Mike Kueber's Blog

August 19, 2014

Rush to judgment in Ferguson

Filed under: Culture,Law/justice,Media — Mike Kueber @ 1:42 am
Tags: , ,

As a mostly jaded, non-empathetic person, I don’t pay a lot of attention to human-interest stories. That explains why I didn’t initially follow the developments in Ferguson, MO. Then as things spiraled out of control, I played catch-up and read-up on the earlier activities and new developments. Part of my catch-up consisted of reviewing the Facebook wall of Cary Clack.

Cary is a Facebook friend who posts thought-provoking stuff. A couple of years ago, he was a columnist in the Express-News. Like most of the E-N columnists, Cary was a liberal and he provided readers with the African-American perspective on most issues. When Joaquin Castro decided to run for Congress, he lured Cary away from column-writing and into policy-advising. Then, when Joaquin was elected and left SA for DC, Cary stayed home and ran Joaquin’s local office. But that job didn’t last.

A couple of weeks ago, Joaquin’s brother, Julian, gave up his job as SA mayor and took a job as HUD secretary. The SA City Council replaced Julian by selecting Ivy Taylor as interim mayor, the first black mayor in SA history. (The city is only 7% black.) Ivy asked Cary to be her communications person and he accepted.

Multiple jobs haven’t changed Cary. One of his first posts on the subject of Ferguson and Michael Brown, Jr. included a link to a CBS St. Louis article titled, “Michael Brown called quiet, respectful.”  The following paragraphs were gleaned from the article:

  • Big Mike, as some of his friends called Michael Brown Jr., wasn’t the type to fight, family and neighbors said, though he lived in a restless neighborhood where police were on frequent patrol. His parents and neighbors described him as a good-hearted kid with an easy smile who certainly wouldn’t have condoned the violence and looting that spread through his north St. Louis suburb following his death.
  • Brown was an aspiring rapper, though it was more of a hobby. This week, he was supposed to start college in pursuit of a career as a heating and air conditioning engineer. On the day of this death, Brown had walked with another friend to a nearby convenience store. Mull saw them in the street and honked his horn to say to “hi” just minutes before the police officer came by.
  • “He was never a person who liked confrontation,” Mull said. “His smile was going to make you smile.”
  • Neighbors described Brown as quiet and respectful—a “good boy,” who “was never in trouble,” said Sharon Johnson, 58, who lives just a little ways down the street. Johnson said Brown would frequently stop to chat.

A couple of days later, the police released a video that revealed “Big Mike” was not always good-hearted, peaceful, and respectful. In fact, I can only imagine how stupid the reporter who wrote the article feels about saying Brown “wouldn’t have condoned the violence and looting.” Hell, Brown did not even need the cover of a riot to conduct his personal looting of a liquor store.

To Cary’s credit, he posted the Brown video and said:

  • “I won’t be a hypocrite and not post new developments that will be part of the Michael Brown story even when they’re not favorable to Brown. We can’t ask for facts that will help us understand the truth of what happened and then only accept the facts we like. No excuses for his behavior in the store. Still no justification for how he later died.”

Most of the commenter’s to Cary video posting followed Cary’s lead and attempted to downplay its relevance. I took a different tack and responded as follows:

  • Fair & balanced? Hardly. The vast majority of commenters attempt to minimize and marginalize the new evidence – i.e., an unarmed Brown (6’4″ and almost 300 pounds) apparently committed a strong-arm robbery shortly before he encountered the policeman – so that they can hold to their initial narrative. Of course, that always happens when someone rushes to judgment.

It amazes me that, while no one objected to the media portrayal of Brown as a gentle giant who was never in trouble with the law (at least, no trouble since his 18th birthday as any earlier activity would be juvenile-protected), it is suddenly highly objectionable when facts reveal the person to be a thug. While that may not be relevant in a courtroom, it is relevant in the court of public opinion. Furthermore, I think the fact that Brown had committed a felony less than an hour before the shooting is relevant to how he might react to a policeman confronting him on the street.

But, unlike the people of St. Louis who yesterday marched in support of their policeman or the people of Ferguson who rioted and looted in support of Brown, I’m going to try keep an open mind and not rush to judgment.

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