Friday, November 14, 2014









(Friday November, 14, Ferguson, MO)  The headlines are ominous; they are already predicting with an exaggerated sense of foreboding how this community will react if the Grand Jury currently hearing the evidence against Police Officer Darren Wilson, the White Ferguson Officer who shot and killed an unarmed Black 18 year old, Michael Brown on the afternoon of August 9th, 2014.  That event served as a catalyst that ignited the anger, near riotous mob behavior that was as much about this predominantly Black community has long felt the alleged heavy hands of a Police Force with a sole Black Officer.  The history of this small town has been marred by racial tensions between citizens and those who enforce the law.  This particular episode made national headlines after President Obama dispatched the United States Attorney General, Eric Holder, the top law enforcement official in the country, to Ferguson, ostensibly to meet with the Brown family and the usual roster of “Black Activists”, “Community Leaders” and bellicose reverends of all stripe to assure  the citizenry that “justice will be served”.  Just as disturbing have been recent statements in the press from the head of the Missouri chapter of the KKK.  All the elements for a potentially volatile scenario once the Grand Jury’s findings are made public are gathering here.

 On the immediate nights after Michael Brown’s death demonstrations and protests paralyzed this community.  Once peace was restored demonstrations continued in an orderly manner despite the still simmering frustration that ran like an ugly undercurrent through this town.  The Brown family retained the services of several well know attorneys who had represented families who had lost a child under similar circumstances.  The now familiar narrative of White Police Officers abusing and even killing young Black men is never as clear cut as the public perceives them.  Yet, no matter what the actual, substantiated factual accounts are typically ignored or reflexively dismissed as White Cops sticking up for one another, obstructing justice, and having tacit approval from their superiors that they can do as they please out on the streets and a criminal justice system that endemically treats African Americans much differently than they do White people.

The central assertions of the case are well known.  The points of contention, the very factors that will determine Officer Wilson’s fate, are more complex and findings of competing post mortem examination will be the deciding evidence to either indict PO Wilson or not.  Despite what the public may believe about crime scene investigation, autopsies and forensics, concepts they’ve likely picked up from viewing all the CSI and police procedural TV programs, are presented in an unrealistically simple manner that bears scant resemblance to the actual work performed by Police Detectives, Forensic Scientists from an array of specialties, and the Forensics Pathologist.  In some case the investigation of an unnatural death, a murder, can yield evidentiary information that requires as much art as it does science; as much interpreting all the findings and working to establish a cohesive, coherent body of proof and, ultimately, court testimony. 


Above the entrance to most Autopsy Suites in the country is an old Latin admonition, or some abbreviated version of it, to be heeded by those about to enter.  In English it is: “Let idle talk be silenced.  Let laughter be banished.  This is the place where Death rejoices to teach those who live”.

To the uninitiated the Autopsy Suite can be an intimidatingly discomforting place. Just the realization of what transpires in the stark stainless tell, cold, impersonal environment is sufficient to cause some to get more than a little jittery.  But the environment is such because it is specifically designed, constructed and intended for one purpose and one purpose only: the performance of post mortem examinations.  In spite of what some view as a gruesome, loathsome task, the autopsy is a solemn medical procedure with one purpose; to attempt to determine the cause of death – the manner and method – that transpired to result in a particular body to be placed beneath the bright lights above the autopsy table.  Autopsies are conducted for a wide range of reasons from accessing the efficacy of some treatment modality, to rule in or out suicide, for insurance purposes, and as teaching experiencing.  Arguably, the most important reason for an autopsy is as a Forensics tool; the opportunity for the Forensics Pathologist to dissect and study a body that was felled under criminal or suspicious circumstances.  It is in this scenario that the autopsy can become the final arbiter of truth.


The autopsies conducted on the body of Michael Brown have each documented the various gunshot wounds, there location, whether they were entry or exit wounds and, upon internal examination, which one or ones where the actual manner of death.  Often a body can sustain numerous gunshots and it becomes the Forensic Pathologists responsibility if a single gunshot or the collective damage of several shots caused death.  In cases where bullets are recovered, the Ballistics specialists are able to identify if the bullets recovered covered came from one firearm or several.  But in this case there is but one firearm and one shooter involved. 

It has been alleged that PO Wilson and Mr. Brown were involved in an altercation while Wilson was still seated in his patrol car and there has been evidence recovered to support this claim; the evidence being Brown’s blood on Wilson’s shirt.  After this alleged confrontation Mr. Brown did I fact walk away from PO Wilson as reported by eye witness accounts and the absence of gunshot residue on Brown’s body or clothing.  This is indicative of Wilson firing his weapon from a distance – between 6 and 20 feet – from Mr. Brown.  What the Forensic Pathologists also had to study closely were the clothes Mr. Brown wore on that fateful day.  If his hands were raised in a “don’t shoot” position, the entry wounds and entry point on his shirt would be in line with each other.  Many cases come down to this sort of evidence.  When points of entry on clothing do not comport with entry wounds on the body, much can be said as to the actual physical distance, position and posture of the victim.  Conflicting reports have been leaked by people purporting to be privy to the on-going Grand Jury testimony say there is evidence supporting both sides in this tragic story but it is imperative that the Grand jury completes their sacred task before anything approaching the real “truth” can be made available.


