Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Archive for July 2021

Portraits from our yard: episode 2

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From July 23rd, look at the flowers and buds of western ironweed, Vernonia baldwinii. I’ve often found that species difficult to photograph because the parts of its inflorescence don’t generally fall close to a single plane, so I was happy to get as much in focus as I did with this portrait. Using flash was the key; it let me stop down to f/16.


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One of the principles of the scientific method is falsifiability. It means that the scientific community won’t even consider a conjecture unless the conjecture is capable of being disproved. For example, Aristotle believed that heavy objects fall faster than light objects. On its face, that might be true or it might be false, and there’s a way to find out. Surprisingly (or not), only a millennium and a half later did someone put Aristotle’s claim to a real test. In the late 1500s Galileo simultaneously dropped (or is said to have dropped) two dense objects of different weights from the Tower of Pisa and found that they hit the ground at the same time, thereby falsifying Aristotle’s long-believed claim. (To give some credit to Aristotle, his notion had seemed true because of air resistance, which makes a feather and a leaf drop much more slowly than a rock.)

In contrast to that checkable conjecture about falling objects, suppose someone claims the existence of a substance having the property that whenever you try to detect it it becomes undetectable. Do you see that by its very nature a proposal like that can’t ever be disproved? As a result, it lies outside the realm of science.

I bring up falsifiability in science because it reminds me of something going on in the world of the “woke,” where apostles and acolytes of that new religion accuse white people, especially white men, and even more especially old white men, of having “white privilege.” If a white person answers “No, I don’t have any such privilege,” then the true believers snap back and say, “The fact that you deny having white privilege shows your ‘white fragility’ and it proves that you do have white privilege.” Honest, some of them really “think” that way. By that kind of “reasoning,” whenever anyone accused of a crime goes into court and pleads not guilty, the judge would have to find the defendant guilty by virtue of having pled not guilty! It’s downright Kafkaesque.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 31, 2021 at 4:33 AM

Portraits from our yard: episode 1

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Today and in probably nine posts to come I’ll be showing you portraits of native plants in our yard. Some are the progeny of a few plantings Eve made years ago, while others are here because those species have grown in this area for millennia. Let me begin by jumping back to April 25th, when the self-sown colony of white avens (Geum canadense) behind our house was happily doing its thing. You’re looking at buds in two stages of opening. Can you tell that this wildflower is in the rose family?


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You probably didn’t hear about an incident that made the news this week. To understand it, you should know that large numbers of people have been illegally crossing the border from Mexico into the United States. The current American administration has been letting them in anyway, in violation of American law. (Some eventually get sent back, but many are allowed to stay, and the government even pays to bus or fly them into the interior of our country.) How many illegal border crossers have been let in? On July 26, 2021, Border Patrol informed the police department in the little border town of La Joya, Texas, that the number of apprehensions of illegal entrants this year had surpassed 1 million through the month of June. That’s in addition to the unknown number of illegal entrants who’d managed to evade the understaffed and overworked border authorities altogether.

In the latest incident I mentioned at the beginning, federal authorities in La Joya had released a group of illegal entrants who had Covid-19. (I’ve heard that 7.9% of illegal entrants who have been checked for the disease have tested positive for it but I don’t know if that figure is accurate.) The organization Catholic Charities of The Rio Grande Valley had rented out all the rooms at a local motel and was housing the released Covid-positive group there. Instead of quarantining in the hotel, some of the infected people had gone to a fast-food restaurant called Whataburger, where a “concerned citizen at the restaurant waved down [a police] officer. The citizen told him about the family ‘coughing and sneezing without covering their mouths and not wearing face masks.’ Whataburger management also told the officer that they wanted the group to leave as well due to ‘their disregard to other people’s health.’” So much for following the Centers for Disease Control’s pandemic guidelines. While fully vaccinated Americans are being told to “follow the science” and mask up indoors once again, some people who actually have Covid-19 were released into our country and allowed to wander at will without masks as they mingled with the local population.

