve to die over a misdemeanor like stealing cigarillos or like the gentleman in NYC getting a choke hold for the illegal cigarettes. I still stand by my query regarding the offier’s tone of voice.

  5. I actually couldn’t finish watching the interview because he reminded me of a pathological liar friend I used to have and spoke too on purpose to me. I was, however, not surprised he sounded that way based on the information that his Mother was a professional con woman.

    Dr. Glass I’m interested in what you think about Wilson’s version of events compared to Dorian Johnson’s (the friend who was with Micheal Brown) version of events given about an hour or so after the shooting.

  6. I totally disagree with you that the officer’s demeanor instigated Michael Brown’s reaction. Did you really not comprehend that Michael Brown was acting like a street thug w/the store clerk?

    How can you compare the looting population of Ferguson w/people in a refined neighborhood? It does not matter if you are black or white or polka-dotted. when you assault an officer and try to get his gun, you can expect retaliation.

    1. No question Michael Brown acted like a nasty Toxic thug. But Officer Wilson did not see the video at the time he told Brown to stop walking in the middle of the street. Oftentimes voice tone can make a difference in terms of how people react is all I am saying.
      The looting was unacceptable. But my question is what stimulated the assault. Read the second paragraph as I discuss Brown’s cockiness and entitlement.

      1. True, Wilson did not SEE the video, but he did hear his radio report of a big guy w/a red cap and yellow sox robbed a store clerk in that area.

    2. I completely agree with you Mully. So every time an officer doesn’t say please first we have a right to become so offended that we beat him up? In the last days people will call evil good and good evil. This is an example of that.

  7. Darren Wilson reminded me of Anne Romney’s reaction (to the repeated requests by the press for tax returns) when she called the interviewer “you people.” Romney made it clear that she felt that she and her husband didn’t need to play by the same rules as other candidates did because “you people” were in one class and she and her husband were in another.

    Wilsom had no emotion because he didn’t consider Brown a human. He considered him a “hulk.” The Ferguson police discounted the grief of the crowd by claiming they had no right to mourn a “criminal.”

    It was as if the entire white population of that city forgot that the penalty for shoplifting and intimidation isn’t death.

  8. cops should not have to tiptoe around psychotic thugs. The world is probably a better place without Michael Brown around. I’m sorry but this is not a Trayvon Martin situation. Michael Brown was a criminal.

    1. Why don’t you take your hatefulness out on someone else other than thus blog the officer didn’t have to kill the young man and me brown didn’t have to rough up the 7 11 clerk and steal. But death for petty theft is pretty extreme. there are no winners here

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