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Monday, October 24, 2016

Almost the only heartening news out of Ferguson, Missouri came in a Washington Post report headlined “Nearly 6 in 10 African-Americans say Michael Brown shooting was ‘unjustified.’”

According to the Post, while an opinion poll found that “64 percent of Americans overall said they didn’t have enough information” to form a strong opinion about the 18-year-old’s death, “when it comes to African-Americans, the verdict is basically in.”

That is, in cartoon-speak, that Brown was murdered by a rogue cop.

Except that’s not really what the poll reported. The actual numbers are that 57 percent of African-Americans lean that way, while 43 percent do not.

A majority, yes, but very far from unanimity. And that’s the good news in an otherwise appalling situation. Because at this point nobody really knows exactly what happened. Anybody who expresses certainty is far ahead of the available evidence, and is nobody’s friend of any ethnicity.

Are black Americans justified in being suspicious? It would be astonishing if most were not. As seemingly every professor of African-American Studies in the United States has recently reminded us, it hasn’t been so long since a tragedy like Brown’s death might have been shrugged off as just another random killing in “Niggertown.”

Responding to events in Ferguson, Hillary Clinton asked a well-heeled white audience to consider the black experience:

“Imagine what we would feel and what we would do,” she said, “if white drivers were three times as likely to be searched by police during a traffic stop as black drivers. Instead of the other way around; if white offenders received prison sentences 10 percent longer than black offenders for the same crimes; if a third of all white men…went to prison during their lifetime. Imagine that. That is the reality in the lives of so many of our fellow Americans and so many of the communities in which they live.”

Yes, imagine.

One especially militant pundit, however, denounced Clinton’s remarks as “a Teflon-coated study in playing it safe.” Apparently because, like that notorious racial sellout President Obama, she had failed to pronounce upon Ferguson policeman Darren Wilson’s guilt and call for his immediate arrest.

Obama himself got scolded in the Washington Post by Georgetown University professor (and MSNBC talking head) Michael Eric Dyson as “tone deaf and disappointing” for the same sin. Also for not rushing to Ferguson as he’d hurried to Newtown, Connecticut and “communities ravaged by Hurricane Sandy” — almost as if the professor didn’t recognize the inherent problem of the president’s involving himself in an ongoing criminal investigation.

Elsewhere, the professoriate was well represented. The University of Connecticut’s Jelani Cobb wrote feelingly in The New Yorker about the “damnable, tiresome burden of racism.” Emory University’s Carol Anderson informed Washington Post readers that Ferguson makes sense only as an explosion of “white rage.”

In Salon, Rutgers professor Brittney Cooper announced herself “appalled” at efforts to protect Wilson and his family from reprisal.

After Time’s Joe Klein pointed out that Brown’s death might not turn out to be a perfect parable of racial injustice, Wake Forest professor (and MSNBC’s one-trick pony) Melissa Harris-Perry brought him up short with a brisk summary of allowable information:

“Officer Wilson was armed,” she wrote. “Michael Brown was not. Officer Wilson shot Michael Brown. Michael Brown is dead. Officer Wilson has not been arrested….Those are the facts.”

The Daily Howler’s ever-skeptical Bob Somerby responds:

“Those are the facts? Actually, no—those are some of the facts! More specifically, those are the facts which help Harris-Perry keep her narration a bit of a ‘perfect metaphor’—a simplistic story with no moral ambiguity or factual uncertainty.”

To campus intellectuals adept at decoding the symbolic meaning of events, Michael Brown has been transmogrified into Emmett Till — the 14-year-old Chicago boy foully murdered in Mississippi in 1955 for flirting with a white woman, an episode that shocked the nation’s conscience.

So what could that skeptical 43 percent of African-Americans unconvinced of Patrolman Darren Wilson’s guilt be thinking? Maybe that there are young men very like Michael Brown walking down the middle of the street in their neighborhoods — some definitely no angels.

Possibly that the fellow seen menacing a convenience store clerk five minutes before the fateful encounter might have imagined he could assault a cop with impunity. Maybe that he wanted the cigars to make “blunts” laced with pot and other drugs. Maybe he’d succumbed to drug-induced psychosis.

Perhaps they doubt that Wilson called the play; that a racist cop with homicidal impulses wouldn’t have chosen high noon in a black apartment complex for a showdown. Maybe they wonder if an officer suddenly catapulted into life-and-death struggle with a man twice his size had a real choice.