As has been reported, the body of Michael Brown went through three autopsies.  The simple facts and details of the procedure are clear; the first autopsy, if conducted completely in accordance with standard forensics post mortem procedures and protocols, is the most important and the best source of medico-legal information.  Once a body is subjected to a thorough post mortem, any ensuing examinations are extremely limited in making any kind of determination besides some of the most obvious.  Frankly, a complete autopsy is an in-depth examination of the external condition of the corpse and, once the “Y” shaped incision made, the body is splayed open.  After examination of the corpse in this state, the internal viscera are each removed, weighed, measured, examined and sample of tissue are taken to be made into microscopic slides for later study by the Pathologist.

In the Forensic setting particular attention is obvious paid to any physical signs of violence, trauma, or insult.  The dead body speaks volumes if the Forensics team is astute enough to listen.  In this case, Mr. Brown’s internal examination prior to any removal of organs, was exhaustively studied to trace the damage made by the bullets that ultimately hit him.  There has been much written and reported about a head wound and the entry point of that particular wound that was most likely the one single shot most responsible for his death.  The wound’s position is a determining factor in whether or not Mr. Brown was standing up right, standing up right with his head bowed to a certain degree or, if he was on his knees with or without his head bowed to one degree or another.  The position of that entry wound on the head would indicate that the 6’ 4” Mr. Brown was perhaps falling face-forward down or otherwise in a non-standing compromised posture.  The entire Grand Jury testimony may come down to this singular question because its accurate answer based on the pathological findings has the potential to make or break the case.

In the case of Mr. Brown it remains unclear who had access to what evidence and when?  There were initial reports that the St. Louis county coroner did not have Mr. Brown’s clothes to examine while the autopsy conducted on behalf on the family by arguably the most famous, respected, and brilliant Forensic Pathologist in America, Dr. Michael Baden, had either some or all of the clothing to examine.  A third post mortem conducted by an FBI forensics team probably was more redundant and useless than helpful or insightful.  With three separate and distinct autopsies it was probably a mighty chore for the County Prosecutor to decide what forensic pathology evidence he chose to present to the Grand Jury.  Even in the most unambiguous of circumstances, the medico-legal information provided to the Prosecutor is often presented clumsily and inaccurately.  It is the job of the Prosecutor to take what is often very technical medical information and put it in terms that can be easily understood by a jury, a jury typically composed of blue-collar, working class people typically unfamiliar with such complex information.  Since jurors tend to take their civic duty seriously and, in a Grand Jury setting, they may ask many questions to have points of testimony clarified. 


In any homicide but particularly in a case as emotionally charged, high profile, and controversial as is this, the truth is what is sought.  The truth, some call it justice, is what all the autopsies and investigatory procedures are about.  The details of the volumes of information and testimony given to the Grand Jury over the course of the last three months contains the truth or, at least, as much of the truth as can be determined by all the cumulative data.  Police Officer Wilson has provided his “side” of his confrontation with Michael Brown just as have eye witnesses and other bystanders who were close enough to the scene of the crime to offer some valuable auditory information.  Even at this time and despite the constant drip of leaks from sources within the investigation, no one knows what the truth is.  Everyone has an opinion as is their right.  Much of the opinion is split along the deeply gouged color line in America; Black Americans believe that White Officer Wilson shot Mr. Brown without “just cause” a line of thought that is at the heart of much of the racial tensions between White Law Enforcement Officers (LEO’s) and Black men, particularly young Black men.

What is at stake regarding this Grand Jury’s verdict is the matter of whether or not to indict Officer Wilson on a charge of homicide, manslaughter or some similar charge.  Given the amount of media coverage this case garnered in the immediate wake of the incident that left Mr. Brown dead, the eyes of the country will be upon Ferguson when the Grand Jury’s findings are released to the public.  Police here and Police Departments in a number of cities across America are making contingency plans if the verdict is not the one the Black community hopes for.

In the movie “A Few Good Men” the Marine Corps Officer played by the actor Jack Nicholson famously shouted at the prosecutor from the witness box, “You can’t handle the truth”.  Likely within days we will learn what the Grand Jury has learned and we will see if we can “handle” such truth.

 Copyright The Brooding Cynyx 2014 © All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, November 11, 2014



(Updated Wednesday November 12, 2014)

(Tuesday November 11, 2014, NYC)  It was once the great equalizer, the common experience that was the cementing mortar that held our society together.  When sacrifice is borne by all; shared across all strata of society, it creates a stronger more cohesive nation more prone towards unity than division. 

We are engaged and have been actively fighting wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and other lesser known locales under the auspices of our “war on terror” with an entirely volunteer military.  The generation of combat veterans, young warriors who have seen fierce, brutal battle, represent a mere 1% of their peer group and many of those who volunteered prior to September 11, 2001, had enlisted into the Reserves and National Guard primarily for the educational benefits used to attract young men and women to the military services.  Few, if any signed up for multiple deployments and the stresses that accompany such involvement.


