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Wednesday, October 26, 2016

To establish my credentials, here’s a minor incident that happened to my wife and me a bit before last year’s tragedy in Ferguson, Missouri. We’d taken our daily three mile walk with the dogs along our gravel road where encountering three vehicles is a busy day. Often we see nobody.

We’d paused on a wooded hilltop far from any neighbor. Deer, coyotes, bobcats, and even bears cross from the ridge to the river, calling for lots of investigative sniffing.

A quarter-mile further on, two burly young black men riding ATVs stopped at a turnoff. One gestured in our direction. They exchanged words, and then turned and drove directly toward us. They weren’t anybody we knew.

Did their being black contribute to our uneasiness? Yes. Although virtually all crime in our rural Arkansas county is family related, down in Little Rock where we’d previously lived for many years, things are different.

Was I afraid? Not really. People have always left me alone. We were also accompanied by two Great Pyrenees and a German Shepherd. The Pyrenees have never shown aggression toward humans, but they’re extremely powerful and fearless. I have seen Jesse, the male, shake and throw a full-grown coyote like a rag doll.  

Actually, it was the dogs that had drawn the men’s interest. They pulled up, dismounted and removed their sunglasses—always a reassuring gesture—and asked what breed they were. They turned out to be cousins of my friend Wayne, a U.S. Forest Service employee who does tractor and chainsaw work in his off hours, warm and personable like everybody in his family. We had a lively conversation.

Because we’re incurable wet-noodle liberals, we’ve often talked wistfully about this incident—maybe because we felt halfway guilty about our initial unease. We’d all four met each other exactly halfway, as if no racial divide existed. Actually, I think it was more a country thing. In a county with more cows than people, nobody acts like a stranger.

It ain’t heaven, but it’s definitely not Ferguson.

Now then: “Hands up, don’t shoot.”

You know the late Michael Brown never said that, right? It was a media-amplified fiction. According to the 86-page Department of Justice report on his tragic death at the hands of Officer Darren Wilson, “there are no witnesses who can testify credibly that Wilson shot Brown while Brown was attempting to surrender.” Instead, he was charging. A footnote adds that no eyewitnesses “stated that Brown said ‘don’t shoot.’”

This column has already quoted more of the Justice Department’s painstaking investigation than a recent lengthy New Yorker profile of Darren Wilson that stirred righteous anger in the usual places: Salon, Slate, and Charles Blow’s column in the New York Times.

Up to a point, Jake Halpern’s profile of Wilson — unemployed and halfway in hiding after a year spent receiving death threats (and something like $500,000 in donations) from people determined to cast him as either a racist murderer or a hero — was relatively evenhanded.

To his credit, Wilson resists both roles. He’s leery of media attempts to turn him into a symbol. He sees himself as a decent cop blindsided by fate in the form of an enraged 6-5, 289-pound man who attacked him for no comprehensible reason. He offers no opinion about whether Brown was a “bad guy” or a confused kid. “I only knew him for those 45 seconds in which he was trying to kill me,” Wilson said, “so I don’t know.”

He emphasized that cops don’t, as Halpern put it, “have the luxury of dwelling on the past. ‘We can’t fix in 30 minutes what happened 30 years ago,’ [Wilson] said. “We have to fix what’s happening now. That’s my job as a police officer. I’m not going to delve into people’s lifelong history and figure out why they’re feeling a certain way, in a certain moment…I’m not a psychologist.’”

Nor was he mayor, police chief, or even a shift sergeant of the Ferguson PD, an institution he didn’t create any more than Brown did. Sure there’s “structural racism” in Ferguson, as an accompanying DOJ report made clear. But Wilson wasn’t the architect or the builder. He was a grunt riding alone in a patrol car who stopped two shoplifting suspects only to find himself in a harrowing life-and-death struggle that lasted roughly 60 seconds, from beginning to end.

Justice Department investigators concluded that credible eyewitness testimony—and there was a lot—confirmed Wilson’s perception of Brown as “a deadly threat” and states that “it was not unreasonable for Wilson to fire on Brown until he stopped moving forward and was clearly subdued.”

Ugly, tragic, and probably unavoidable.

Nevertheless, Blow sees in Wilson a “calculated coldness, a willful obliviousness,” and “repugnant” racism. The quest for the perfect racial parable almost invariably involves wicked villains and blameless victims. On the sentimental left, nobody’s allowed to ask what made Brown pull a strongarm theft in broad daylight and only minutes later launch what became a suicidal assault on a cop.

I strongly suspect a psychotic episode. Had Brown gotten psychiatric help when he began sending people photos of angels fighting Satan in the sky over Ferguson, nothing might have happened.

On the reactionary right, Brown’s simply a “thug,” and progressives are name-calling hypocrites who leave it to guys like Darren Wilson to deal with the consequences of their own feckless romanticism.

So we call each other names, and very little ever changes.

File photo: A protester raises her hands in the street as police use tear gas to try to take control of the scene near a Ferguson Police Department squad car after protesters lit it on fire on Tuesday, Nov. 25, 2014, in the wake of the grand jury decision not to indict officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Ferguson, MO teen Michael Brown. (Anthony Souffle/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

This piece has been updated to reflect Michael Brown’s accurate weight and height as per the Department of Justice’s report on his shooting death.

