The persistence of Ferguson’s residents as they insist on justice and openness is an example we should all admire and follow.
Techniques of damage control
Consider the techniques Ferguson police use to respond to people who tell the truth about what happened on August 9, on a bright afternoon, with many witnesses:
~ Stonewall – Don’t give any information, including – for days after the event – the name of the officer who shot Michael Brown.
~ Change the subject – Brown had marijuana, he robbed a store – report anything that makes him seem like a bad character.
~ Focus on details not central to the main issue – get people talking about red herrings, anything to distract from what actually happened. Were his hands up as Officer Wilson finished emptying his weapon into Brown’s body? Did the shot to the top of Brown’s head occur as he fell forward onto the pavement?
~ Delay, delay, delay – Assure everyone we will get to the bottom of this case. We will have an official investigation. Everything is in the future tense. Meantime, the police commission an autopsy, selected results of which they leak to the press, who happily report whatever the authorities feed them. Ferguson’s residents know that an official investigation will exonerate the officer who shot Brown.
~ Have regular press conferences to stay ahead of the story – You want to give the appearance of being responsive, but maintain business as usual as much as possible. Business as usual means deterrence, intimidation, use of force, and aggressive policing.
Remember the central event here: a police officer stops a teenager on the street on a summer afternoon for what amounts to jaywalking, and less than a minute later, the youth is dead on the pavement, lying in his own blood. How can you explain something like that? You can’t. The event – witnessed by many – speaks for itself.
“He reached for my gun”
Ferguson’s police have rolled out the oldest chestnut they have: Brown reached for Wilson’s gun, so Wilson had to protect himself. Police elsewhere have used that one to explain why they shot a prisoner in the back seat of a cruiser, when the prisoner had his hands cuffed behind him! They didn’t shoot him in the hand in that case, I can tell you. They put a bullet into his head. The police have lied with that scenario too many times for it to be credible. When you execute someone in your custody, though, no other story will do.
In the days after Brown’s murder, Ferguson’s mayor and police chief kept calling for calm as they tried to distract everyone from the plain cause of Brown’s death. He had been gunned down by a policeman who said, moments before he pulled out his weapon, “Get the fuck off the street.” Brown and his friend did not comply promptly, saying they would soon be off the street anyway, and Wilson lost it. He absolutely lost his temper. He could not handle a situation where this guy could disobey him and get away with it. Everything about the shooting bespeaks a police officer who did not have control of himself. What policeman in control of himself could order someone to get the fuck off the street, then collar him with a chokehold when he doesn’t obey, then shoot him down when he breaks the hold and runs away?
Is out-of-control policing the norm?
Just as significant is Ferguson’s contention that this out-of-control policing had become the norm in their city. Brown’s case may have been the first time a youth was murdered in front of so many witnesses – and left to lie in the street for the rest of the afternoon – but protesters said this sort of behavior fit a longstanding pattern of police abuse. With Brown’s death, they became fed up. This case was so blatant, they could no longer lie low and hope that somehow the police would change their ways.
Ferguson’s mayor and police chief have tried to do their best to return their city to normal. Why wouldn’t they? Normal meant they could exercise their power without restraint. In all the reporting about Brown’s death, though, did you see anywhere that the mayor or the police chief went to visit Michael Brown’s parents? When a youngster fell to gang violence in Boston’s streets while Tom Menino was mayor, he went to pay a condolence call to the child’s parents. In Ferguson, when a policeman shoots a young man to death, the youth’s parents hear from these officials via their television sets. That’s where – on television – the mayor and police chief say the city shouldn’t have let Brown’s body lie in the street so long.
Anger and lethal force
What can be going on here? Have we actually reached a state where a police officer can execute you for jaywalking if he thinks you haven’t submitted to his authority? The police in Ferguson have said all sorts of bad things about Michael Brown, to suggest he was a petty criminal, and that his actions just before he died justify the lethal force police used against him. Even if all these accusations and innuendo were true, what could justify emptying your service weapon into a young man, both as he runs away from your car, and as he turns around to plead for you to stop shooting? Bullet after bullet struck him after he broke away from the car, until he was dead. What could possibly justify that treatment, when he had no weapon, and when he clearly showed – by running away – that he had no aggressive or harmful intentions toward Officer Wilson?
