What’s behind the rush to judgment in Ferguson Missouri?
Michael Brown, the 18-year-old who was shot and killed by police on Aug. 9, has finally been laid to rest, but the issues surrounding this tragic killing have not. The facts surrounding the shooting of the teenager remain largely unknown, with a Grand Jury hearing testimony and at least three other investigations underway.
However, the lack of facts did not prevent violence and gratuitous looting in the streets of Ferguson, Mo., as well as racial agendas, runaway rumors, and media leaks from driving debates and discussions. Converging black leaders and street demonstrators have been united in one demand: “Justice for Mike Brown.” For them, this only means one thing: the arrest and prosecution for murder of the cop who shot Brown.
The few undisputed facts are that the officer, Darren Wilson, a four-year veteran of the Ferguson police force with a reputedly unblemished service record, shot an unarmed Brown six times after a confrontation in the middle of a street. Also undisputed, but controversial in some quarters, is a grainy video, released by the police, which shows “Big Mike” Brown stealing cigarillos from a convenience store and roughing-up an undersized clerk. The autopsy of Brown’s body, paid for by the Brown family, indicates Brown was shot six times, none in the back, with forensic pathologists still debating what these wounds actually mean.
Muddying the waters are those who claim to be eye-witnesses in the shooting, but wildly contradict each other. This has yet to be sorted out by the investigating agencies. In other words, we still don’t know what took place on that street between the police officer and the young Brown. If the officer shot him because of racial animus, anger or in error, he should be held accountable to the full extent of the law.
However, we’ve seen this all play out many times over past years — the insulting claim that justice must come in the form demanded by street activists, despite the long-held American tradition that real justice only comes after facts are examined, sifted and only then adjudicated in a court of law.
One such example from recent headlines was the 2012 shooting of the teenage Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman, a community-watch volunteer. Even though few facts were known early on, black civil rights leaders gathered in Sanford, Fla., to lead protest marches demanding the immediate arrest and prosecution of Zimmerman for murder. This, black leaders claimed, would amount to justice.
The Rev. Al Sharpton and other national figures whipped crowds into frenzies, shouting into microphones, “No justice, no peace” — by inference a threat that if the justice they demanded was not delivered, the streets of America’s urban communities would not be peaceful. Sharpton and other civil rights figures insisted the killing of the black teenager was an act of racism, even though information was readily available that Zimmerman was Hispanic and had a dark-skinned Afro-Peruvian grandmother. Zimmerman may have been a jerk and a wanna-be cop, but hardly fit the description of a racist.
This grotesque pantomime of repression and redemption has continued with the killing of Michael Brown. At Brown’s funeral, his cousin, Eric Davis, said, “We have had enough of having our brothers and sisters killed in the streets.” Another mourner said, “If Darren Wilson is not charged, there will be an uprising.”
Acting as a sordid backdrop to this was a recent weekend in New York, when 15 black youths were shot, with two dead. The perpetrators were young black men. Meanwhile, in Chicago, over the Fourth of July holiday weekend, 35 black youths were shot and six killed in mostly gang-related incidents. The suspects in these shootings were all black young males. The world rightly knows the name “Michael Brown,” but those black teenagers shot down in New York City and Chicago remain largely anonymous victims of urban violence. The facts of the violence that occurred in these cities are well known.
However, there is no accurate conclusion as to whether Wilson had good reason to stop Brown, was involved in an altercation with a robbery suspect, was “bum-rushed” — or if he panicked, overreacted and shot an unarmed man. At this point, all of this remains ambiguous.
And lest we think that condemning law enforcement in Ferguson is confined to the usual sources, a man assumed to soon be a presidential candidate, Republican Sen. Rand Paul, joined in the rush to judgment, blasting the Ferguson police and in doing so found himself in the strange company of various national racial opportunists, including Malik Shabazz, the anti-Semitic former voice of the New Black Panther Party, and Minister Louis Farrakhan’s Nation of Islam.
Paul said, “The images and scenes we continue to see in Ferguson resemble war more than traditional police action.” However, this argument seems to indicate that perhaps this senator was not paying close attention to the dangerous levels of anarchy that existed on the streets of Ferguson, the highlights of which included arson and full-scale looting, as well as protestors throwing Molotov cocktails, water bottles filled with urine, and rocks, bottles and bricks. America’s police forces are inherently paramilitary agencies, whose responses by necessity get ramped up when faced with mobs of unruly, violent people.
However, as the violence has ebbed on the streets of Ferguson, it is appropriate to raise questions about the level of “militarization” of police agencies nationwide. Citizens ultimately control these agencies, and through civic engagement, should establish the level of policing, and equipment, needed to keep our cities safe.
It is also appropriate to debate the relevancy of today’s civil rights movement, whose leaders’ purpose no longer seems to seek justice, but to seek power based on the presumption that they are still oppressed and victimized by white racism. Sharpton and other national black leaders insist that “America is a racist nation,” or that “black life is cheap in America,” or that “Zimmerman stereotyped Trayvon Martin,” or the latest bumper-sticker refrain, “Hands up, don’t shoot.”
The moral authority that served Dr. Martin Luther King, Fannie Lou Hamer, Medgar Evers and numerous civil rights campaigns launched during the glory days of the 1950s and ’60s has been squandered through endless claims of racism that ring hollow.
Thus, in the agonizing issue of Michael Brown’s death, protestors are once again insisting on an amorphous cosmic justice — not justice based on a process that requires reason, patience and, yes, evidence.
Joe R. Hicks is a political commentator, vice president of Community Advocates, Inc., and a former executive director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference