After a seemingly endless stream of news articles, Facebook posts, and other forms of media coverage regarding the last week of events in Ferguson, it was finally time to sit down and hopefully expose some of the truth that has been washed out by glare of the lights of national media. There is more to this story than most people realize, and there are so many issues I want to address that I am going to go through this whole thing chronologically, supplementing with Facebook posts from my own news feed. I have also included several videos in this post, which you should not watch if you are offended by violence, language, or poorly shot iPhone footage. I will warn you again before we get to those videos. This post is also long, because this whole thing makes me angry. Grab a drink and let’s get started.
1) The Shooting
We all know this part of the story. Last Saturday, Darren Wilson shot Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO. I won’t rehash this, because we all know what went on that day and everyone has their own opinion. I’d like to point out a few facts that people seem to be missing. First of all, the robbery that went down immediately before he was shot happened at 11:50am on a Saturday. How many crimes are committed before lunch on a Saturday morning? This guy walks into a convenience store, grabs some Swisher Sweets, and walks on out in broad daylight.
So when he is confronted by an officer just moments later, something happens that results in him dying from multiple gunshot wounds. The preliminary story is that he is shot multiple times in the back, with a final killing shot to the head. Some witnesses report that he was even on his knees in surrender, and the cop executed him right on the sidewalk, because that sounds like something most cops do on Saturday before lunch. Despite the obvious problems with this story, it was nevertheless the story than ran during the early parts of last weekend. Michael Brown, a gentle giant, a boy scout volunteering for his community, mercilessly murdered by evil cops.
Then other parts of the story started coming out. We saw the photos of him robbing the store (above). We heard that he had marijuana in his system (that fact doesn’t really matter, actually. Marijuana is metabolically detectable for weeks after use, and the swisher sweets he stole are very commonly used to roll blunts, so that’s all fairly straightforward). Then we heard the cops side of the story, and realized maybe he was being attacked. In fact, maybe his orbit was fractured during the encounter. Then the autopsies came out and showed that he was shot in the front, not the back.
Of course, this all happened days later. While we waited for all of this, we had to deal with:
2) The Protests
Ferguson is a rough part of the world. Poverty, crime, gang and drug violence are all unfortunately common. So immediately following the shooting, we saw the beginning of the protests, with the familiar “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” chant that became so popular. This is the part of the story where I can really understand the protests. This young man is shot, and it symbolizes the harsh and unjust realities of their lives, so they start protesting. This is a community mourning the death of a young neighbor and protesting against the circumstances that brought it out.
Then things got crazy. National media start showing up. The protests turn violent, with people looting their own businesses, burning down the convenience store that was robbed, and the whole environment turns dangerous. This is the part I don’t understand. If you are angry enough to go out and protest, why would you ever begin to loot and destroy your own city? There’s a video linked farther down in this post, where a man sits outside a business and tries to dissuade looters by saying “I need to live here. My son needs to live here. Why do we need to do this?” Days later when the initial autopsy comes back and the world realizes that Michael Brown wasn’t exactly a boy scout and maybe we should think about this differently, the protests continue regardless.
So there’s a few things I want to mention here, at least regarding the autopsy. The first autopsy was performed by Dr. Mary Case, the St Louis County Medical Examiner. To say she is a capable professional is a gross understatement of her abilities. She is a well respected physician, both nationally and internationally. Her autopsy was the first to reveal that he was shot in the front of his body. The family requested another autopsy, and the government wants a third. This won’t change the findings at all. If Dr. Case said six wounds, the man had six wounds. The second autopsy came out and confirmed. This isn’t a game of interpretation. Medical pathology is pretty precise. If they continue to request autopsies, the body will decay to a point where by the 15th autopsy the quality of the exam will be so low that some schmuck will come back and say “You know, there could be 10-20 shots here, but it’s hard to tell because he is actively decomposing in my morgue”. The only pertinent part of this story we are still waiting on is medical toxicology, which should be another 4-6 weeks. It would not surprise me at all if some Doc comes out in six months at a trial and tries to sell us some alternative story, but it will basically be fiction at that point.
So back to the protests. The news channels are showing everyone pictures like this.
And not showing you clips like this one (don’t watch if offended by language). That’s the kind of unrest that is happening every night.
3. Where We Are Now
So my nightly routine of watching Jimmy Fallon has been interrupted by the Ferguson coverage, so I’ve seen essentially every single minute of local news on Ferguson. First of all, the number of protesters over the last few nights is very small, and they are dwarfed by the swarms of media members lined up on the sidewalks. In fact, last night each reporter probably could have been assigned their own individual protester to interview, with a few left over to film the police.
Second, we’ve got all of these people from out of town. Al Sharpton is here. The New Black Panthers are here. A group of Tibetan monks is here and actually helping out. New Communist Party members are here. Why is everyone here? Because the circus is in town. Every night the police gear up, the protesters head out to do their thing, the media turn their cameras on, and the stage is set for a lunatic to do something really dumb and create a bunch of headlines. None of this is about Michael Brown, at least not anymore. How do I know? Because kids in Ferguson can’t go to school yet. Because Ferguson is getting lit up by news cameras every night so that people can throw rocks, yell and shout, and get arrested, all on camera. I bet you all of the money in my wallet ($4.75) that if the press goes home, the violence goes away.
4. Everyone Has Their Thing
So everyone reads this story, or sees the video, and uses it for their own thing. Even this article from Time manages to slip the racial factors in this case into the very first sentence. I have a friend on Facebook who posted stuff like this for days after the shooting, because his “thing” is hating the police.
Based off of his news feed and the opinions of many, the problems in Ferguson are entirely the fault of the police. The only reason a cop would shoot a person is because they are mindless, barbaric, and also have a quota to shoot people to keep the population repressed, because that’s a thing.
