Police force protestors from the business district into nearby neighborhoods on August 11, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri following the killing of Michael Brown at the hands of police.Photo: Scott Olson (Getty Images)
Elon Musk tweeted a defense of the police officer who shot 18-year-old Michael Brown—an unarmed Black man in Ferguson, Missouri back in 2014—early Wednesday before deleting the incendiary post. Musk said the police officer was “exonerated” and that the narrative around the shooting was a “fiction.”
Musk’s tweet was apparently prompted by the discovery of some Twitter t-shirts at the company’s San Francisco headquarters that read “Stay Woke,” printed in the aftermath of the Ferguson uprising. Musk clearly tweeted the shirts to ridicule them, though his friend, Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey, once wore the shirt to the Code Conference in 2016 during a panel discussing the Black Lives Matter movement.
“#StayWoke shirts stem from the Ferguson protests. Obama’s own DOJ proved this & exonerated the cop. ‘Hands up don’t shoot’ was made up. The whole thing was a fiction,” Musk tweeted early Wednesday.
A tweet billionaire Elon Musk sent and then deleted early Wednesday.Screenshot: Twitter
The tweet included a link to the Department of Justice report issued in 2015 on the killing of Michael Brown. Musk deleted his tweet with commentary early Wednesday, but reposted the DOJ report, this time without his editorializing.
The killing of Brown and refusal of local authorities to charge the police officer who shot him, Darren Wilson, set off heated protests in the summer of 2014 and helped shine a national spotlight on the epidemic of police killing unarmed Black people. The militarized crackdown on protest that summer was ruthless, to say the least. And none of those facts were fiction.
But one of the rallying cries from the movement, “hands up don’t shoot,” was picked apart incessantly by right-wing pundits who sought to exonerate the police officer, much like Musk is still doing today. Witnesses to the shooting claimed Brown had his hands up, though the U.S. Department of Justice investigators didn’t find this credible. Wilson, who shot Brown at least six times, claimed that Brown had charged at him and the shooting was in self-defense.
Gizmodo isn’t going to relitigate what happened in 2014. But we do find it notable that Musk wants to reopen the wounds of that summer, either to stoke more controversy on his social media platform with the hopes that it generates attention for a site that’s hemorrhaging advertisers, or simply because Musk wants to signal to his right-wing fans that he’s well and truly one of them. Whatever his goal, Musk succeeded at proving he desperately wants approval from the absolute worst people on the planet.
For the record, the Department of Justice issued two reports in 2015 about the police in Ferguson, Missouri. Musk tweeted the one about the killing of Michael Brown but didn’t bother tweeting the report from the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division which found the Ferguson Police Department had a systemic problem with regularly targeting Black people for the most minor of “crimes.” While Ferguson’s population was 67% Black in the early 2010s, police data showed that Black people accounted for 85% of vehicle stops, 90% of citations, and 93% of arrests in the city from 2010 to 2012.
Musk is making it excruciating clear who’s welcome on the new Twitter. And it’s people who look and talk like Musk.