The eyewitness testimony and physical evidence presented to a grand jury in Ferguson, Missouri, indicate that 18-year-old Michael Brown led a thug’s life and died a thug’s death. This unhappy conclusion hasn’t prevened numerous other thugs from rioting and looting and burning buildings and firing random gunshots in the aftermath of the grand jury’s decision not to indict the police officer who fired the fatal shots when Brown attacked him and struggled for his gun, nor did it prevent some presumably less thuggish pundits and politicians from attempting to justify the mayhem, but it is worth noting nonetheless.
Such sad facts of the matter, alas, are easily lost in the inevitable racial acrimony. Initial reports about last summer’s shooting accurately stated that a white police officer had fatally shot an unarmed black teenager, and in the absence of any other relevant information much of the media went with the story that in front of numerous witnesses the cop had for no plausible reason other than racial animus gunned down a soon-to-be college student who was kneeling in the street with his hands up. Despite its apparent implausibility the story was believed widely enough to fuel several days of rioting and looting and burning of buildings and firing of gunshots, and for the President of the United States to send an emissary to Brown’s funeral, and for much of the press to stick to its story.
By this point the story of the blameless black victim of white America’s murderous racism is simply too tempting not to run with. As far back as the ’80s Tom Wolfe’s “Bonfire of the Vanities” was satirizing the modern racial controversy rituals with the sharp-eyed detail of a cynical reporter characterizing the victim as an “honor” because one of his teacher’s had said that anyone at his high school who didn’t stab a teacher deserved the designation, and the same technique has since become a staple of modern journalism. The previous celebrity victim of America’s lethal racism was a black Florida teenager named Trayvon Martin, portrayed by much of the media as Skittles-loving, tea-drinking and baby-faced 12-year-old even as a jury heard evidence that the hulking and haggard 17-year-old had phoned a friend about the “creepy ass cracker” who was watching him and was pounding the aforementioned creepy ass cracker’s head against the pavement when the fatal shots were fired. The even more formidable Brown was often described as a “gentle giant,” even after the release of a surveillance camera’s videotape of him and a colleague strong-arm robbing a convenience shortly before his fatal encounter with the police officer, and the image persists even after the release of the convincing eyewitness testimony and physical evidence that Brown had struggled for the officer’s gun and was lunging at him “like a football player” as the fatal shots were fired.
Even in the face of such unsettling facts the broader story about America’s irredeemable racism has irresistible appeal to some people. For the thugs it provides a convenient rationale for rioting and looting and burning buildings and firing random gunshots and other enjoyable activities. For politicians who rely on the racial grievances of impoverished ethnic minorities to bolster their coalitions with super-rich white folks it’s an obvious argument. For the professional race hustlers it’s all in a day’s work. Harder to explain are the comfortably cocooned apologists for rioting and looting and arson and gunfire who proudly consider themselves “progressive.”
Over at the once-venerable Time Magazine they’re running a piece “In Defense of Rioting,” which will probably prove unpersuasive to the mostly-minority businessmen who’ve recently seen their hard work burned to the ground on behalf of a thug who tried to kill a cop. They also have a story on the humber of police who have lately committed “justifiable homicide,” with the term framed with sarcastic quote marks as if it had recently been invented by some cabal of racists who are somehow still in charge of the language, and strain hard to make it seem significant. The story goes so far as to note that “black teenagers were 21 more times likely to be shot dead by an officer than white teenagers,” which only suggests that it is extraordinarily unusual for a white teenager to fatally shoot a black teenager, and leaves the more skeptical reader to wonder if a black teenager might be more likely yet to shot to death by another black teenager. The political class is obliged to at least express disapproval of rioting, but it will speak of “justifiable anger.”
Such willful blindness to the racial realities that most Americans understand all too well is largely a result of nostalgia. Once upon a time in America there were ample blameless black victims of white America’s murderous racism, with such exceptional men as Medgar Evers and James Chaney and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. among the martyrs, and those who championed their cause of civil rights did so with an exhilarating sense of righteousness. Their efforts succeeded in making segregation illegal and changing public attitudes about race and establishing vast government programs of more questionable value, and although matters of race have since become less black-and-white in any sense of the term there’s still a longing for that exhilarating sense of righteousness that shouts of racism once provided.
All those years of America’s tragic racial history might explain why Michael Brown led a thug’s life and died a thug’s death, but that made no difference to the police officer who had a hulking young man going for his gun and taunting that he was too cowardly to protect himself. Nor does it make any difference to the mostly minority businessmen whose hard work has been burned to the ground by other thugs, or to that majority black men and women who are trying to make their way in the broader society and hoping that its racial attitudes won’t revert to its old suspicions, or to any of the people of all races in all parts of this country who are routinely menaced by thugs emboldened by the rationalizations offered by people who pride themselves on being “progressive.”
— Bud Norman