As for the number of apprehensions reported in the first half of 2021, some may say that the United States is a large and bountiful country, so that in addition to its already very generous quota of legal immigrants it can afford to have a million people entering illegally every six months. To give a sense of scale, let’s see what a proportional influx of illegal entrants would mean in a small country. Take New Zealand, for example, which is also a wealthy nation. Current population estimates for New Zealand and the United States are 4,864,000 and 332,900,000, respectively. That puts New Zealand’s population at not quite one-and-a-half percent of America’s, so the equivalent of a million people entering the United States illegally in six months would be about 14,600 people entering New Zealand illegally in half a year. Maybe I’m naïve, but somehow I don’t think many citizens of New Zealand would be okay with over 14,000 people every six months showing up at their borders illegally yet being allowed into the country anyhow. You know what a bunch of racist xenophobes those Kiwis are.*

Going in the opposite direction, China’s current population is estimated at 1,444,600,000. To match a million people crossing illegally into the United States in six months, China would have to allow about 4,339,000 people to illegally cross its borders every half-year. I’m sure once somebody pointed that out to Chairman Xi, who’s eager to surpass the United States as a world power in all respects, he’d agree to it. He’d probably kick himself for not having thought of it on his own.**

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* Call it satire or call it sarcasm, but don’t take that last sentence seriously. The fact remains, though, that New Zealand polices its borders much more stringently than the United States does. When Eve and I visited there in 2015 and 2017, upon arrival we were photographed before being allowed to leave the Auckland airport, and again before being permitted to board our flight back home. By that system the New Zealand immigration authorities could tell whether we’d left before our authorized time in the country as tourists was up, or whether we’d stayed on illegally.

** That’s also sarcasm. I think we all know the kind of reception even a small group of people who entered China illegally—much less 4.3 million of them—would receive from authorities in that Communist dictatorship.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 30, 2021 at 4:38 AM

Posted in nature photography

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Tawny emperor

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On July 23rd I noticed what I take to be a tawny emperor, Asterocampa clyton, on an aluminum railing near the entrance to Great Hills Park. I’d been doing botanical closeups in the park and still had a ring flash at the end of my macro lens, so I was able to get good depth of field in the pictures I took of the butterfly.

The other day I used the second picture to play around with some of the effects in Topaz Studio 2, which I downloaded a 30-day free trial of. Click the thumbnail below if you’d like to see the result of applying “Brilliant on White.”


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When I got home from taking pictures that morning, Eve was watching a television program in which the host was interviewing two women who had opposite political perspectives. I walked in just at the moment when the woman representing the Democratic Party claimed that a bill that had passed the Texas Senate, S.B. 3, would prevent teachers in Texas public schools from teaching about the Ku Klux Klan. I’d heard that false claim before. The reason I knew it was false, aside from the blatant implausibility that Texas schools would suddenly forbid the teaching of important episodes in American history that they’d already been teaching for decades, was that the first time I heard the claim I did what I normally do: I looked for evidence to support or refute it. In this case, the obvious source to check was S.B. 3. You’re welcome to read it for yourself, and if you see a clause that would forbid teaching about the Ku Klux Klan, please point it out to us.

You may recall that in a post last week I mentioned a television interview program decades ago that made a big impression on me because a guest persisted in repeating a claim about a federal bill even after the moderator had read viewers the relevant section of the bill that proved the activist’s claim false. In the July 23rd interview I wished the host had asked the activist making the claim to cite the provision in S.B. 3 that would prove her assertion.

I intended to include a link to information about the Ku Klux Klan for any readers from outside the United States who might not know about that terrorist organization (which ironically was founded and sustained over the course of a century by members and supporters of the Democratic Party). I thought the article in the Encyclopedia Britannica might serve, and then I noticed a mistake:

The 19th-century Klan was originally organized as a social club by Confederate veterans in Pulaski, Tennessee, in 1866. They apparently derived the name from the Greek word kyklos, from which comes the English “circle”; “Klan” was added for the sake of alliteration and Ku Klux Klan emerged.

