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“Acting On Our Collective Fears”: Darren Wilson; America’s ‘Model Policeman’

Truth is stranger than fiction; it is also most certainly harder to accept.

In a nearly hour-long interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos on Tuesday, a day after thousands of protesters took to the streets from coast to coast, expressing outrage that yet another white police officer got away with the murder of another unarmed black person, Wilson stuck to his story: “I just did my job. I did what I was paid to do. I followed my training…. That’s it.”

Sure, there are plenty of reasons to doubt his account. If he knew Michael Brown was a robbery suspect, why did he politely stop him and Dorian Johnson for jaywalking only to “have a conversation,” as he described to Stephanopoulos? If the West Florissant section of Ferguson is “really a great community,” why did he testify that it was a not very “well-liked community” and a hotbed of anti-police sentiment?

And yet, despite all the equivocations, the shooting death of the teenager on August 9 and Monday’s grand jury decision not to indict Wilson were entirely unsurprising. They are the predictable outcomes of a criminal justice system doing exactly what it was meant to do. For all the dissecting and debating of the veracity of Darren Wilson’s grand jury testimony this week, one thing seems crystal clear. He was in fact doing his job.

Indeed, by this standard, isn’t Darren Wilson actually a model police officer?

He certainly thinks so. When asked by Stephanopoulos if he could make “something good” come of this experience, he said he would “love to teach people” and give them “more insight in uses of force.” That he may have logged more time on first-person shooters—emptying clip after clip to take down demonic super-villains who “run through shots”—than actual police work is beside the point. Darren Wilson has the kind of experience that many Americans value.

Evidence abounds that the United States is the world’s most punitive nation. More people are behind bars and incarcerated at higher per capita rates here than anywhere in the world. African-Americans are the nation’s prime suspects and prisoners. White police officers are our chosen protectors, enforcing the law in the name of public safety.

In a Pew research poll conducted shortly after Ferguson made national headlines this summer, researchers found that most Americans have a “fair amount of confidence in local police.” Eighty-five percent of respondents, white and black, gave a fair to excellent rating on police “protecting people from crime.” And on “using the right amount of force,” 66 percent of respondents gave a fair to excellent rating; white support stood at 73 percent and blacks at 42 percent. Though a clear racial divide exists, African-Americans are only 13 percent of the population nationally. Everyone is therefore implicated in police performance writ large, if not by choice, certainly through political representatives.

Critics and protesters of police violence among African-Americans and on the political left, as polling data suggests, see things differently. They are organizing against the routine killing of unarmed men and beating of helpless women on an unprecedented scale not seen since the anti-lynching movement of the last century. Even with such evidence in hand that black men are twenty-one times as likely to be killed by law enforcement than white men, as analyzed in a recent report by ProPublica, today’s movement like the one before it might fail to overcome deeply entrenched fears of black criminality without a massive shift in white public opinion and a new model for law enforcement.

Most whites do not realize they are reading from very old racial scripts. When Ida B. Wells, the world’s leading anti-lynching activist and black social worker of the early twentieth century, tried to explain to a wealthy suffragist in Chicago that anti-black violence in the nation must end, Mary Plummer replied: blacks need to “drive the criminals out” of the community. “Have you forgotten that 10 percent of all the crimes that were committed in Chicago last year were by colored men [less than 3 percent of the population]?”

Like Mary Plummer, Darren Wilson is emphatic that the issue is not racism. Brown’s African-American neighborhood is “one of our high-crime areas for the city,” he said during the interview. “You can’t perform the duties of a police officer and have racism in you. I help people. That’s my job.” On that day, “the only emotion I ever felt was fear,” before my training took over. “We are taught to deal with the threat at hand.”

Implicit bias research tells us that most Americans are afraid of black people and subconsciously associate dangerous weapons and animals with them. They see things often that are not there. Stanford psychologists Rebecca Haley and Jennifer Eberhardt note in a study last month that the more people perceive blacks as criminals or prisoners, “the more people fear crime, which then increases their acceptance of punitive policies.”

The truth is that Wilson has no regrets. He wouldn’t do things differently. He’s looking forward to a new chapter in his professional journey as a teacher, trainer or a consultant. He’s our representative figure—a model policeman—acting on our collective fears.

 

By: Khalil Gibran Muhammad, The Nation, November 29, 2014

 

December 3, 2014 Posted by | Darren Wilson, Ferguson Missouri, Racism | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Collective Failure”: The Crisis Of Leadership And Confidence In Ferguson, Mo.

