In August of 2014 Michael Brown, 18, 6-foot-4, 290 lbs., robbed a store in Ferguson, Missouri. Brown (who apparently had recently used marijuana) assaulted the clerk, then walked down the middle of the street before being stopped by city police officer Darren Wilson, who tentatively matched Brown as one of the possible suspects in the recent robbery.
Brown almost immediately assaulted Wilson and went for his gun, which discharged. He then ran, but reversed course and charged the officer, who shot Brown numerous times until he collapsed and died.
Those facts are now not in dispute and were the eventual conclusions of both local and state authorities. An investigation from Eric Holder’s Justice Department confirmed that Wilson’s behavior was justified. Immediately after Brown’s death, riots overwhelmed Ferguson. The shooting soon became a national rallying movement and begat the new “Black Lives Matter” movement. The latter adopted as its slogan the purported last words of Brown — “hands up, don’t shoot!” — a plea that, according to both reliable witnesses and the investigations, was entirely fabricated post facto. Nevertheless, it resonated and was voiced by professional athletes, celebrities, the news media, and members of Congress.
Nearly a year later, 32-year-old Kathryn Michelle “Kate” Steinle was fatally shot in the back, allegedly by illegal alien Francisco Sanchez, on July 1, 2015, in the Embarcadero district in San Francisco. Sanchez had either stolen or acquired a stolen firearm and fired off three shots, one that pierced the aorta after entering the back of Ms. Steinle. Her murderer was a seven-time convicted felon. He was on probation from a Texas conviction, and he had an existing felony warrant pending. Sanchez, a Mexican national, had previously been deported from the United States on five occasions. San Francisco authorities ignored a federal detainer and released him after less than 30 days in detention — in accordance with the city’s “sanctuary city” policy of common non-cooperation with federal authorities in the arrest, jailing and possible deportation of illegal aliens.
A few comparative observations: Michael Brown’s supporters claimed that he was shot in the back, an allegation that sparked days of violent rioting and yet was proven false both by the autopsy and forensic evidence, along with eyewitness accounts. Kate Steinle was indisputably shot in the back, a fact that was never questioned. No demonstrations followed her death.
In both cases, the government was alleged to have been culpable for the shootings. Yet Darren Wilson was cleared of all charges by both state and federal authorities. In contrast, San Francisco sheriff’s officials argued with Immigration and Customs Enforcement authorities over which bureaucracy was at fault for releasing a convicted felon and seven-time deported alien felon into the general public. Neither agency initially argued that the release was legal or wise, but rather blamed the other for letting Sanchez go.
Michael Brown, at 290 pounds and 6-foot-4, had just committed a felony and threatened an officer. Petite Kate Steinle was walking along a pier with her father.
It is not clear how many unarmed minority or non-minority youth nationwide have been unjustifiably shot during arrest attempts during the Obama tenure. Yet there is no clear evidence that unarmed black youths are shot unjustifiably by police at higher rates than the current arrest percentages for African-American youths among the general population. It is a matter of record that the Obama administration has every 12 days released a convicted illegal alien felon who later went on to commit a murder. Well over 30,000 illegal legal felons have been released annually by federal authorities during the last two years. Over 1,000 that we know of have subsequently committed a subsequent felony.
President Obama editorialized on the Ferguson shooting, in the context of culpable overreaction on the part of police during the arrest of African-Americans and minority youth — a supposed national epidemic. He sent White House representatives to the Brown funeral. Dozens of FBI agents were dispatched to investigate the shooting. In contrast, President Obama saw nothing commensurately tragic about the Steinle shooting and neither offered social commentary nor sent White House officials to the funeral. And he didn’t order an FBI investigation to determine whether a federal agency had erred in allowing Sanchez to be freed.
What can we learn from these two tragic shootings?