Actually Greek kyklos has given English the word cycle. Our similar-sounding word circle comes from a diminutive of Latin circus, which the Romans had borrowed from the etymologically unrelated Greek noun kirkos. Several days ago I sent an e-mail to the Encyclopedia Britannica pointing out the mistake. So far I haven’t gotten a reply and the mistake is still there.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 29, 2021 at 4:34 AM

The silky strands are better known than the flowers

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When it comes to the Clematis drummondii vine, the swirls of silky strands that spring from its fertilized flowers garner much more attention than the flowers themselves. I sure paid plenty of attention to the lustrous strands I found in the northwest quadrant of Howard Lane and Heatherwilde Blvd. on July 17th. Click to enlarge.


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In a survey by the Cato Institute a year ago, about 62% of respondents confirmed that “the political climate these days prevents them from saying things they believe because others might find them offensive. The share of Americans who self‐​censor has risen several points since 2017 when 58% of Americans agreed with this statement.” While the latest survey included respondents across the political spectrum, conservatives were half again as likely (77%) to feel intimidated as people on the political left (52%). Given all the turbulence over the 12 months since last year’s survey, I imagine the numbers would be even higher today. It’s a shame that in a supposedly free country any people should have to worry about speaking their mind.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 28, 2021 at 4:37 AM

Our Clematis was still there

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In the northeastern quadrant of Mopac and US 183 on July 10th I photographed my first Clematis drummondii flowers for this year, so the post’s title should really be “Our Clematis was already there.” I put still because when I took this picture and other similar ones, I was reminded of fireworks going off, and then in processing the photograph the line from “The Star-Spangled Banner” came to me about “the rockets’ red glare” that “gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.” Fanciful? Perhaps, but that’s how my mind works.


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You may have heard that a bunch of right-wing extremists were arrested in the fall of 2020 for conspiring to kidnap Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer. Last week BuzzFeed.News broke a story that included the following:

The government has documented at least 12 confidential informants who assisted the sprawling investigation. The trove of evidence they helped gather provides an unprecedented view into American extremism, laying out in often stunning detail the ways that anti-government groups network with each other and, in some cases, discuss violent actions.

An examination of the case by BuzzFeed News also reveals that some of those informants, acting under the direction of the FBI, played a far larger role than has previously been reported. Working in secret, they did more than just passively observe and report on the actions of the suspects. Instead, they had a hand in nearly every aspect of the alleged plot, starting with its inception. The extent of their involvement raises questions as to whether there would have even been a conspiracy without them.

That gives the defendants an opportunity to plead entrapment. As BuzzFeed.News noted:

To date, one defendant has formally accused the government of entrapment, arguing that the FBI assembled the key plotters, encouraged the group’s anti-government feelings, and even gave its members military-style training. Additional defendants have said they plan to make similar claims when the cases, divided between federal and state court, go to trial starting as soon as October…. Last week, the lawyer for one defendant filed a motion that included texts from an FBI agent to a key informant, the Iraq War veteran, directing him to draw specific people into the conspiracy — potential evidence of entrapment that he said the government “inadvertently disclosed.” 

The defendants may well be guilty, but if government informants are found to have entrapped them, then guilty people could get to go free. If you want to know more about the fine line between legitimate undercover work and entrapment, you can read an article by UCLA law professor Paul Bergman.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 27, 2021 at 4:35 AM

An archaeology of light

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An adage says “Out of sight, out of mind,” and yet the saying’s first two words could just as well be replaced by “in.” Familiarity breeds a sort of visual contempt in which ordinary objects might as well be buried.

To let light uncover those everyday objects around the house is to practice an archaeology of light.