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  • Grannysmovin

    First Jeb your brother decided to invade Iraq long before the Obama Administration. It seems you also want to ignore the Status of Forces Agreement that ensured the troop pullout. That little scrap of paper was signed by your brother, George, not by President

    • FireBaron

      Granny, wasn’t this supposed to be on the previous article?

      • Grannysmovin

        So sorry – yes I will delete. Thank you.

  • winnona

    Regarding “Can We Get Past Name Calling?” Gene Lyons is trying to use a soft-soaped piece that is an attempt to try and justify “progressive white racism” in a way that he feels will be more palatable for him to promote his mealy-mouthed, passive/aggressive agenda (namely a Rodney Kingish “Can’t we all just get along”? space to continue Black oppression). Starting with his cute story to establish his “credentials”, he takes us to the skewed piece on Darren Wilson that was clearly calculated to promote sympathy for that murderer.

    I’ll never understand why the DOJ didn’t “find enough evidence to prove a violation of Mike Brown’s civil rights”; they claim that the standard is higher for that federal charge than even a local murder charge. Whatever the case, they did find that there is an established, systematic practice of racism in the Ferguson Police Dept., so we KNOW what attitude D. Wilson brought to the equation when he accosted Mike Brown jaywalking. And we also know that the proprietor of the store that was “jacked” has said that he wasn’t the man on the surveillence video….was he lying? Now Gene expects us to believe that Mike Brown, scheduled to attend college that September, “had a psychotic episode”, snatched some cigarillos and a few minutes later charged an armed WHITE POLICEMAN???? Get that bull feces out of here. And virtually no one has put Michael Brown’s weight at “300 lbs.” (except maybe D. Wilson in his attempt to demonize the young man). [And I personally know how that goes from myself having a policeman, writing a citation for me describe my 5’11” inch, 152 lbs. personage as “6’2”, 200 lbs.; where did he find the extra 48 lbs? That estimate was waaay off.] Videos from following police incidents have finally proven through modern technologies, THAT POLICEMEN LIE.

    So Mr. Gene Lyons, I don’t know what made you even write this piece, and I’m REALLY disappointed that one of my favorite sources for news, “The National Memo” would have deigned to publish it, but this tripe was a supreme waste of time.

    • randyjet

      The fact is that there is a video of two maitenance workers who saw the shooting as it went down. As it happened one of the guys shows outrage when he saw the cop shoot Brown as he was surrenduring.

      • Gene Lyons

        Not so. Try reading the report.

        • randyjet

          The report does not refute that video which shows an immediate reaction to what was clear to that man which was shooting down a man surrendering.

          • Gene Lyons

            Think it through: If they were witnesses, it certainly does. It painstakingly proves that Brown was not surrendering, but continuing to attack.

    • Gene Lyons

      If you wish to understand, try reading the report. There’s a link above.

      • Looner

        It looks like that report is concerning the racial bias of the Ferguson Police dept.. Where is the report you refer to regarding Mike Brown? Please direct me to the necessary chapters. Your article just looks like a re-hash of racially biased propaganda, laced with “hey, I once was frightened one time by some black people and so I am impartial in this total crap”. – which I don’t understand how your little story at the beginning has to do with anything concerning Mike a Brown or how you could be impartia.

        • Gene Lyons

          No, the link’s to the shooting report. It has a useful table of contents.

    • Daniel Jones

      Gene isn’t trying to justify any damn thing. He seeks to illuminate a matter from all points of view, or as many as he can.

  • Looner

    I don’t see what the whole purpose of this supposed article is. Regardless of the circumstances of Brown’s death, the systemic racism and blatantly unfair and cruel practices exhibited by the police and local government of Ferguson are what matter. Brown’s death was just the lighting of a long overdue fuse.
    I question National Memo for putting this article on their blog(?). This person that wrote this has no impartiality by his own admission.

    • Daniel Jones

      Because the service itself, while unabashedly liberal, makes clear what both viewpoints are for an issue.

  • Daniel Jones

    In answer to the question posed as the title to this article: plainly not.

    People want one viewpoint, they want simple “us” vs. “them”, they want set answers.

    If this wasn’t the case, name-calling wouldn’t be a way to not face people as people. And that’s why people call names–to avoid having to truly see one another.

  • Otto Greif

    We are well past peak negro.

  • Darsan54

    I work on a mental health crisis line. Over the past 20 years, I have had to frequently advise people to call the police for help. Now, I am very reluctant to advise that course of action.

  • Bob Eddy

    When will we get past believing what appears to be someone determined to protect the status quo? What I saw was a “prosecutor” acting like a defense attorney who summarily categorized everyone who verified the officials version of the story as credible…including a “witness” who admitted to not being there…and everyone who contradicted it to be unreliable. Stop protecting killer cops and I will stop the name calling. I have no idea what the purpose of the warm and fuzzy tale that began thus article was, but it didn’t make me any more sympathetic to the killer cop.

    • Gene Lyons

      What prosecutor? Do you even know what happened? This is the DOJ report which Attorney General Eric Holder said people should read before getting on their high horse. In short, you don’t have a very good idea what you’re on about.

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