Photo: David Carson/St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Justice in the shooting of Mike Brown involves two things: knowing what the truth is and reacting fairly and responsibly to that truth. Witnesses say Brown, who was unarmed at the time, was shot down in the middle of the street as he was running away with his hands in the air from an ugly and seemingly unnecessary run-in with a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri last Saturday afternoon. The police meanwhile say that Brown grabbed the officer’s gun and pushed him into his car after the cop confronted him and a friend because the two were breaking the law.
Shooting an unarmed 18-year-old as he’s got his back to you is unconscionable and a violation of police procedure no matter what department you work for or who the suspect is, so if that’s what happened the cop in question should without question be prosecuted. When you factor in the various accounts of Mike Brown’s life, which seem to indicate that he was in no way violent and had no criminal record, it’s very hard to even fathom this going down the way police are telling it. The trick, though, is getting past all the noise currently surrounding the case — the inevitable ass-covering obfuscation coming from the Ferguson Police Department and the understandable outrage over the shooting — and uncovering the facts of what really happened.
What this thing shouldn’t be is a ridiculous circus of media opportunists and self-righteous vigilantes, as well as an excuse for a terrifying show of armed intimidation on the part of the police who swore to protect and serve all of us.
Since Saturday’s shooting, Al Sharpton has of course arrived in Ferguson — coming, one would imagine, directly from a press conference on the Eric Garner choke-hold death in New York City — and begun sticking his face in front of any camera he can find. He’s made some commendable gestures, like pushing for calm amid violence and looting by furious crowds who see this case as another young black man shot like a dog in the street by brutes with badges. But he’s also made sure to be photographed posing with Wiz Khalifa and Amber Rose. While the mayor of Ferguson may not have a hell of a lot of credibility right now, he said today during an interview that he’s concerned about Sharpton doing what he so often does: turning a tragedy into a self-serving “national spectacle.” He’s got much bigger problems than Sharpton, certainly, but his sentiment is pretty much dead-on.
Then there’s Anonymous, who two days ago announced in predictably dramatic fashion the start of “Operation Ferguson,” aimed at not only getting to the bottom of the shooting of Mike Brown but also forcing the federal government to enact a law in his name that would stop police abuses. Anonymous can get information no one else can, sure; the problem is that the hacktivist group is accountable to no one but itself and it’s already had to backtrack when it threatened to expose details about the daughter of police chief Thomas Jackson if he didn’t release the name of the cop who shot Brown. Anonymous prefers anarchist tactics to going through the proper channels — which now include letting the feds do their job and squash Ferguson’s PD like a bug if they deem it necessary — and it’s already made it clear that it doesn’t worry about any potential negative fallout from its “operation.” “We are not exactly known for being ‘responsible,’ nor for worrying overly much about the safety of cops,” one Anonymous member told Mother Jones today. They have a lot of power and they’re not known for being responsible. That’s reassuring.
But about those cops: it’s really almost impossible to be on their side right now in any capacity. In addition to the shooting itself, their reaction and overreaction to some of the protests that have sprung up in the wake of the incident are nothing short of infuriating. Yes, there’s been violence, but when you’ve got heavily-armed SWAT teams with guns trained on a crowd of peaceful protesters, you’ve lost any semblance of moral authority you’re supposed to have and uphold. Add to that the breaking development this evening that some of those SWAT teams rousted a local McDonalds and without provocation arrested two journalists — the Huffington Post’s Ryan J. Reilly and the Washington Post’s Wesley Lowery — and you’ve got a police presence in Ferguson that’s completely out of control, one that’s behaving like an occupying military force rather than a peace-keeping entity.
Here’s Reilly on MSNBC’s All In with Chris Hayes a little while ago:
In some ways Ferguson, Missouri has become a nightmarish snapshot of America, circa 2014 — with hucksters and hackers and guns, oh my. It’s a gruesome social satire that would be funny if the whole thing wasn’t so damn tragic, with all of it stemming from a dead black teenager laying in the middle of a street after becoming the latest victim of blue-on-black violence. As it is, what’s happening in Ferguson should concern every single American, because if this is us — if this madness is allowed to happen on our soil — our difficulty in getting to the truth of what really happened to Mike Brown, and getting justice for him, is just the beginning of our problems.