On the technical side, I took the first two pictures with my “real” camera
and the third with my iPhone. I prepared this post in 2020 but kept postponing it.

And here’s a thought about photographic esthetics: “Now to consult the rules of composition before making a picture is a little like consulting the law of gravitation before going out for a walk.” — Edward Weston. A bunch of different wordings occur on the Internet. Research leads me to think this one is the most likely to be authentic. I came across a version of the quotation in an article by David duChemin called “Are Your Photographs Poetic?“, which I recommend to you.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 26, 2021 at 4:46 AM

Widow’s tears revisited

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On July 19th I got an e-mail from Texas Parks and Wildlife Magazine with the photographic want list for their October issue. In the “Flora Fact” category, the species for that month will be Commelina erecta, the dayflower, which you saw here on June 27th. I’d also shown a few dayflower pictures here years ago, so I quickly searched back through old posts to see if any of those earlier portraits might be suitable to submit to the magazine. The first old dayflower photograph I found was from a post in 2012, and in it I noticed that I’d taken the picture nine years earlier to the day. Ah, coincidences.

Next I delved into my archive to see what other photographs I might have taken during that outing near Lake Travis. Turns out I took plenty, only a very few of which I’d processed. Of course some weren’t worth processing, but others were. As a result, today’s picture is a never-before-seen one from July 19, 2012. It shows why one vernacular name for the species is widow’s tears. Clear liquid collects in a keel-shaped part of the inflorescence called a spathe (from the Greek spathē that meant ‘broad blade,’ and that has also given English the kind of spade in a deck of playing cards, and has given Spanish its word for ‘a sword,’ espada). People noticed that if you gently squeeze the sides of a dayflower’s spathe, drops of the clear liquid inside emerge from the tip of the structure. Here I managed to record one such drop in the split-second when it was breaking loose from the tip of the spathe. Notice how the drop acted as a lens that focused an upside-down image of nearby trees.


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Two days ago Robert Contee, Police Chief for Washington, D.C., gave an impromptu press conference in which he expressed his frustration with the courts there for coddling violent criminals. Failure to keep those predators in jail lets many of them go on to commit more crimes, even as earlier cases against them are still pending. You can read more about the press conference by Chief Contee, who grew up in the District and who is black, in a Federalist article. Within that article is a 7.5-minute video clip from the press conference, which I recommend you watch, in which Chief Contee speaks about “the brazenness of the criminals…. We have a vicious cycle of bad actors who do things with no accountability, and they end up back in [the] community… [T]he way that we’re going and the things that we’re trying to do, we want to help people, yes we should. But you cannot coddle violent criminals, you cannot. You cannot treat violent criminals who are out here making communities unsafe for you, for your loved ones, for me, for my loved ones. They might not want a job, they might not, they might not need services. What they may require is to be off of our streets because they’re making it unsafe for us. And if that’s what it requires, then that’s what it requires. And we have to own that. We have to own it, because if not, we see more of this.”

I happened to catch most of Chief Contee’s impassioned press conference live. At one point it occurred to me to check CNN and MSNBC to see if they were carrying it. They weren’t.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 25, 2021 at 4:41 AM

Crab spider on germander

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As I wandered around on July 10th in the northeast quadrant of Mopac and US 183 I saw some germander plants (Geum canadense) still flowering. In the one shown above, the yellowing older flowers provided good camouflage for a crab spider, which I hadn’t even noticed till I got in close to photograph the flowers. Poking around with my macro lens caused the spider to move lower on the plant, where I made the following portrait.

For both photographs I used flash, which let me stop down to f/16 for good depth of field.


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I recently listened to a good conversation between Andrew Sullivan and Amy Chua, both of whom deplore and are working against illiberalism in our country.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 24, 2021 at 4:42 AM

Lichen on moss

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When I visited the Stillhouse Hollow Nature Preserve on July 7th I hadn’t been there for several years. Rain in the weeks before my visit left parts of the place looking a little Pacific-Northwest-ish, as evidenced by the lichens on moss on a dead tree branch that you see busily filling the frame in today’s close-up.


