Elon Musk’s criticism of debunked ‘Hands up, don’t shoot’ mantra triggers CNN’s Don Lemon: ‘Needs…context’

In an attempt to fact-check Twitter owner Elon Musk on Thursday, CNN’s Don Lemon presented a dramatically watered-down version of the infamous “Hands up, don’t shoot” myth that arose from the 2014 death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.

The left-leaning host declared that “context” was needed after Musk posted a tweet saying the mantra was “made up”. Musk posted and deleted the tweet about Brown’s fatal shooting when he found a closet of “#StayWoke” t-shirts at Twitter headquarters. The phrase became a national rallying cry for racial justice protests against the police, but the Obama administration’s Justice Department concluded after an extensive investigation that it was fictitious that Brown raised his arms in surrender before he was fatally shot by Officer Darren Wilson.

After declaring “facts first,” Lemon told viewers that “some said” Brown was trying to surrender when he was killed by Wilson. He then said the DOJ report “casts doubt” on that account in a clip flagged by conservative media watchdog NewsBusters.

“The DoJ did not find grounds to charge the officer, but in a separate report the same day, it found evidence of systematic racial discrimination in Ferguson at the hands of the city’s police department and municipal court,” Lemon said, noting that blacks were far removed. more likely to be searched in vehicle stops than whites, and the overwhelming majority of those ticketed were black.

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CNN's Don Lemon defended the denialists "Hands up, don't shoot" narrative on his morning show Thursday.

CNN’s Don Lemon defended the debunked “Hands up, don’t shoot” narrative on his morning show Thursday.
(CNN / Screenshot)

“So remember: ‘Hands up, don’t shoot,’ after Ferguson became a nationwide symbol of protest against police brutality against minorities. It was about more than the shooting of Michael Brown. It was about the pattern of police shootings and brutality in this country.” Lemon said.

Lemon appeared to trip over the teleprompter, saying, “And #StayWoke, which mocked — Musk mocked, was what Twitter would … call racial justice, was how they would call racial injustice.”

“CNN This Morning” co-host Poppy Harlow praised Lemon for the segment, saying “it’s important to have the facts.” NewsBusters writer Mark Finkelstein ridiculed Lemon’s talking points when he effectively called the Ferguson motto “false but accurate.”

Lemon did not tell viewers that it was during the Obama administration that the Justice Department cleared Wilson in the shooting and buried the “Hands up” narrative.

It is now widely agreed, even in the liberal media, that the mantra was not based in reality. The Washington Post put it bluntly in a pair of headlines in 2015: “‘Hands Up, Don’t Shoot’ Was Built on a Lie,” by left-leaning opinion writer Jonathan Capehart, and “‘Hands Up, Don’t Shoot’ Didn’t Happen in Ferguson,” a fact-checked article by Michelle Ye Hee Lee.

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“Brown never surrendered with his hands up, and Wilson was justified in shooting Brown,” Capehart wrote.

“Investigators overwhelmingly rejected witness accounts that Brown had his hands up in surrender before he was shot execution-style,” Ye Hee Lee wrote. “The DoJ has concluded that Wilson did not know whether Brown was armed, acted in self-defense and was justified in killing Brown. The majority of witnesses told federal investigators that initial claims that Brown’s hands were up were not accurate. “Hands up, don’t shoot’ didn’t happen in Brown’s killing.”

The Washington Post also heavily fact-checked Democrats like Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and then-Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., when they declared in 2019 that Brown had been “murdered.” The DoJ report cited several witnesses who said Brown had not raised his hands and aimed at Wilson before he was shot and killed, ignoring repeated directives to “get down.” This happened after Brown, after being stopped by Wilson as a robbery suspect that night, punched and grabbed Wilson in his car.

In 2014, CNN pundits impersonated "Hands up, don't shoot" stand up in solidarity with protesters.  The Justice Department under the Obama administration later revealed that it was false that Michael Brown had raised his hands before he was killed by a police officer.

In 2014, CNN pundits mimicked the “Hands up, don’t shoot” stance in solidarity with protesters. The Justice Department under the Obama administration later revealed that it was false that Michael Brown had raised his hands before he was killed by a police officer.
(CNN/YouTube)

“Harris and Warren have ignored the findings of the Justice Department to charge Wilson with murder, even though the Justice Department found no credible evidence to support that claim,” Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler wrote at the time.

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In 2014, CNN pundits mimicked the “Hands Up” pose in solidarity with protesters, while legal analyst Sunny Hostin held an “I can’t breathe” sign, a reference to the death of Eric Garner in New York. The on-air stunt later became a punchline for critics who saw it as emblematic of CNN’s left-wing shift under then-president Jeff Zucker.

“CNN This Morning” under new CEO Chris Licht debuted this month to dismal ratings.

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