The recent unfortunate shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and its violent aftermath seem to have had everything and nothing to do with race. Brown was black and unarmed and the officer white; but it is equally true that the 292-pound Brown likely committed a number of crimes in the minutes before his death. He was high on drugs; he robbed a store and strong-armed the clerk; he was walking down the middle of a road; and he started a physical altercation with policeman Darren Wilson (who tried to question him), inflicting injuries on the officer before being fatally shot. If that were a typical day in the life of an American citizen, then civilization, as we now know it, could no longer exist.
So far, evidence both released and leaked suggests that Brown most likely tried to grab the officer through the police car window, prompting a struggle over his gun — which was fired into the patrol car twice — began to run away, and then was shot as he turned and charged.
There is no evidence so far that Brown was either shot in the back or shot while his hands were up, surrendering to the officer. Legitimate questions, of course, remain about many of these details of the shooting of an unarmed suspect, and eyewitness accounts are conflicted; but so far no forensic evidence suggests an execution-type police shooting.
No matter. Ferguson is supposedly now iconic of white institutionalized racism and police brutality, a teachable civil rights moment, as it were, that is currently being used by Democratic candidates to galvanize the African-American vote against Republican candidates. So much so that everyone from Eric Holder and Barack Obama to Elizabeth Warren and Ruth Bader Ginsburg has described the shooting or its violent aftermath as iconic of some sort of American pathology. It may be a half-century since the civil rights movement in an America that is no longer white/black but a racial melting pot, yet we seem ossified in 1965 amber.
Several days of rioting followed the shooting. Black activists such as Al Sharpton, the New Black Panther Party and Jesse Jackson, as is their wont, have leveraged the Brown shooting to indict America for endemic brutality against people of color, and by extension enhance their own deplorable careers of inciting racial tensions. More post-Ferguson demonstrations followed a subsequent fatal shooting in St. Louis of 18-year old African-American Vonderrit Myers, by a white off-duty policeman employed as a security guard. Yet so far no one has disputed that Myers first fired three rounds at the off-duty policemen and was killed by returning fire. If firing three rounds at an off-duty police officer cannot be considered to warrant a legitimate violent response, but rather must be illustrative of racism, then we are going to have some tough days again. I say that mindful as well that African-Americans statistically commit a vastly greater percentage of relatively rare interracial crimes than do whites against blacks.
The resulting logic is that the rare white-on-black crime must be transcendent and iconic of something, while the far more common black-against-white violence is either irrelevant or in some way the understandable baggage of our racial past. That, too, is not a sustainable 21st century proposition.
Ostensibly, neither of these cases should have had anything to do with the race of the perpetrator or of the officer in question. After all, one of the most foolish things to do in the United States is to physically assault an armed officer; the only thing more suicidal is to fire a handgun at an armed officer.
Much has been written about both these cases, but one critical point has not been made. Had Brown successfully wrestled away Officer Wilson’s gun and killed him, or had Myers fatally shot with his first three rounds the off-duty officer, there would have been no suggestion that the fatal shootings involved race, and there would have been no post-shooting violence — and Eric Holder would not have seen anything emblematic in just another police killing. Indeed, had both officers been killed by Brown and Myers, they would now be little remembered. In some sick sense, when Wilson was not hit by his own gun that was fired twice in the car, and when the St. Louis officer was not hit by Myers’ first three shots, then the crimes became racialized and violence followed. In the twisted logic of politicized interracial crime, the two officers committed the gaffe of not getting killed.
Racializing crime is a serious business, because it breaks society apart along tribal lines. It is all the more dangerous when elected officials like the president and attorney general are sometimes the worst offenders, given their racialist slurs like “nation of cowards,” “punish our enemies,” and “typical white person” and cheap editorializing in the Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown cases. So on their cue, are we to look at lurid fatal crimes in the news and see them not as matters of individual evil acts, but rather as collective tokens of larger racial hatred? And are we to detect some sort of state culpability that suggests shared guilt for the violence?
If that were true, the last three months were replete with especially abhorrent interracial violence and some disturbing laxity on the part of government.
African-American and Muslim convert Zale Thompson just attacked two New York policemen with an ax. Thompson had posted virulent anti-white invectives on the Internet and had had brushes with authorities. Did he commit a hate crime? Is his venomous assault iconic of anything that transcends his sick terrorist violence? Did recent politicized change in New York police policy allow Thompson such criminal latitude?
Did Ali Muhammad Brown murder 19-year-old Brendan Tevlin out of religious, racial, or anti-American hatred? Why was the convicted child rapist Brown, with a long rap sheet, out at all? Are the police, the penal system, or the judiciary at fault for such laxity? Should Eric Holder have held a press conference to exemplify Brown — who is a suspect in multiple murders — as illustrative of hate crimes, or the failure of the racialist American state to keep such psychopaths behind bars?
The body of coed Hannah Graham has just been found. Suspect Jesse Matthew is for now charged with intent to defile the late Graham. He likewise has a prior record and has been a person of interest in past serial sexual assaults and prior female disappearances. In the age of Eric Holder’s racializing violence, does the fact that Matthew is African-American and Graham is white play some part in her savage murder? Why do such violent criminals seem repeatedly to be lost track of by the criminal justice system? Is this, too, a Michael Brown teachable moment?
One of the most horrific of this autumn’s crimes was the grotesque beheading of Colleen Hufford in Oklahoma late last month by Alton Alexander Nolen (aka Jah’Keem Yisrael). Again, in the age when Obama references Ferguson to the UN, are we supposed to note that Nolen was black and Hufford white — especially given that Nolen’s freedom is emblematic of a flawed criminal justice system that released him early from prison after he was convicted of assault and battery on a police officer? Is this an occasion for a Trayvon Martin moment of presidential racial editorializing?
We could go on and on. Last week one Marcelo Marquez (aka Luis Enrique Monroy-Bracamonte) for all practical purposes executed two Northern California sheriffs. An apparent illegal alien, he had purportedly been deported twice to Mexico for felonies. Is he now a green-card holder, a recipient of amnesty, or a felonious illegal resident of more than a decade? And if so, how exactly did he operate for so long without worry about a third deportation? Can President Obama address the UN about these unnecessary deaths?
So are those tragic deaths to be a teachable moment? About what exactly? The culpability of the federal government in encouraging illegal immigration? Racial hatred? The politicization of immigration law by the Chamber of Commerce and La Raza elites? Had the two white deputies survived, and shot and killed an armed Marquez and his armed wife, would we now be subject to lectures about racist treatment of immigrants? Do we really wish to go down that Ferguson road of squeezing political advantage out of the deaths?
If we were to embrace the abjectly racist worldview of Eric Holder or Al Sharpton, where would the racialization of crime end? Who would decide which interracial crimes illustrated premeditated racial hatred — or criminal laxity on the part of the state — and deserved national attention? Which adjudicator could or would declare that one interracial incident was idiosyncratic without transcendent significance, but the other typical and thus representative of collective pathology?
What exactly has this country stooped to, when our officials and public figures traffic in politicizing the end of human lives? We are becoming not just a sick country, but an amoral one as well. What Ferguson wrought will not end well.