Remember that picture from earlier? Did you see how big Michael Brown was? Can you see why Officer Wilson might have felt threatened? If not, try to stop picturing a cruel hearted officer with a gun that he uses to cap thugs on the weekend, and instead picture him as a normal guy with a wife and kids and a job that makes him work nights and weekends. He probably has a dog and a lawn to mow.
I’m purposefully not answering the question “Why did he have to use his gun? He should have used his taser! Or his nightstick.” I’m not answering that question specifically because I’m not in that position. I am not going to indulge in the intellectual ignorance it takes to sit on my couch and write on the internet about how that cop made the wrong decision, in the heat of the moment while Michael Brown came at him. Here’s the facts that matter though. Most cops go through their entire career and never shoot anyone. If a cop does shoot someone, he is immediately placed on administrative leave and an investigation is conducted. Even if he shot a serial killer that was actively threatening a troop of girl scouts, they still do an investigation. As a society, we have decided that our officers can carry firearms, so it should not be a surprise that they occasionally use them. As Kevin Hart so brilliantly explains, your risk of being beaten by the police can be easily modified by your own actions (don’t watch if offended by language or hilarious comedians). I am well aware that cops are capable of going too far, I’m trying to illustrate that this is an exception rather than the rule.
The police are also not militarized. Thinking that they are is just ludicrous. Let me show you a picture that popped up when I Googled “Ferguson Police”.
Looks like they’ve got some pretty crazy stuff there, right? I mean, those aren’t police cars. That’s some gear! They are militarized! First things first, this isn’t their stuff. It belongs to the county of St Louis, which got it from the Pentagon, who gave it to them because of a grant program that provides equipment to cash strapped police departments who may at some point need to respond to masses of potentially violent people while keeping their officers safe. Ironic, right? At least they can use it. The alternative is a mob of protesters actually succeeding in injuring or killing an officer, causing the cops to get angry and fight back, creating an actual Battle of Ferguson. At the left we see a converted ambulance, and some sort of tactical Jeep looking thing on the right. The officers are all protected by Kevlar vests and helmets, and armed with Airsoft guns (not all of them, calm down and don’t email me). The man in the front is armed with a menacing row of zip ties. The point I’m making is that they have acquired a bunch of specialized equipment whose purpose is to NOT KILL PEOPLE, making them the least effective military group in the world. If you get bombed with tear gas, you will not like your life. It is a severe irritant to your eyes and throat, and it will very much make you want to leave and rinse your eyes. Just like it’s supposed to. My same friend who graced the world with that picture up there also posted a status about how the world had somehow banned tear gas use in armed conflicts because it was inhumane (it made no sense, so I can’t really help explaining that). It was not long ago that Syria used Sarin gas on its population. Sarin gas will make you die a painful death. Keep things in perspective here people. There are people who legitimately want to kill cops, so this stuff is as much for their protection as ours. Second, they don’t cruise around on Sunday evenings in this stuff. They only drag it out when, for instance, crowds of angry people are throwing broken glass bottles at them.
On to the next thing that makes me mad. Apparently I committed a crime earlier in my article. Indeed, by showing you the picture of Michael Brown robbing the convenience store, I am participating in the character assassination of Michael Brown. Yes. The Ferguson police are staging a campaign to make Michael Brown seem like a bad guy, some sort of evil human being. This isn’t character assassination, it’s evidence. Let’s flip this situation around and look at it the other way. Video surfaces of Officer Wilson beating up a kid a few days before the shooting. What happens now? When that video comes out, is it character assassination? NO WAY. Now all of the news channels (and CNN) are running stories on how this sets up a pattern of behavior for Wilson. Maybe he was unstable, but either way he was prone to violence. Also, news coverage is always leveraging their choice of words to insinuate different ideas. When USA Today reported that “….Darren Wilson, a white police officer, shot an unarmed black teenager six times…” they are shaping the way you read that. First, is six an unreasonable number of times to be shot? Nope. If you think yes, you need to spend some time around people who actually know about guns. There is no “bullet quota” for officers. The algorithm is simple. If you need to shoot, you shoot until you don’t need to shoot anymore. That could be 1 bullet, or it could be 10. Also, that headline adds the angle that somehow the fact the Brown was unarmed means he was not threatening. There are many reasons why Brown, who was a pretty hefty man, could possibly make a police officer feel threatened (especially if he fractured his orbit)
The last thing that annoys me here is the media coverage. This isn’t about Michael Brown anymore. This is about agendas, and the truth that will surface in six months doesn’t matter nearly as much as the angle that can be spun to advance an agenda today. The faster the news is breaking, the more likely it is to be wrong. I can’t even begin to count the tweets that have prematurely reported more people shot, stabbed, killed, arrested, or looking weird that ended up not being anything. This is an issue bigger than Ferguson, or even bigger than just our generation. The conflict brewing in Ferguson is deeply rooted in history, and I don’t trust a journalist with an iPhone and 140 characters to accurately tell me anything except whether or not the sun is shining.
Finally, the ultimate message here. Nobody is winning. Do you understand that? You may be on Michael Brown’s side, convinced he was executed in broad daylight for being black. You may be convinced he was a some sort of lowlife that somehow deserved what he got. Either way, the resolution of this issue isn’t ever going to be “my side won”. At least it shouldn’t be. Before Michael Brown was Trayvon Martin, and there will be another after Michael Brown. We live in a broken world and we have to deal with a broken system, but it’s the best system anyone has come up with for a long time, so let’s try to make the best of it. I doubt that this tragedy will somehow singlehandedly fix the problems in Ferguson and America, but I hope that this horrible event becomes a defining moment in someone’s life. I hope that person dedicates their life to their community and through their leadership changes the world as we know it.
Thanks for reading.