There is no expedient to which a man will not resort to avoid the real labor of thinking.
–Sir Joshua Reynolds
The only thing surprising about the press conference held by Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson was that it took so long to happen. It was nearly a week before they pulled the standard tactic that has traditionally held great sway over the hard-of-thinking: Smear the victim.
Maybe it took them that long to come up with “strong-arm robbery” instead of shoplifting, which didn’t sound at all menacing? Perhaps it was because their initial failure to play the taint card left the Ferguson PD no explanation for why they were pulling it out so late, well after it made any sense to go for the smear, and they couldn’t come up with a story that passed the laugh test? Maybe they weren’t that shameless? Nah.
The story is that before Michael Brown was gunned down in the street by Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson, he and Dorian Johnson shoplifted a box of baby cigars, Swisher Sweets, from a convenience store. Based on the store’s video, Brown used his size when doing so, giving rise to the “strong arm” language as a show of force. The kids shoplifted. Bad kids.
But here’s where we need to put this logical and legal trash to the curb. The taint tactic must die.
The typical post hoc smear is the police statement that individual has “priors,” whether that be prior arrests or convictions. The message is that he’s criminal, and that alone is enough to make idiots leap to assumptions. First, they assume that arrests means he’s guilty, because stupid people know that the police never arrest anyone who isn’t guilty.
Second, idiots assume that if someone was a criminal before, they’re a criminal then, that they have a propensity to commit crimes and acted in conformity with their criminal ways. Third, it taints the individual’s character. It eliminates the halo and makes them less deserving of life, or to be more blunt, undeserving of concern. A good person wasn’t lost to society, just another bad guy. We could do without him anyway. No loss.
But this line of thinking is illogical. It panders to stupidity, to the fool’s assumptions. The police play this card because it works. It works because too many people lack the capacity to grasp why this tactic has no relevance to the conduct under scrutiny. Stupid people, and those who pander to the ignorant, empower police to engage in this foolishness. They ought to be offended for being played like fools. Instead, they nod their head, say, “yerp” to themselves, and go back to watching Duck Dynasty.
Michael Brown had no priors. Darren Wilson did not stop Michael Brown because of the shoplifting at the convenience store, as Chief Jackson was constrained to admit. That it happened, as Dorian Johnson has conceded, that he and Brown shoplifted the Swisher Sweets, is utterly, completely irrelevant to Darren Wilson’s killing Michael Brown is the end of any justification for mentioning the shoplifting at all.
Police Chief Jackson brought it up was to see just how many people in America were too stupid to realize it was garbage. He tainted Michael Brown’s memory, but did nothing to justify his killing.
That this tactic, the taint card, continues to be played by police for the sole reason of diminishing a human being whose life was snuffed out by a police officer without justification must come to an end. Sure, most people fly by their emotional reactions, lacking the interest to piece together the illogic of their knee-jerk thoughts. Thinking is hard. It makes their head hurt. When they try, they could hurt themselves, sprain something. Nobody wants to sprain something.
So rather than expect people to hear utter nonsense and discern, through the hard effort of thinking, meaningful and relevant information from crap whose only purpose is to taint a human being for irrelevancies, it’s time to make it a truism so that no poor brain will ever risk spasm again: Whenever the police play the taint card, it has no logical relevance and is offered because they think you’re stupid. Don’t get angry with the person they killed. Get angry with them for treating you like a moron who would believe that their smear mattered.
Who knows what other things could be unearthed about an 18-year-old? He drove faster than the speed limit? He watched porn on the internet? He lied to his mother about where he was going? The list is endless. People do things they aren’t proud of all the time. Hardly things that suggest that they are awful people, but not the sort of stuff you want your parents to know. Big deal. We all have, and so will our children, no matter how angelic we are certain they are.
These things they do, the good and the bad, the nice and not so nice, do not detract from their being human beings worthy of living. They do not give any justification to the taking of a life. They do not diminish the worthiness of their life. They do not reduce their murder to inconsequence. Stop being influenced by such crap. Be smarter. Be wiser. Be aware when you are being played for a fool.
Chief Jackson claimed that the reason he had to release the shoplifting report was that so many media outlets demanded it. The reporters turned to each other as that was said in a group shrug. Nobody had a clue what he was talking about. Nobody asked for something that nobody knew existed. Nobody. It was a lie.
But Chief Jackson, having made the belated choice to play the taint game, should have considered that cops in glass police stations shouldn’t throw stones. When the best they could come up with to hold 52-year-old, mistakenly seized welder, Henry Davis, in custody after a beating was “transferred blood to my uniform,” the Ferguson Police had the losing hand.
That Jackson took the media to pointlessly, irrationally, besmirch Michael Brown’s worthiness to live is an outrage atop an outrage. Be aware of it. Reject it. Refuse to accept it in the future. It’s not a reflection of the character of the guy they killed, but a reflection of their malice and belief in your ignorance. It’s time to end the smearing of the dead.
Update: Judge Richard Kopf at Hercules and the Umpire disagrees with me that what might have motivated Michael Brown’s conduct, without regard to the fact that Wilson was unaware of the shoplifting, is relevant.
As I wrote in a comment to the Judge’s post, the facts do not support this assumption. Under different facts, that might be so. But not here. This is pure smear.
Brown is alleged by the cop (as I understand it) to have wildly overreacted when contacted for jaywalking by a police officer. The witnesses against the cop portray Brown as not wildly overreacting, but rather being shot by an out-of-control cop. Clearly, a critical issue in any trial would be whether Brown behaved like a perfect gentleman or — well, like a potential robbery suspect with a reason to resist. In what world does evidence of a robbery that happened that day get excluded?? And if it were excluded, wouldn’t every fair-minded person be screaming from the rooftops about the injustice of it?
This would be a fair argument if it was accurate. Brown was never “alleged by the cop” to have done anything. The cop, Darren Wilson, has never come forward to allege what happened. It must be great to be a cop, have other people fabricate allegations on your behalf, then spread ’em around as if they actually happened instead of being a facile figment of someone’s imagination.
Except it didn’t happen. It didn’t happen for Judge Kopf. It didn’t happen for Patterico. Darren Wilson has never uttered a public allegation about anything.