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In the last post I provided governmental evidence to prove that the “Hands up, don’t shoot!” meme that some people still push developed from a false story about Michael Brown. One organization that has continued to push the false narrative is Black Lives Matter. When I checked the national organization’s website in July of 2020, it included Brown as a “victim” of an unjust system. When I re-checked the website a couple of days ago, it still memorialized the petty criminal who stole from a store, shoved the employee who confronted him, then a little later attacked a policeman and tried to grab his gun.

One thing that has disappeared from the Black Lives Matter website between July of last year and now is this statement: “We disrupt the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure requirement by supporting each other as extended families and ‘villages’ that collectively care for one another, especially our children, to the degree that mothers, parents, and children are comfortable.” It’s not that those in charge don’t still want to disrupt the nuclear family. They do, but saying so on their website was bringing them too much adverse publicity, so they took their “What We Believe” page down.

Three times the “What We Believe” statement used the word collective or collectively, and twice the word comrades. Those words made it clear that this is an organization that advocates Marxism, the ideology that in the Soviet Union and China in the 20th century caused the deaths of tens of millions of people. One of the founders of Black Lives Matter, Patrisse Khan-Cullors, was proud to identify herself as a Marxist in 2015: “We actually do have an ideological frame. Myself and Alicia [Garza] in particular, we’re trained organizers. We are trained Marxists. We are super versed on ideological theories.” (You can watch her saying that at about one minute into a YouTube video.)

You shouldn’t be surprised that this recent American incarnation of Marxism is as unethical and hypocritical as every other one has been. For example, even as millions were driven to starvation in the Soviet Union in the 1930s, those in control got wealthy and lived the good life. Similarly, North Koreans today lead miserable lives while Kim Jong-un gets fat. This spring brought the revelation that Patrisse Khan-Cullors, the co-founder of Black Lives Matter who revels in being a Marxist and is therefore presumably a champion of the masses and an enemy of capitalism, nevertheless managed to buy not one, not two, not three, but four houses worth some 3.2 million dollars in all. I guess that’s supposed to set an example of fair housing practices, though it seems to be a new form of Redlining.

Many people who support Black Lives Matter do so because they want fair treatment for everyone, regardless of race. That’s a noble goal, one that I support, too, but just be aware that the national Black Lives Matter organization stands for things other than those you may think it does.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 23, 2021 at 4:38 AM

Posted in nature photography

Tagged with , , , ,

A snapdragon vine flower

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It’s not often I come across a snapdragon vine, Maurandella antirrhiniflora, so when I did in my neighborhood on July 11th I made sure to take a bunch of pictures. These are small flowers, averaging about 3/4 of an inch across (18mm). I don’t know about you, but whenever I see snapdragon vine flowers I always think I’m looking at a mouth with prominent lower teeth. The fact that they would be hairy teeth doesn’t dissuade my imagination.


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Yesterday I mentioned a partisan who went on a television talk show and kept repeating a claim that the moderator of the show had shown wasn’t true. Alas, that wasn’t an isolated aberration. It’s not hard to find activists and partisan groups that repeat—sometimes for years on end—assertions which have been proven false. Consider the “Hands up, don’t shoot!” meme that has been around since 2014. It came from an incident that took place on August 9 of that year in the town of Ferguson, Missouri, outside Saint Louis. It began after an 18-year-old African American named Michael Brown grabbed some $50 worth of cigarillos from behind the counter of the Ferguson Market and pushed a worker who confronted him as he left the convenience store. A little later, as Brown and another person were walking down the middle of a street, a white police officer named Darren Wilson saw them and told them they should be walking on the sidewalk instead of in the middle of the street. An altercation ensued, during which Wilson ended up shooting and killing Brown. A rumor quickly spread that Brown had had his hands up and was trying to surrender when Wilson shot him. That rumor led, beginning the next day, to rioting, looting, arson, and the destruction of businesses. By August 16 the governor of Missouri had to declare a state of emergency and impose a curfew. When that didn’t quell the rioting, the governor canceled the ineffective curfew and called in the National Guard.

