The View From Black, White and Blue

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.

To a smaller extent, the same happened here.

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

18 thoughts on “The View From Black, White and Blue

  1. David Woycechowsky

    I am not sure if you can answer this question, but it is bothering me:

    “[A police representative] said one of the men pushed the officer back into his squad car . . .”

    I think that there are similar statements from other policemen. My question:

    Doesn’t this necessarily imply that Officer Wilson made at least some kind of statement?

    Assuming Wilson made a statement, how can police make a statement based on Wilson’s statement without being required (as a practical matter, if not a legal one) from telling we, the public, everything Wilson said? It seems to me that the police are being allowed to get away with not even saying whether Wilson has talked. I don’t get how that can be.

    1. SHG Post author

      This is the problem with police press releases. Aside from circumlocution, jargon and passive voice issues in police narratives, they maintain a disconnect from their source (assuming there is one) by providing only so much of a story as they care to tell and offering it without foundation.

      Bear in mind, the police in general have a good deal of experience providing narratives, and their narratives are usually repeated uncritically. After all, that’s what the police said, so there. When you juxtapose the police press release with what we expect and demand from non-police sources, that they be sourced, detailed, complete and subject to scrutiny, you realize how they get away with it.

      1. John Barleycorn

        Here is the first time (I think) the police officially describe the events of the shooting in any detail. This is after talking (de-briefing?) with Wilson the first time and it is made clear that this information was only in light of a brief interview with Wilson and the spokesman stresses how brief it was.

        Very puzzling from the cheap seats.

        I haven’t found a definitive post or article on how exactly the process of dealing with a police officer typically works after he/she kills someone on or off duty.

        I am very curious to know if other than professional courtesy the officer is granted any legal protections or entitled to any different or special rule or policy sets then an ordinary citizen is without a badge other than he/she is obliviously entitled to use deadly force under certain situations defined in statute and affirmed by this that and the other rulings by the court.

        Note the spokesperson is missidentified. I think this is St. Louis County Brass talking. They were called in by Ferguson PD to bring an independent eye to the investigation supposedly. The spokesperson even states that FPD wouldn’t have called them if they had anything to hide etc, etc…

        Here is the other gentleman who was actually involved in the shootings first take (I think). This looks to be at the scene but I have no idea how long after the shooting.

        From my take I can’t understand how any definitive speculation or side can be made on the legality of the shooting without more physical evidence from the scene. NYT has a piece up on the preliminary results of a private autopsy requested by Browns parents. Apparently six of the bullets shot at him hit him it is unknown at this time how many shots were fired. No gunshot residue on the body but the private autopsy did not have access to anything other than the body.(The clothes he was wearing for example).

        1. SHG Post author

          This is a dangerous comment. You don’t really understand or appreciate what happened in that press conference, the wiggle words, the use of passive voice, the tricks of the trade. You’ve give more credit than is due, as too often happens with non-lawyers who are unfamiliar with how stuff works hears facile police statements that don’t say what they appear to say. In other words, you pretty much fell for some of the obvious tricks.

          I considered trashing your comment because there is much wrong with it, but I figure knowledgeable people will see your errors and unknowledgeable people will do whatever they do anyway.

          1. John Barleycorn

            Very puzzling from the cheap seats it is.

            My nuanced cogent should have had one or two more beers before setting out on that delicate comment indeed. I get what your are saying. But my comment equilibrium was slightly under nourished for the critical nuance that you correctly point out is needed here.

            Relax you will have to do more than kill my comments before I track down William and convince him we need to establish a picket line Manhattan.

            Feel free to deploy the iron fist in your comment section esteemed one. I have been commenting on this far to much anyway.

            Will endeavor to come with Agent Cogent for the remainder of this journey.

          2. Fubar

            … the wiggle words, the use of passive voice, the tricks of the trade.

            Exemplar report, from a memorandum “How Effective Police Reports Are Written”, said to be circulated by an alleged police department not to be identified at this time:

            The suspect was sighted while running,
            And his ways were well known to be cunning.
            His life was expired
            When gunshots were fired
            With marksmanship said to be stunning.

        2. David Woycechowsky

          Police chief never said that the “altercation in the vehicle,” or anything else was based on info received from the shooter (who we now know is Darren Wilson).

          I can’t understand why the press doesn’t say, “how do you know there was an altercation in the vehicle?” It would have been so simple.

          1. SHG Post author

            Exactly. He said there was a brief “interview” with Wilson, with a longer one to follow the next day (which has never been mentioned since). The chief never attributed any allegation directly to Wilson, and no one ever asked him.