Michael Brown was shot and killed by Ferguson, Mo., police officer Darren Wilson on Aug. 9. The unarmed 18-year-old’s body laid in the street for more than four hours. Ever since that fateful Saturday afternoon, there have been protests about the way Brown was treated and the way African Americans in general have been treated in the St. Louis suburb. The most dramatic and revealing were those that erupted the evening of Aug. 13. Demonstrators were met with a militarized police force that lobbed tear gas at them, shot rubber bullets at them and arrested journalists. But in the chaotic nighttime scene three people were missing: Gov. Jay Nixon (D), Ferguson Mayor James Knowles III and Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson.

As their city and state and their police forces ran roughshod over the First Amendment rights of demonstrators with the entire world watching, those three public officials were nowhere to be seen. Their inexcusable absence that night, the lack of leadership it exposed and the subsequent bumbling efforts to show control might explain why there was so much hysteria leading up to tonight’s announcement that Wilson will not be charged in Brown’s death.

My view of their actions is certainly colored by my 16 years in New York City. Whenever anything big happened or was about to happen in the Big Apple or the Empire State (from snow storm to terrorist attack), you were guaranteed to see the mayor, the governor, the police commissioner and every relevant city and state commissioner squeezed behind a podium to give anxious New Yorkers an update. Both in word and presence, those public officials at least gave the impression that someone was in charge. Someone was accountable. Someone was speaking for them. Nixon, Knowles and Jackson (especially Jackson) have consistently failed that basic test of leadership.  The leaks from other local law enforcement agencies throughout the various investigations served to exacerbate tensions.

In the three months since Brown’s killing we have come to learn that their collective failures are just the tip of the iceberg of problems in Ferguson. My colleague Radley Balko reported extensively on how municipalities in St. Louis County, Mo., profit from poverty. “If you were tasked with designing a regional system of government guaranteed to produce racial conflict, anger, and resentment,” he wrote, “you’d be hard pressed to do better than St. Louis County.” The inherent mistrust of police, the grand jury process and the motives of elected and law enforcement officials that we have seen from blacks in Ferguson can be traced back to the Balko’s observation.

The Post’s Wesley Lowery is back on the ground in Ferguson just as he was on that tumultuous night in August. When I asked him whether Nixon, Knowles and Jackson had a local presence now that wasn’t being captured at the national level, his reply came quickly. “Not at all. There is no leadership from electeds on the ground. None,” he said, explaining his assessment came from “dozens of interviews” and his personal observations.  “This is a disenfranchised populace – they don’t vote for their elected leadership, and don’t feel represented by them, so why would they turn to them for leadership now?”

After his 20-minute presentation of the grand jury decision and the evidence supporting it, St. Louis County prosecutor Robert McCollouch acknowledged that the killing of Brown opened old wounds and urged protesters to “continue the demonstrations, continue the discussions” to ensure this doesn’t happen again — soothing words from a public official that are of no comfort to a community that was hurting long before Wilson shot and killed Brown on a hot summer day.

 

By: Jonathan Capehart, Post-Partisan, The Washington Post, November 24, 2014

November 30, 2014 Posted by | Darren Wilson, Ferguson Missouri, Michael Brown | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Telling My Son About Ferguson”: He Will Soon Be Forced To Live It

My son wants an answer. He is 10 years old, and he wants me to tell him that he doesn’t need to worry. He is a black boy, rather sheltered, and knows little of the world beyond our safe, quiet neighborhood. His eyes are wide and holding my gaze, silently begging me to say: No, sweetheart, you have no need to worry. Most officers are nothing like Officer Wilson. They would not shoot you — or anyone — while you’re unarmed, running away or even toward them.

I am stammering.

For the past few years, I have traveled from coast to coast speaking to just about anyone who will listen about the horrors of our criminal injustice system. I have written and lectured extensively about the wars that have been declared on poor communities of color — the “war on crime” and the “war on drugs” — the militarization of our police forces, the school-to-prison pipeline, the millions stripped of basic civil and human rights, a penal system unprecedented in world history. Yet here I am, on Monday evening, before the announcement about the grand jury’s decision has been made, speechless.

My son wants me to reassure him, and tell him that of course Darren Wilson will go to jail. At 10 years old, he can feel deep in his bones how wrong it was for the police to kill Michael Brown. “There will be a trial, at least — right, Mom?” My son is asking me a simple question, and I know the answer.

As a civil rights lawyer, I know all too well that Officer Wilson will not be going to trial or to jail. The system is legally rigged so that poor people guilty of relatively minor crimes are regularly sentenced to decades behind bars while police officers who kill unarmed black men almost never get charged, much less serve time in prison.