Things eventually quieted down. Later, on November 24, a grand jury that had examined all the evidence decided there were not grounds to indict Officer Darren Wilson. That led to another round of rioting in which at least a dozen buildings and multiple police cars were burned. To this day there are groups that claim that Michael Brown didn’t receive justice. The problem for those who say they want justice for Mike Brown is that the U.S. Justice Department, headed by Eric Holder, a friend of Barack Obama’s who is also black, did do a thorough investigation of the incident. The investigation showed that the narrative of Brown being an innocent victim wasn’t true. If you want to, you can read the full report on the Michael Brown incident, issued by the U.S. Justice Department headed by Eric Holder. Here are two relevant paragraphs from the end of the report (I’ve put some key statements in bold type):

In addition, even assuming that Wilson definitively knew that Brown was not armed, Wilson was aware that Brown had already assaulted him once and attempted to gain control of his gun. Wilson could thus present evidence that he reasonably feared that, if left unimpeded, Brown would again assault Wilson, again attempt to overpower him, and again attempt to take his gun. Under the law, Wilson has a strong argument that he was justified in firing his weapon at Brown as he continued to advance toward him and refuse commands to stop, and the law does not require Wilson to wait until Brown was close enough to physically assault Wilson. Even if, with hindsight, Wilson could have done something other than shoot Brown, the Fourth Amendment does not second-guess a law enforcement officer’s decision on how to respond to an advancing threat. The law gives great deference to officers for their necessarily split-second judgments, especially in incidents such as this one that unfold over a span of less than two minutes. ‘Thus, under Graham, we must avoid substituting our personal notions of proper police procedure for the instantaneous decision of the officer at the scene. We must never allow the theoretical, sanitized world of our imagination to replace the dangerous and complex world that policemen face every day.

As discussed above, Darren Wilson has stated his intent in shooting Michael Brown was in response to a perceived deadly threat. The only possible basis for prosecuting Wilson under section 242 would therefore be if the government could prove that his account is not true – i.e., that Brown never assaulted Wilson at the SUV, never attempted to gain control of Wilson’s gun, and thereafter clearly surrendered in a way that no reasonable officer could have failed to perceive. Given that Wilson’s account is corroborated by physical evidence and that his perception of a threat posed by Brown is corroborated by other eyewitnesses, to include aspects of the testimony of Witness 101, there is no credible evidence that Wilson willfully shot Brown as he was attempting to surrender or was otherwise not posing a threat. Even if Wilson was mistaken in his interpretation of Brown’s conduct, the fact that others interpreted that conduct the same way as Wilson precludes a determination that he acted with a bad purpose to disobey the law. The same is true even if Wilson could be said to have acted with poor judgment in the manner in which he first interacted with Brown, or in pursuing Brown after the incident at the SUV. These are matters of policy and procedure that do not rise to the level of a Constitutional violation and thus cannot support a criminal prosecution. Cf. Gardner v. Howard, 109 F.3d 427, 430–31 (8th Cir. 1997) (violation of internal policies and procedures does not in and of itself rise to violation of Constitution). Because Wilson did not act with the requisite criminal intent, it cannot be proven beyond reasonable doubt to a jury that he violated 18 U.S.C.§ 242 when he fired his weapon at Brown. VI. Conclusion For the reasons set forth above, this matter lacks prosecutive merit and should be closed.

So if you hear someone still chanting “Hands up, don’t shoot!” and saying that Michael Brown didn’t receive justice, or if you come across a website making that claim, or if that’s what you yourself have been led to believe, now you know it isn’t true.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 22, 2021 at 4:32 AM

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