Brown is in the ground now, and Wilson’s career as a police officer in Ferguson is over. He’ll be notorious from now on as the person who gunned down an unarmed man on the streets of Ferguson. What a reputation to have. What a coward. He might try to redeem himself by telling the truth about what happened that Saturday afternoon, but he’ll never do that. He won’t pay a condolence call to Michael’s parents, either.
Bloody hell, cold and hot
People have called Darren Wilson a cold-blooded killer, but to say he’s a cold-blooded killer is probably incorrect. He is a hot-blooded killer. Michael Brown’s murder was not pre-meditated, but neither was it an accident.
Hot blood could mean Wilson panicked momentarily, lost his temper, or some combination of the two. His initial move to pull his car up cross-wise in front of the two pedestrians, and open his door so forcefully as to hit the young men, indicates he lost his temper because they did not get out of the street. When you lose your temper, you lose yourself to anger. You are no longer in control of your actions. Everything that happened after he stopped his car to confront the two pedestrians indicates he could not control his behavior. He was so angry, so ready to use his weapon, he fired countless bullets at Brown. To this day, we do not know how many bullets came out of his gun. The witnesses could not keep track.
Truth requires courage
When I said Wilson is a coward above, the description applies only in part to shooting an unarmed man. If Wilson had indeed lost control, that’s bad enough, but you cannot ascribe his actions in those circumstances primarily to cowardice. What is cowardly is not to own what he did after the event. He cooperated with the police department in keeping his identity secret while Ferguson underwent military occupation by his colleagues. He has said nothing since the police released his name: no expression of sympathy for the family, no explanation at all for why he acted the way he did. That’s cowardly.
I’m sure he’s following the advice of his attorney. Don’t say anything in public, because the prosecutor can use that against you at trial. That’s right, buddy. You’ll go to jail if you speak frankly, and you’ll make my job as defense counsel a lot harder. That doesn’t make Wilson’s silence right. He has weighed his own welfare against the welfare of the community he is supposed to protect, and we see which side wins. Wilson may not even testify at his own trial, if he ever has one.
Eric Garner’s death in New York City
The context of these police murders is frightening. Just twenty-three days before Michael Brown died, on July 17, New York City police choked Eric Garner to death on the street, again in broad daylight, in front of numerous witnesses. They stopped him for selling illicit cigarettes. If you participate in a gray market and you are black, watch out. The police will take you down. Read details and see photographs here:
It’s actually remarkable that the police let these photographs get published. They were all so occupied killing Garner, they must have forgotten to confiscate the cameras.
Here are a couple of comments that appear with the article above:
In my state… In my state!!! A choke down until the guy dies?! This is BULL! I’m tired of seeing cops across this country beating down and killing innocent people. What the H*LL is wrong with you guys?? A little power going to your head? Sure there are scumbags willing to take you down but enough is enough with this unarmed, no threat, take down BULLS**T!! D*mn it… Stop it!!! God complex??? I’m beginning to wonder if every PD needs a solid checkup with a shrink. Sorry PDs I used to back all of you guys 100% but I’m beginning to wonder… Are you really out there to protect and to serve or are you out there to just beat the snot out of someone? I’m not saying all PDs are bad. My local guys are great but this type of behavior is happening all too frequently and IT MUST STOP! ~ Ed Z.
It’s happening because the police have no respect for the civilians they serve, especially minorities. In their eyes they are a bunch of lazy good for nothings that are always up to no good. They deserve nothing but abuse and disrespect. I swear, I wonder what they teach in the police academy? On another note, please people stop resisting arrest. I know most oftentimes it’s unwarranted but you will live to see another day if you let courts decide. You can’t win by resisting. RIP to this man and prayers go out to his loved ones. Very sad. ~ Tee D.
Ferguson has become a symbol for the rest of the country. So has New York. The police have killed too many people, without justification and without correction. As the first commenter concludes, it must stop.
The Police Are Still Out of Control, by Frank Serpico
Anthem and prayer
My City of Ruins, by Bruce Springsteen