Could be that Wilson just panicked.

Maybe too, some African-Americans have seen enough mob justice to await the results of a proper federal investigation.

AFP Photo/Michael B. Thomas

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Correction: The author of the New Yorker article is Jelani Cobb, not Jelani Brown as this column originally stated.

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  • sigrid28

    Food for thought from the Washington Post today, 9-3-2014: “Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. will launch this week a broad civil rights investigation into the Ferguson, Mo., Police Department, according to two federal law enforcement officials. The investigation, which could be announced as early as Thursday afternoon, will be conducted by the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and follow a process similar to that used to investigate other police departments across the country, the officials said.”

    • Gene Lyons

      Lyons, who actually called for such a federal investigation, criticized a solitary “one-trick pony.” I suspect most readers understand what that trick is without its having to be spelled out.

      • sigrid28

        Coming from a misogynistic journalist who refers to himself in the third person, most readers easily understand that Melissa Harry-Perry’s “one-trick” is, from Lyons’s point of view, being a female intellectual with a national following.

        • Gene Lyons

          Beep! OK, I’ll spell it out. On evidence, Harris-Perry appears incapable of disagreeing with anybody without ad hominem attacks on their imagined motives. Her many followers often exhibit the same trait.

          • sigrid28

            I saw the appearance of Joe Klein that day on the Melissa Harris-Perry program on MSNBC. As you yourself quoted her as saying in the piece above, “Officer Wilson was armed, . . . Michael Brown was not. Officer Wilson shot Michael Brown. Michael Brown is dead. Officer Wilson has not been arrested. . . . Those are the facts.” She neither denies the validity of Joe Klein’s concerns nor attributes them to some quality of his character or ethnicity, as far as I can see. If she had done either, only then would her comments qualify as an ad hominem attack, according to the common definition. I also think it’s kind of dumb to assert that the people who “follow” a journalist are just like them. I read most of what you publish in the National Memo, after all. And we are not at all alike.

          • Gene Lyons

            She baldly (and absurdly) accused Klein of having contempt for black culture. “As for the ‘culture of poverty,'” she asked “is that American jazz, blues, or hip-hop you are referencing? Because those are some of the cultural products of the black American poor.” As near as I can tell, that’s pretty much all she knows how to do.

          • sigrid28

            Here’s how I could agree with what you say: If you said, “Besides the comments I cited above, I heard her . . . accuse Klein of . . . ” Second, (I don’t agree with you, but if I did) it’s pretty hard to win an argument by introducing only ONE example to prove your point, especially when you want to say this is “all she knows how to do.” There ought to be many examples you could draw on to make your point. Instead, you think we should take at face value a broad (no pun intended) example for which you offer insustantial proof. It makes it seem like you dislike how Mellisa Harris-Perry conducts an interview because she is arguing with a skirt on.

          • Gene Lyons

            Too perfect for words. I think we’re done here.

          • sigrid28

            Your dismissal sounds very petty: wanting to insult your reader, wanting the last word. Such a thin skin!

          • Russell Byrd

            Why is it the right-wacko-wingers always use buzz words like “ad hominem attacks,” all the while conducting “ad hominem attacks.” It may be an overstatement of mine, but I can usually size up the “opposition” quite quickly when they go about posting like that. Pardon, if I am too judgmental.

  • RusInMass

    Gene, we love ya, but it’s amazing the lengths you will go, in order to obscure what you don’t want to understand. MHP’s facts are accurate. Your hypotheticals are: one, just that – hypothetical; two, blaming the victim, which is really beneath you; and finally, if true, STILL don’t mitigate for Officer Wilson.

    Unless a gun or knife with Brown’s fingerprints suddenly turns up, there is so little conceivable, rational justification for Wilson’s actions that, yes, we can judge with a reasonable degree of confidence. His only legal defense is the enormous presumption that Wilson and Wilson alone was permitted to determine his “imminent danger”, where the actual threshold for that judgment is a low as your shoe. “He felt scared” – even in the absence of any weapon – therefore he was justified. This steeply tilted, artificial legal backdrop supports a view “don’t judge until the facts are in”.

    But outside that legal backdrop, it’s entirely rational to view Brown’s killing as criminal murder.