When the story of Michael Brown’s killing broke, my first post began with these words:
There may be a good explanation for why Ferguson, Missouri, a mostly black working-class suburb of St. Louis, had a white mayor and police force. There might be a good explanation for why an unarmed, 18-year-old high school graduate, Michael Brown, was shot down in the street. But if so, nobody has said so yet. The only thing for which there is a good explanation is why Brown won’t be starting technical school today. That’s because he’s dead.
The two-thirds of Ferguson who protested the killing have been subject to substantial scrutiny, far more than the shooting of Brown at the time. That’s because there was a deafening silence from the police. There was a half-baked press release, replete with the usual ambiguous jargon that gives rise to more questions than answers, to justify the killing. On the other side, witnesses came forward, subjected themselves to questioning, or not.
On Sunday, the one-third of Ferguson came out, protesting that Police Officer Darren Wilson has been “victimized” for doing his job. They were peaceful and well-behaved, without fear of being dispersed by tear gas and rubber bullets. There were about a dozen police officers monitoring the protest, five on bicycles instead of armored personnel carriers. Their purpose was to defend the police:
Sunday’s demonstrators said that they wanted to draw a contrast with what organisers called the “other side” – those seeking justice for Brown, who have mounted repeated nights of protest in which some threw bottles and rocks at heavily armed police, who have themselves repeatedly fired teargas and rubber bullets.
While the crowds protesting in Ferguson have been predominantly African American, all but one of the demonstrators showing their support for Wilson were white. A stack of dark blue t-shirts, onsale for $7 and bearing a police-style badge stating: “Officer Darren Wilson – I stand by you”, quickly sold out.
A fascinating aside to Ferguson is how many people see an equivalence between the police press release and the witnesses who have given their accounts and subjected themselves to scrutiny.
“He was doing his job,” said Kaycee Reinisch, 57, of Lincoln County, Missouri. “And now because of public uproar in Ferguson, he is being victimised. He is being victimised by the whole city, the state and the federal government.” Reinisch said she had relations in law enforcement who would be “frightened to do their jobs” if Wilson were punished for the incident.
Was he? Maybe he was, but there is no foundation upon which such a claim can be based. As noted from the outset, there may be a good explanation, but we don’t know it. Knowing it, however, hasn’t proven to be an obstacle for many to lapse into wild speculation with the certainty that only blind support for authority can bring.
Ken White at Popehat wrote a post providing a cursory explanation of the legal and practical implications of the Swisher Sweets video. The reactions in the comments immediately resorted to the groundless story, the assumptions drawn from the police narrative. False equivalents though it may be, there was a mad rush to embrace the police story and reject the accounts of witnesses who came forward and subjected themselves to scrutiny.
This isn’t to raise the issue again of which story is true, but of which narrative has a foundation and why so many people don’t care. The efforts to stretch, to reach, to grasp for a story that makes Michael Brown’s killing justifiable, that makes Darren Wilson not a killer, that makes the police the good guys and Brown the violent criminal, in the complete absence of evidence to support such claims, is what we face.
People want to believe the police. They want to believe them so desperately that they will latch onto anything that allows them to do so, enables a story no matter how many inferential leaps they’re required to make. They want to do so because it allows them to sleep at night, safe and comfortable knowing that the normalcy of their world, their belief system, remains intact.
They would rather be blind, live in a fantasy, than look squarely at a problem that undermines the comfort of their world.
One [t-shirt] was bought by Martin Baker, a consultant and former Republican congressional primary candidate and the only black member of the crowd. “People are too quick to play the race card,” said Baker, 44, on widespread claims by black residents Ferguson residents that they are subjected to institutional racism by the city’s almost unanimously white authorities. “Lawlessness knows no colour.”
Baker said the demonstrators in Ferguson “want to see more crime, they want to see things get disrespectful. And there are some of us who refuse to allow it to happen”. He accused Brown of having a “criminalistic bent” after a police report released on Friday alleged that he had stolen cigars from a convenience store minutes before he died.
For those who pondered whether Ferguson might be the breaking point, the instance where, white or black, the view could no longer be denied, meet Martin Baker, who sees this clearly through the eyes of blue. “Lawlessness knows no colour,” but adoration of the police even when a black man is needlessly killed knows a color. That color is blue.
For those who see blue, they need no facts, no witness accounts, no scrutiny. They are comfortable basing their support for the police on foundationless claims and wild speculation, because they want — no, desperately need — the police to be the good guys. And there are a lot of people who view the world through this blue-eyed myopia.
There might have been a moment, maybe a fraction of a moment, when the killing of Michael Brown cleared the blue from their eyes. It’s gone now. Instead, they’re selling t-shirts at $7 a pop. There may still be a good explanation as to why Darren Wilson killed Michael Brown, but for those wearing the t-shirt, none is needed.
H/T Mike Paar