By January 1973 we were a war weary country; a people who had long past the point of supporting our efforts in the jungles of that far off place that became synonymous with guerrilla warfare and the harsh brutalities of fighting a largely unseen enemy in an environment they knew intimately.  The public, particularly the parents of the young men and women serving in Vietnam were questioning the strategy, tactics and the rationale for continuing this protracted campaign, a campaign that would never grant us a clearly defined victory. 

And it was that year of 1973 on January 27th that President Nixon put a moratorium on the military draft and ultimately did away with it for good.  No longer would our military services be comprised of conscripts; service would from that time forward be voluntary.  Our country lost much in this exchange, perhaps far more than anyone could have realized back in that troubled summer of protest and open defiance of the draft in 1972 that culminated in the complete end of the draft as announced by Nixon on January 27, 1973. By the time the last troops were finally airlifted out of a riotous Saigon on April 30, 1975, the country and military would slowly come to terms with what felt like a defeat but Nixon called “Peace with Honor.”  For much of the nation and the military itself, the after effects known as the “Vietnam Hangover” set in and would ossify our military for years to come.  The military had lost its luster and had been marred by the harsh realities our troops had experienced and witnessed during a war like no one we had seen up to that time in our history.  It would take the military almost two decades to develop new strategies and tactics for guerrilla, “asymmetrical” warfare.


The Vietnam era marked the end of the concept of shared sacrifice.  No longer would young men from every city and town, of every race and creed, from every rung on the socioeconomic ladder forever have memories and at least that one similarity.  The country went from every young man being in “The Service” to a massive retreat from the military and an insidious vilification of Vietnam veterans, the kind of hostility and disdain previous legions of veterans had never experienced.  Those were dark days and it would be many years before the American public found their collectively lost spine and once again were willing to send troops to combat zones. 

But the troops who were sent to fight our battles were often drawn from the lowest caste of society.  The military became a refuge for those without other opportunities, for men and women to escape poverty and perhaps learn a trade of some kind that would allow them to prosper, at least minimally, in civilian life.  However, no matter their points of origin or intentions, they served with courage and valor whenever called upon to do so.

The shared sacrifice and common experience of past generations of veterans has become cheaply replaced by a largely unaffected public who fly the American flag in front of their homes and have “Support our Troops” bumper stickers on their pick-ups as if these are potent symbols of a patriot.  They are no such thing.  Most young people today and their parents wouldn’t think of having a son or daughter enlist in the military.  They have seen what those who served in Afghanistan and Iraq have been through; the multiple deployments because of a shortage of ready and qualified troops, a Veterans Administration system completely unprepared to adequately care for the thousands upon thousands of returning veterans with traumatic limb amputations, brain injuries and other horrific battle wounds as well as the unknown battalions of those who suffer, often in silence, wracked by PTSD, depression, alcohol and drug abuse, unemployment and even homelessness. An extremely disturbing and sad fact is that every 65 hours another combat veteran takes his or her own life.

When suicide on that scale becomes the norm there is something institutionally, almost sinfully wrong.  We as a people have not held up our end of "The Pact", the once sacred Covenant that assures our veterans of the care they need.   What are we as a country, as a people, that we stand idly by while tens of thousands of young people suffer these medical and mental maladies and the indignities of hunger, poverty and homelessness?  What is the message we are sending our veterans and anyone considering enlisting?  The answers to these questions say much about our shared neglect and that is directly related to our loss of shared experience.


There was a time when virtually all our elected officials including those in the Senate and House had served in the military.  Those men (those bodies were composed largely of men until the mid-1970’s) who had first-hand experience of the horrors of combat were far more deliberate and reluctant to put American troops “in harm’s way” without a clear threat to our national security or vital national interests.  Former Five Star General and United States President, Dwight D. Eisenhower, the famed World War II commander of the European theater of operations, often spoke of the caution that ought to be used before committing our troops to battle.  He also warned of the vast “military–industrial–congressional complex” that was developing towards his last years as President and how war-making was becoming a lucrative endeavor as the Cold War was developing.  Had his prescient warnings been heeded much of American military history over the last 60 years would have been very different.

If the chicken hawks and war-mongers in Congress continue to seek to commit our troops as they see fit, this time of perpetual warfare cannot be sustained solely by enlistees.  It is a matter of simple arithmetic and attrition.  There are only so many active troops available for foreign forays into ill-defined missions without fully understanding the stakes involved or even the facts on the ground, history of the warring factions and why, exactly, are “we” there. Military incursions without a clearly defined and acknowledged "exit strategy" will inevitably devolve into a murky quagmire. Once sucked into a quagmire and "nation building" our formidable military might is reduced to the facts on the ground which are always to our disadvantage. 

On this Veteran’s Day we should spend a moment contemplating the true meaning of the day, reexamine what patriotism means to us, and learn to not be content to blindly follow our elected officials into untenable combat circumstances.  We have intervened enough in the last 13 years.  We should also find it within ourselves the sufficient amount of gratitude that should be bestowed upon all veterans no matter when or where they served.  They are truly the best of us as a people and represent us best as a country.

 Copyright The Brooding Cynyx 2014 © All Rights Reserved