Having observed the reactions to the Ferguson indictment, I have found myself wondering something.
Why on earth have my colleagues, particularly those to the left of center, decided that the Michael Brown shooting, of all things, is the hill that they want to die on?
Yes, I understand that blacks are often unfairly profiled. Yes, I understand that there was a breakdown of trust in Ferguson between law enforcement and the general populace, largely due to the local justice system being used as a source of revenue for local suburban governments.
But guys. Seriously. This incident was almost primed to cause division. Here we have a white cop shooting a large black eighteen-year-old male who had just robbed a convenience store and who was apparently moving towards the officer at rapid pace after having had an altercation at the officer’s car. Then came the overdone police response to protests and the resultant riots and the even more overdone bloviating about it. Then came the slow dip of revelations and autopsies and eyewitnesses and even more bloviating. Then came the grand jury non-indictment, the riots in Ferguson and protests elsewhere, and the slacktivism and the bloviating and the sheer purblind refusal of some people to see that this was not a cut-and-dried “And then the racist fascist pig shot the innocent black boy and got away with it.”
But, you say, shouldn’t the the questions about race and justice, the causes of crime, alienation between police and citizenry, and the practices of law enforcement brought up by this case be asked and discussed?
In point of fact, yes, and here’s where they should have been discussed. The full story’s here, along with a video showing the incident, but here’s a summary of the relevant material: endeavoring to arrest a black man for selling untaxed/black market cigarettes, NYPD officers, five in number and all white, put the man in a choke hold and brought him to the ground. He died shortly afterwards from complications brought on by said choke hold, a method that is against NYPD policy. He had not, at the point of the initial choke hold, done anything but argue–a lousy idea when dealing with cops, but not nearly as lousy as taking a swing.
There are some differences, of course. One was 18, the other 34. One had just committed a crime, the other might have. One wasn’t videotaped, the other was. One was one-on-one; the other was five-on-one. The New York incident was handled quickly by the department, while the Ferguson one did not seem to be. Ferguson happened after New York. The reactions to the protests were also different, as were the protests. However, the differences balance each other out enough that it should be pretty obvious that the New York incident, if an instance of racist action, is much more clearly so than the incident in Ferguson.
Thankfully, this has not gone altogether unnoticed. Al Sharpton has actually managed to find a cause that’s not just a way for him to get attention, as did Eric Holder. The grand jury’s decision is coming up, and it will be interesting to see what charges are brought, if any.
However, instead of focusing on this, an incident that could have brought everyone together, the national media and prominent figures decided to pick a case that, as outlined above, was structured in such a way that it was bound to not start conversations, but arguments; not bring people together, but split them apart; and to discourage discussion of how law enforcement is conducted in America in favor of the topic of “Was Michael Brown a threat to Darren Wilson or not?”
This was not, I believe, a matter of deep and dark secret cabals plotting how to divide the nation and move us towards the Second American Civil War. No, what happened was the usual nattering: the truth was ignored in favor of ratings, because controversy drives them up; the grievance-mongers on both sides saw the attention and rushed to the scene; the preachers felt compelled to discuss this with their parishioners; and the slacktivists saw and heard and did as they usually do.
This sort of thing happens fairly often, mind. It happens in many “religious freedom” cases, it happens with “freedom of speech,” it happens with national security and surveillance–I could go on.
Just one thing. Can we please pick our hills to die on with more care?
‘Til next time,
Lowell Van Ness