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Crimes of Exactly What?

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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.