He’s big, they said. He’s enormous. 6’5”, almost 300 pounds. He robbed a store. He pushed an employee. He was jaywalking. He smoked weed. He wouldn’t comply. He ran towards the cop.
He’s black and he’s dead.
Sometimes, I feel like those last two are the only things that matter.
In the past few days, many people have tripped over themselves to vilify Michael Brown. They’ve thrown everything at him that they could think of. He’s a thug. Look at his friend, with his tattoos and his hair. Look at how big he is. Look what he did to that poor man behind the counter. He was running towards the police officer!
As if, by throwing out all of this information, they can somehow paint over the image of a dead, unarmed black man, and bring forth one of someone else. A drug-user, a criminal with no regard for the law. A violent beast.
A wild dog, deserving to be put down.
As if any of that could justify what happened.
He was doing his job, they said. He was upholding the law. He was investigating a crime (except no, not really). He was defending himself. He was protecting himself.
He shot Michael Brown six times.
In the past few days, many people have tripped over themselves to protect Darren Wilson. As if by simple virtue of being a police officer, he is owed more benefit of the doubt than Michael Brown is. Despite the fact that he killed an unarmed man.
I admit it. I do not know exactly what happened that fateful afternoon in Ferguson, MO. I know that a police officer fired six bullets into Michael Brown, and that Brown died. I know that yet another black man is dead at the hands of those who are sworn to protect. I know that the police department has handled this situation, and the events that followed it, about as poorly as possible.
What is most fascinating, and terrifying about this narrative is the why. The authorities in Ferguson, the police, the mayor, the governor — all of them are in some way culpable for the nightmare that has descended upon that city. Yes, looters and rioters. Yes, they are guilty. Yes, they are stupid. Yes, they set fires.
It’s funny, though. I don’t remember SWAT teams being called out, or snipers, or the media being harassed and arrested, or automatic weapons being pointed at Lakers fans when they rioted after the championship in 2010. I don’t remember assault vehicles rolling out and rubber bullets and tear gas being fired on parents and children when Vancouver rioted after losing the Stanley Cup.
I had always assumed that was because the police were trained to be better than that, to not fight chaos with more chaos.
We choose the way the story gets written, regardless of what facts are present. In Ferguson, the powers that be attempted to write the story to cover up their own mistakes. Mistakes made by Darren Wilson, by the Ferguson PD, by politicians. They’ve chosen to claim the role of defenders, protectors, keepers of the peace — only they’ve done it with guns and gas and threats. The best thing I can say about the Ferguson PD at this point is that they didn’t use live ammunition.
They’ve chosen to save themselves by sacrificing their community.
We live in fear of anarchy, of disorder. We are terrified of it. We see it in cities and countries around the world, and we are horrified when it makes its way to our shores. And so we tell a story of order, that America is a bastion of peace and tranquility. It cannot be police brutality, it cannot be racism, it cannot be oppression. We tell ourselves that it cannot be the police, that they are there to protect us, to save us. And that if someone is killed by the police, then there must have been a reason. There must be information we don’t have. There must be more to the story.
Perhaps. But if so, why don’t we have more information? It appears that right now, there is probably more media presence in Ferguson, MO than any other city in the country. If there is more information — evidence of an officer being assaulted, evidence of Brown’s further wrongdoing, witnesses that support Wilson’s story — where is it? There has been a curious silence from the powers that be. Except at night, when they break that silence with guns and grenades.
And yet, we’re asked why we’re so quick to believe that Michael Brown was innocent. Why we’re so quick to condemn the police in Ferguson, MO. As if simply by questioning authority, by expressing our anger and concern and fears, as if by thinking that the police went too far, we are courting chaos. We are supporting anarchy, because we chose to believe a different story, one separate from what they are trying to tell us.
Michael Brown was shot to death by an officer sworn to protect. Ferguson was bombarded by armored vehicles, dogs, SWAT teams, rubber bullets, tear gas, bullhorns. The media was suppressed. People were treated like animals, herded like… like cattle? No, no one would treat cattle so poorly. Cattle could stampede through a town, and they wouldn’t be treated like that.
Because cattle are worth something.
They asked why we don’t believe them. Why we don’t trust them.
Why should we?