Race largely determines whether Obama comments on pending criminal cases such as those of Trayvon Martin or Michael Brown or keeps silent about such cases as the murder of Kate Steinle. If Professor Henry Louis Gates had been white and the arresting officer black, there would have been no beer summit. Obama would have kept mum if Trayvon Martin had been white or had successfully killed George Zimmerman and survived their fight — or had been shot in a fight by another African-American. A typical weekend bloodbath in Chicago, Baltimore, or Detroit earns no presidential editorialization.
Race and politics were the drivers of the president’s interest. Had Michael Brown been white, and Wilson black — and in absolute numbers more whites are shot by police each year than are blacks — there would likely have been no rioting and no presidential commentary. Showing solidarity with black protests and general claims of racism was consistent with the president’s electoral strategy of galvanizing historic black turnout and Democratic bloc voting on the basis of amplifying racial grievances.
In contrast, the Steinle shooting offers no occasion for political opportunism. San Francisco is a liberal city in a liberal state. Hispanic voters are seen as critical to Democratic strategy and assumed (on supposition rather than evidence) to support sanctuary city ordinances, even when they lead to something like the Steinle murder (which the open-borders activist, Rep. Luis Gutierrez [D-Illinois], dismissed as “a little thing”).
In contrast, had, for example, a white South African seven-time convicted felon and five-time deported criminal illegal alien been released and then shot in the back a young woman, here illegally from Mexico, San Francisco authorities would have been outraged at immigration authorities and their own sheriff’s department. The president more than likely would have seen the occasion as emblematic and opportune for political commentary. Note that there have been several additional cases of innocents murdered by illegal aliens; they likewise warrant no attention — in contrast to the deaths of Freddie Gray and other African-Americans that are alleged to be the victims of police abuse and overreaction.
Truth and Myth
Note that we live in an age of fable. “Hands up, don’t shoot!” still is a banner slogan. That it was never uttered means only that it could — or rather should — have been. When the president invokes “Ferguson” at the United Nations, he communicates that what he thinks happened should count more than what actually happened.
The Steinle shooting also became a tragic artifact of race and class politics and involved a government agency. That she was white and apparently successful, and that her alleged murderer was poor and non-white, in some sick way suggested that her death was less relevant or useful to the White House than was the store-robber Michael Brown’s death. We live in an age of race and political identity trumping facts. We have become cardboard cutouts of who we claim to be or are claimed to be by others, not so much individuals with particular records of good or bad lives lived. Opportunists can invent new racial and sexual identities on the basis that their professions trump natural facts, and that purported solidarity and social justice outweigh reality. After all, we live in a world in which the Antarctic is still melting rapidly; the IRS does nothing improperly in allotting tax-exempt status; Elizabeth Warren is a Native American; and a video prompted the deaths in Benghazi — and accordingly Michael Brown was murdered with his hands up and his back turned, and the murder of Ms. Steinle was “a little thing.”
A Twisted Logic
President Obama apparently believes that because in the past people of color more inordinately were victims of police brutality and were more likely to die indifferently to the public, the corrective is not racially blind observations and disinterested commentary to ensure that everyone in a complex multiracial society is treated equitably. Rather, he feels a sort of reparations is necessary to “even the field” — in that a person’s race or ethnic affiliation will trump facts in precisely the way he believes they once did in the past. Thus, 100 years ago, San Francisco would have gone ballistic over the murderer Sanchez and shrugged at Michael Brown’s death. In Obama’s universe, it is high time that someone at the highest levels of government shrugs at Kate Steinle’s murder and goes ballistic over Michael Brown’s death — facts in both cases be damned. The message counts, along with the political realities that follow from it.
Barack Obama is the most politically driven president since Richard Nixon and the most racially polarizing chief executive since Woodrow Wilson, whose combination of progressive politics and racialism (the former supposedly exempting the latter) in uncanny fashion he emulates. That dual accomplishment of trumping both Nixon and Wilson is difficult, but the president has found it useful for nearly seven years.