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The murder of unarmed 18 year old Michael Brown by a white police officer in Ferguson Missouri has captured the attention of an entire nation. Officials with the Ferguson police department have released very few details as of yet, almost a full week later. The hoarding of investigation details in cases like this are unprecedented and against Missouri state “sunshine” laws. We do not have the initial police report. We do not have a statement from the shooting officer. We do not have his full history and background as an officer. We do not have the results of the autopsy which was concluded days ago. We do not know how many shots were fired. We do not know how many witnesses were interviewed. We do not know if the shooting officer was interviewed or interrogated following the shooting. In normal cases where a shooting leads to the death of the victim all of these facts are released to the public usually within 48 hours. Sometimes it takes longer for them to release the autopsy results but never 7 days after the death. When a police officer shoots an unarmed teen, and that same officer’s colleagues are tasked with investigating that shooting, there’s a clear conflict of interest. I’m not saying that it’s impossible for them to investigate fairly, but everyone is going to be skeptical of their findings. The people need to feel like they are being treated fairly. That is why any investigation should be as clear and transparent as possible to show that community that they can be trusted. But when you withhold evidence, findings, and reports without an explanation as to why, that can inflame tensions and breed further distrust. Everything the Ferguson police department has done so far clearly shows that they are not going to be fair with their investigation, and their goal is not about justice or presenting the truth. Their only goal is to protect the officer who shot and killed an unarmed teenager.
Whether or not Michael Brown’s family will see justice for the murder of their son remains to be seen. All of the evidence and details are not out yet. From everything I’ve heard so far it seems as though the officer was not in fear for his life, and he had no reason to take the life of Michael Brown. But that is my opinion, and not fact. It’s important to not rush to judgement in a case like this. So instead of blogging about whether the shooting was justified or not, I want to start a different conversation about perceptions vs reality and how perceptions get warped and manipulated over time and how perceptions can morph into reality both physically and even more interesting, mentally.
Right after news of this shooting started to become national, people were politicizing it. People felt like you had to take sides. We have such a juvenile simplistic way we go about looking at the world and everything in it. Everything has to be good or evil, hero’s or villains. The news media does this as well. I’m not sure if they are reflecting the public’s habit of doing this, or if they are the cause of this. I’m sure that’s a question that can’t be answered in just one blog post. But I do want to talk about our habit of doing this as individuals. Immediately following the shooting most news outlets presented the facts that were apparent. 1 – Unarmed black teenager gets shot multiple times by white police officer in broad daylight. 2 – Unarmed teen had both his hands up as the officer continued to shoot him until his body fell to the ground. 3 – Black citizens of Ferguson felt unfairly and disproportionately policed by local officers. 4 – Unarmed teen Michael Brown just graduated high school and had plans to start his first day of college the day after his death. 5 – Due to a long history of abuse at the hands of police, black people have an inherent distrust of them.
Those were the set of facts being presented at that time. We are programmed to find the hero and the villain in this situation (consciously or unconsciously). A majority of Americans would say Michael is the hero/victim so the cop must be the villain. Then there are those who are sympathetic to the (sometime) dangerous job of a police officer. They have this picture of what a young black male is. They see all of us as threatening, uneducated criminals. So after they hear the initial report they cast the officer as the hero and the unarmed teenager as the villain. As more details and information slowly leak out over the days following the shooting, people have already decided who’s the hero and who’s the villain. So every news story that reinforces their belief of who’s the hero and villain they believe it. Every news story that contradicts their hero villain pick gets ignored or rejected. This simplistic way of casting hero’s and villains have nothing to do with education. Right after the Zimmerman trial concluded I had a friend send me a link with a small note attached. He read my blog about the trial entitled “No Justice For Trayvon”. He wanted me to click the link and read some things about Trayvon Martin that I did not know. I clicked the link and ended up at a “News Of The World” page. They are a ridiculous internet tabloid who ran stories like President Obama gay, Michelle Obama is really a transgender man, and another story about lizard people infiltrating our government (just to name a few). So I read the Trayvon Martin piece they wrote. In it they said Trayvon was arrested 6 times, Trayvon raped a classmate of his, Trayvon was a drug dealer, Trayvon had guns, etc etc. Everything that defines the “thug” stereotype was in that bullshit article. Needless to say, none of it was true, and the source has serious credibility issues. But what shocked me more was the fact that my friend/acquaintance believed it all. He’s a very intelligent doctor but he still got duped by that website. YES, A DOCTOR. He got duped because he looked at Trayvon and saw a criminal. Trayvon fit the profile he had in his mind of someone capable of everything they claimed in that bs article. The story from that website reinforced who he already casted (in his mind) as the villain… Treyvon.
This hero villain casting started the moment you first heard about the Michael Brown shooting. Then a few days into the investigation Ferguson’s police chief decides to release a video tape that allegedly shows Michael Brown stealing some cigars from a convenience store. Some didn’t want to believe it was Michael, and others thought it verified what they already believed about young black males. If a police officer shot him, he must have done something wrong. For the people who cast him as the hero, it dulls the sense of injustice they first felt for Michael at the beginning. They won’t come out and say that outright, but you’ll notice a change in the level of their activism. They’ll stop talking about Michael’s shooting as much and pivot to a more generalized issue like police brutality, the militarization of police, or the relationship between the black community and the police. All of these are legitimate social ill’s that we need to be talking about and working to change, but what about Michael? Him being killed unarmed with his hands up in the air? The officer unloading his weapon shooting Michael Brown multiple times until he was dead and on the ground? The officers leaving his body in the middle of the street for four full hours as the blood drained from each bullet wound while the people of the neighborhood looked on in horror? What about all of that? How does a video tape of Michael stealing some cigars change your feelings about his life being taken needlessly? Michael was 18. Just beginning to enter adulthood. That video doesn’t define who he was, and it doesn’t define the man he would have grown up to be.
We are all human and every human being on this planet has made stupid mistakes at some point in their life. Especially as teenagers. I know 4 white girls who I went to school with got caught shoplifting in walmart. All 4 came from good families and did it just as a dare. They got caught but no charges were ever filed. They got to go home to their parents and I’m sure it scared them enough not to try it again. One of those girls is a dentist now. I’m sure that incident in Walmart has nothing to do with their character as adults. In that same Wal Mart two male black teenagers I knew through friends got caught shoplifting a few months after my classmates got caught. But this time it was a totally different story. They got arrested and lead away in handcuffs. They both spent the night in jail because their parents couldn’t get bail money. Both guys took a deal that included no jail time but records of their arrest will show up every time someone does a background check on them. That one stupid decision to steal something at 17 years old will haunt them for the rest of their lives. It will be harder for them to find employment, harder to lease an apartment, harder to buy a house or borrow money, and even take away their right to vote before they were old enough to vote. Michael Brown’s alleged crime does not define who he is, does not define who he was, and does not predict what kind of person he would have grown up to be. His youthful indiscretion and temporary lack of judgement does not make him a villain and it most certainly does not mean it’s ok for police to kill him for it.
*Michael Brown’s family is going through some pretty rough times right now. If you’re not able to join the protest or attend a rally, here’s another way to show your support. Donate some money to the Michael Brown Memorial Fund at http://www.gofundme.com/justiceformikebrown