A Death in Ferguson
I watched something on MSNBC yesterday that caught my attention. MSNBC Live carried coverage of the Missouri Governor’s press conference. In the wake of the announced Midnight until 5:00am curfew, show guests were aghast but none more than Dorian Warren. Mr. Warren displayed justified anger at the appalling lack of understanding of the racial undertones brought by the curfew.
Death in Ferguson
I don’t wish to downplay the situation in Ferguson, MO in any way; instead, I hope to bring attention to an issue that many fail to see – or choose to see. The United States, as a people, have come a long way in the last fifty years. The United States, as a people, still have a long way to go until we become that melting pot seen by many of us growing up watching ABC cartoons on Saturday mornings.
Michael Brown, a Ferguson teenager, was shot and killed last week by police. Since that time, little to no information has been released by the Ferguson Police Department. For the purpose of this post, I will not comment on Mr. Brown. I do not know him and I am not capable of speculating on his character or his potential future accomplishments or his past deeds/misdeeds. On the same note, I do not know anyone in the Ferguson PD or the city’s government. I cannot speculate on their character or past deeds/misdeeds. I do not live there and am not qualified to make those judgements.
I am qualified to form opinions and make judgements on what I’ve witnessed in the news and have read from various sources this weekend. I am qualified to make those based on the actions of those officials whose job is to protect and serve.
The Officer’s Name
On Friday morning, days after the incident, Police Chief Thomas Jackson gave the first-of-two press conferences. For me, his demeanor appeared to be very scattered and nervous based upon the shaking of the papers he held and the many times he used “ummm” during the speech.
As I listened to this authority figure, a timeline of events unfolded in my mind. It is as follows:
Officer receives what is referenced as a sick call and responds. He receives notice that a burglary had taken place at a nearby convenience store and responds. Pictures of the suspect in the convenience store was provided showing the suspect’s attire. It was alluded (or stated) that Michael Brown wore the same. Officer encountered Mr. Brown. Officer was involved in an altercation with Mr. Brown. Officer radioed for backup. Mr. Brown was dead upon backup arrival.
Chief Jackson informed the media that information packets would be handed out and that additional information pertaining to the case was within. Jackson stated he would return later for second press conference.
He gave the officer’s name and stated that he was a six-year veteran without a record. The officer’s name is Darren Wilson. Wilson is on paid-leave at this time.
Open to Speculation
Very rarely do I hear journalist say, after the conclusion of a press conference, that it offered little insight and raised more questions than answers. Very rarely do reporters say, on air, that the information received gave opportunity for speculation. For accuracy, I viewed CNN, MSNBC, and HLN.
Wouldn’t this be the opposite of the desired result?
Wouldn’t the Ferguson PD want to provide as much information as possible?
The opinion I took from this account was that Mr. Brown had stolen cigars, encountered police and was antagonistic, and was shot by officer Darren Wilson – after Wilson received report of the description of the suspect and then encountered Mr. Brown.
The Story Changes
The second conference, as reported on The Wire, shows Chief Jackson amending his story to say that the confrontation between Mr. Brown and Mr. Wilson was not related to the robbery.
Didn’t Jackson craft a story earlier in the morning that alluded to the opposite?
The Wire’s report also stated, when questioned about why he chose to release the robbery information, Jackson replied, “the media asked for it.”
The story evolved again later Friday evening when Jackson stated that Wilson saw cigars and that tied to the robbery.
So, which is it?
The intent of the curfew may have been noble. It might, possibly, have been necessary but there is one central problem. Who enforces the curfew?
It is not a win-win situation when the enforcers are also seen as the aggressors. It does not help when the Ferguson PD appear look more like an armed battalion than a peacekeeping force. It does not help when pictures are shown of police assuming sniper-like positions atop an armored vehicle. It does not help when the very concept of the curfew harkens back to a time in the United States when people of color were not welcomed “after dark.” It doesn’t help that the curfew suspends the first amendment right of American citizens to assemble on public property and speak publically about things that they feel are unjust.
The end of this story will come. Did Michael Brown do something that has not come to light that legally warranted his shooting by Darren Wilson? We do not know and that is part of the problem. Let us assume for a moment that he DID do something that legally warranted his shooting. Understand that emphasis is given to legally warranted because that may have been the case – or it might not.
Or, if innocent, what if Wilson simply panicked? What if he was caught up in the moment or had a moment of rage? It absolves him not – but what if?
Another part of the problem is the timing. Assuming that the above is accurate, the delay in releasing said information adds more speculation. Was the evidence corrupted? Was the evidence fabricated? What was the motive behind the delay? What are they hiding?
A question was asked this morning on the Melissa Harris-Perry show about whether or not this could be a defining moment – a turning point – in race relations with the police.
No matter what is said now…the Ferguson Police Department is tainted. The city needs to heal and the only way for it to heal is for there to be true change.
It is 2014 and I hope we have moved forward but things like this make one wonder. It is things like this that make Mr. Warren’s visible – yet professionally contained – outrage all the more impactful.
As a white male, I cannot fathom the depths of racism cast upon a people just for being different. Yet, for those who know me, you know that I do have an insight due to location and to my own history.
This takes me back. It reminds me of a night in 1996 when I was stopped by a city police officer for “running that stop sign a few miles back.” I sat in my car and was told “what are you doing on this side of town after dark?” Little did I realize, as a young man in my 20s, the underlying context at work. That unspoken curfew existed and, as a white male in a black neighborhood, I must be up to no good – right?
I’ve always held that part-time officer in low regard. Today, for the first time, I took back on that moment and ask: WHAT IF?
- What if I had been perceived as questioning his authority?
- What if I had been asked to exit the vehicle?
I’ve always held the belief that his intent was to scare me by giving me a ticket. I believe the other part of his intent was to show his authority.
What if he had chosen to use his a bullet instead of a ticket?
Would I even be writing this today?
The fact that the above can even be fathomed – in the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave – is sad. Let us all hope that the lessons learned in Ferguson will make us all a better people.
If that can happen, Mr. Brown will not have died in vain.