  2. Mike skidmore sr

    Wow,,so this is how smart people talk. But I plod on. An author on the Sunday talks made a point. 26 black men were shot by 26 black men in Chicago , and Rev. Sharp ton didn’t stop by. is this as simple as the race of shooter and alleged cigar swiper ? Or perhaps, a large youth would assault ,and or punch,an armed policeman . Charlie Chaplin certainly humiliated the store dick often enough . Does snapping a cops suspenders carry a death penalty? I digress. Sufficient to say, I don’t understand. Thanks.

    1. SHG Post author

      You’ve been fooled by what is referred to as a false analogy. Comparing police shootings to street crime is a trick for the ignorant. Police are not random criminals, but public servants given a weapon, a shield, and authority to use them within the constraints of the law. They are held to a different standard than a random guy on the street, which means that the conduct of, and reaction to, the random guy on the street has no bearing on the significance of a police officer’s actions.

      It can be hard to distinguish logical fallacies from sound logic. Most people find it impossible, as they rely more on gut feelings and the fiction they call “common sense” to overcome logical inconsistencies. Lawyers, on the other hand, try (or at least are supposed to try) to use facts, evidence and sound reasoning to reach rational conclusions.

      One of the reasons lawyers seem so incomprehensible to non-lawyers is that these are foreign to their decision making. They just do with whatever strikes them as making sense, no matter how little sense it actually makes. It’s less a matter of smart people or not, but how we’re trained to reason, to distinguish relevant issues from irrelevant, to be detached from emotion and bias, and to focus on evidence rather than conjecture. As this discussion shows, lawyers fall short of our aspirations just like everyone else.

      1. ExEMT

        One quickie comment based on your point of “comparing” is the recent “black on black” crime numbers that the talking heads spout off about, with a “recent FBI report” showing 92% of blacks killed were “black on black” crime. I looked up that same FBI report, and 87% of whites killed were “white on white” crime. IMHO that sure does poke a hole in comparing raw statistical numbers without any reference. Ergo, the “recent FBI report” did not add anything of value to the current situation. As the quotation goes, there are “Lies, damned lies, and statistics”

        1. SHG Post author

          Calling an irrelevant and off-topic comment “one quickie” doesn’t make it any less irrelevant and off-topic. I realize this sort of stuff strikes a note with those who can’t distinguish false analogies, but writing more about a logical fallacy just makes it worse. Please don’t do it.

  3. Barry Sheridan

    There’s a lot of water between where I live and the street where this young American met his end. This distance does not make it any easier to understand how anyone could justify six shots being fired into what was I believe an unarmed man. This appears to be another instance where a police officer appears to have lost all self control, there is much of this on this site, too much of it. A multiplying role of cases where someone is either beaten senseless or worse shot by a police officer who is not then held to account. This issue reveals a malignancy in the hearts of authority that needs exorcising. The police are sworn to protect the average citizen, not become an militarised force whose purposes is to bludgeon lawful activity and abuse genuine human behaviours.

    I hope that when this particular issue is fully aired that American’s in general will recognise that what is going on in US society today is doing no one any good. Not only is there a gradual breaking down of national unity, with its essential creed of some sort of consensus, but there is growing tendency towards perverting laws for particular agendas, a trend that is corrupting the foundation of the State. These trends maybe sourced in the legislative and executive branches, pathways encouraged by politicians who no longer appear able to administer within the constitutional framework. But it is a decaying structure that is spreading its reach far and wide. There are regrettably too many narrowly focus groups such as feminists who are eager to pervert the protections given to all citizens for perceived selfish advantage. The state of affairs in the college system where unsubstantiated allegations of sexual misconduct are handled by a system akin the Court of the Star Chamber is just one example. This stain on ordinary life is spreading like aggressive cancer. It is pretty distressing to someone like me who likes Americans, and even if I did not, I see all too clearly the importance of a united United States!

      1. ExEMT

        I have friends who work on the ambulance in the St. Louis area, and pretty much all of them are terrified that this could be a repeat (and with extra thrown in) of the 1992 Los Angeles Riots (the Rodney King Riots) that devastated Los Angeles County in 1992 following the acquittal of police officers on trial regarding a police brutality incident. They were the largest riots seen in the United States since the 1960s and the worst in terms of death toll after the New York City draft riots in 1863. With the increase in public awareness and communication thru things like social media, the ability to coordinate and encourage wide-spread civil unrest has been multiplied many times over.

    1. John Barleycorn

      AT LEAST six bullets connected. How many were fired is unknown.

      They recovered “some” spent casings at the scene but never said how many.

      I am guessing and “couple few more” than six. Perhaps even more than double the number that connected.

      P.S. Too bad all the unemployable law grads milling about the universe don’t take up live streaming independent journalism.

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