Washington Post reporter Lowery chronicles his assignment to Ferguson, Missouri, following the police killing of Michael Brown and how he became the newspaper's go-to journalist covering the use of deadly force against unarmed black men in other cities.
The author mixes straightforward reporting with occasional informed speculation, sometimes taking a detour to his personal saga of growing up black and wading into racially charged assignments that meant dealing with white officers and other white authorities. Lowery understands the constant dangers of policing, so he does not spin the police-involved killings to advocate for the victims when ambiguity exists. For instance, he reports that the 18-year-old Brown did steal from a store, rough up the clerk, and probably never said, "Hands up, don't shoot" to Officer Darren Wilson. On the other hand, Lowery's reporting leads him to question the use of lethal force, the lack of sensitivity by Ferguson police after the shooting, the lies disseminated by police and white politicians, the tactics that worsened the post-shooting violence, and the questionable conduct of the prosecutor in failing to file a criminal charge against Wilson. After leaving Ferguson, the author gathered information to write about police using excessive and often lethal force aimed at unarmed black males in Cleveland, Baltimore, Charleston, and elsewhere. Each case has been intense for everyone involved, and the relentless coverage began to depress and exhaust Lowery. Not all of the chapters emphasize specific deadly cases. Toward the end of the book, Lowery covers black student protests at the University of Missouri that found their genesis partly in the aftermath of the Ferguson debacle. The campus protest eventually involved the football team and led to the resignation of the university president. A bonus of the riveting narrative is its value as a journalism procedural, as Lowery and his colleagues have attempted to determine the number of police shootings nationwide involving the wounded and dead of all races.
A timely, significant book.