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Tell No More Racial Fables About Ferguson

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Tell No More Racial Fables About Ferguson

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Ferguson

 I have this odd, puritanical quirk. I don’t think people should run for president by pitching racially inflammatory fables to voters. Republicans or Democrats.

And no, I’m not talking about Donald J. Trump, although these days, racial arson is pretty much his stock-in-trade, along with crackpot conspiracy theories. This week it’s Google, the Federal Reserve, and Fox News. Before that, it was the rat and vermin “infested” city of Baltimore and its African-American congressman Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD).

A friend recently directed me to an astonishingly disingenuous Wall Street Journal op-ed by Heather Mac Donald titled “Trump Isn’t the One Dividing Us by Race.” The president, she writes, “rarely uses racial categories in his speech or his tweets.”

Jonathan Chait comments: “Given that historically, American presidents never use racial categories in their public remarks, this is a bit like saying O.J. Simpson rarely murders anybody.”

That said, I might buy Mac Donald’s argument if it read “Trump isn’t the only one dividing us by race.” He’s clearly persuaded lots of white people that they’re the real victims. At intervals, some lone demento picks up an AR-15 and massacres his imagined race enemies.

Mac Donald blames “the academic left and its imitators in politics and mass media.”

Seriously. That’s what she says.

That’s not to say we wouldn’t be better off purging the “r-word” from our political vocabularies. Calling somebody racist never leads to anything useful. It’s the contemporary equivalent of accusing them of blasphemy or the Manichean heresy—not the beginning, but the end of a conversation.

That said, what I’m about to say will result in many emails calling me exactly that. Comes with the territory.

Because sometimes Democrats definitely do contribute to the problem. I’m thinking about presidential candidates Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren indulging in demagogic rhetoric regarding the tragic events in Ferguson, Missouri five years ago. Sen. Harris got things started with a tweet stating that “Michael Brown’s murder forever changed Ferguson and America.”

Not to be outdone, Warren doubled down: “5 years ago Michael Brown was murdered by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. Michael was unarmed yet he was shot 6 times.”

Yes, Michael was unarmed. He was also 6-5, 289 pounds, and had just committed a strong-arm robbery and assaulted Officer Darren Wilson in his patrol car. He’d come perilously close to taking away Wilson’s gun, and, contrary to popular myth, neither had his hands in the air signaling surrender, nor yelling “Hands up, don’t shoot.” Those things never happened.

Instead, Brown bull-rushed the cop—who had no backup—basically giving him just two choices: shoot, or turn and run.

How I know these things is that the Obama Justice Department did a full-scale investigation, interviewing 40 witnesses and examining the forensic evidence before concluding that “there is no credible evidence that Wilson willfully shot Brown as he was attempting to surrender.”

Wilson’s chances of subduing the powerful young man were essentially nil. The report further concluded: “There is no credible evidence to refute Wilson’s stated subjective belief that he was acting in self-defense.”

Repeat: “no credible evidence” for the “Hands up, don’t shoot” scenario that became the inspirational slogan for the otherwise admirable Black Lives Matter movement. It was based upon the oft-broadcast false testimony of Brown’s friend, who’d hidden behind a parked car where other eyewitnesses—the tragedy went down in broad daylight in a largely African-American apartment complex—said he couldn’t possibly have seen what happened.

As a former prosecutor and attorney general of California, Kamala Harris surely knows these things, just as she probably remembers US Attorney General Eric Holder’s press conference announcing the report’s release. Elizabeth Warren also has no excuse. Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler awarded them the maximum “Four Pinocchios.” They probably deserved eight.

Corey Booker and Kirsten Gillibrand managed to commemorate the tragedy without using the inflammatory word “murder.”

Alas, Ferguson soon morphed into a partisan loyalty test. It became just as important for some to see poor Michael Brown as the innocent victim of a bigoted white cop as for others to depict him as a marauding black thug.

Neither stereotype fits the facts. Wilson’s no KKK man, while all accounts depict Brown as a gentle giant who’d begun experiencing messianic delusions: reporting visions of Satan fighting angels in the sky, and wandering heedless in heavy traffic in the seeming belief that he couldn’t be hurt.

“Do you know who I am?” he demanded of the shopkeeper he bullied. The answer he sought probably wasn’t “Michael Brown.”

If he’d been a white suburban kid, he’d likelier have encountered a psychiatrist than a cop. It’s just a damn shame.

As for law and order, I agree with the estimable Ta-Nehisi Coates. “I do not favor lowering the standard of justice offered Officer Wilson,” he wrote. “I favor raising the standard of justice offered to the rest of us.”

IMAGE: Police hold a protester who was detained in Ferguson, Missouri, August 10, 2015. REUTERS/Rick Wilking

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Gene Lyons

Gene Lyons is a political columnist and author. Lyons writes a column for the Arkansas Times that is nationally syndicated by United Media. He was previously a general editor at Newsweek as wells an associate editor at Texas Monthly where he won a National Magazine Award in 1980. He contributes to Salon.com and has written for such magazines as Harper's, The New York Times Magazine, The New York Review of Books, Entertainment Weekly, Washington Monthly, The Nation, Esquire, and Slate. A graduate of Rutgers University with a Ph.D. in English from the University of Virginia, Lyons taught at the Universities of Massachusetts, Arkansas and Texas before becoming a full-time writer in 1976. A native of New Jersey, Lyons has lived in Arkansas with his wife Diane since 1972. The Lyons live on a cattle farm near Houston, Ark., with a half-dozen dogs, several cats, three horses, and a growing herd of Fleckvieh Simmental cows. Lyons has written several books including The Higher Illiteracy (University of Arkansas, 1988), Widow's Web (Simon & Schuster, 1993), Fools for Scandal (Franklin Square, 1996) as well as The Hunting Of The President: The 10 Year Campaign to Destroy Bill and Hillary Clinton, which he co-authored with National Memo Editor-in-Chief Joe Conason.

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