I open my mouth to speak, look into my son’s eyes, and hear myself begin to lie: “Don’t worry, honey, you have nothing to worry about. Nothing like this could ever happen to you.” His face brightens as he tells me that he likes the police, and that he always waves at the cops in our neighborhood and they always wave back. His innocence is radiating from him now; he’s all lit up with relief and gladness that he lives in a world where he can take for granted that the police can be trusted to serve and protect him with a wave and a smile.

My face is flushing red. I am embarrassed that I have lied. And I am angry. I am angry that I have to tell my son that he has reason to worry. I am angry that I have to tell him that I already know Darren Wilson won’t be indicted, because police officers are almost never indicted when they kill unarmed black men. I must tell him now, before he hears it on the school bus or sees it in the news, that many people in Michael Brown’s town will be very angry too — so filled with pain, sadness and rage — that they may react by doing things they shouldn’t, like setting fires or breaking windows or starting fights.

I know I must explain this violence, but not condone it. I must help him see that adults often have trouble managing their pain just like he does. Doesn’t he sometimes lash out and yell at friends or family when he’s hurt or angry? When people have been hurt over and over, and rather than compassion or understanding you’re given lectures about how it’s really all your fault, and that no one needs to make amends, you can lose your mind. We can wind up harming people we care about with words or deeds, people who have done no harm to us.

I begin telling him the truth and his face contorts. The glowing innocence is wiped away as his eyes flash first with fear, then anger. “No!,” he erupts. “There has to be a trial! If you kill an unarmed man, don’t you at least have a trial?”

My son is telling me now that the people in Ferguson should fight back. A minute ago, he was reminiscing about waving to Officer Friendly. Now he wants to riot.

I tell him that sometimes I have those feelings too. But now I feel something greater. I am proud of the thousands of people of all colors who have taken to the streets in nonviolent protest, raising their voices with boldness and courage, capturing the attention and the imagination of the world. They’re building a radical movement for justice, one that would make the freedom fighters who came before them sing from the heavens with joy.

I tell my son, as well as my daughters, as we sit around the dinner table, stories of young activists organizing in Ferguson, some of them not much older than they are. I tell them about the hip-hop artist Tef Poe, who traveled with Michael Brown’s parents to Geneva to testify before a United Nations subcommittee about police militarization and violence. I tell them about activists like Phillip B. Agnew, Tory Russell, Brittany Ferrell and Alexis Templeton, who marched in the streets and endured tear gas while waving signs bearing three words: “Black Lives Matter.”

I’ve met some of these activists, I say. They believe, like you do, that we should be able to live in a world where we trust the police and where all people and all children, no matter what their color or where they came from, are treated with dignity, care, compassion and concern. These courageous young people know the tools of war, violence and revenge will never build a nation of justice. They told me they’re willing to risk their lives, if necessary, so that kids like you can live in a better world.

My son is stirring his mashed potatoes around on his plate. He looks up and says, “Right now, I’m just thinking I don’t want anything like this ever to happen again.”

I’m tempted to tell him that it will happen; in fact, it already has. Several unarmed black men have been shot by the police since Aug. 9, when Michael Brown was killed. But I don’t say another word. It’s much easier telling the truth about race and justice in America to strangers than to my son, who will soon be forced to live it.

 

By: Michelle Alexander, Op-Ed Contributor, The New York Times, November 26, 2014

November 28, 2014 Posted by | Criminal Justice System, Darren Wilson, Ferguson Missouri | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“How Darren Wilson Saw Michael Brown In Ferguson”: “Like It Was ‘Making Him Mad’ That I’m Shooting At Him”

After announcing that Darren Wilson, the police officer who killed Michael Brown this summer, would not be indicted, Ferguson officials made available Mr. Wilson’s testimony. Here’s how he described shooting the unarmed teenager.

“As he is coming towards me, I tell, keep telling him to get on the ground, he doesn’t. I shoot a series of shots. I don’t know how many I shot, I just know I shot it.”

(Ed. note, he fired twelve shots total at Mr. Brown over the course of the incident.)

“I know I missed a couple, I don’t know how many, but I know I hit him at least once because I saw his body kind of jerk.”

He continued: “At this point I start backpedaling and again, I tell him get on the ground, get on the ground, he doesn’t. I shoot another round of shots. Again, I don’t recall how many [hit] him every time. I know at least once because he flinched again. At this point it looked like he was almost bulking up to run through the shots, like it was making him mad that I’m shooting at him. And the face that he had was looking straight through me, like I wasn’t even there, I wasn’t even anything in his way.” (Emphasis mine.)

This description sounds like it was lifted from a comic book. Mr. Brown “looked like he was almost bulking up to run through the shots”?  That’s what happens when The Hulk faces a spray of bullets; not what happens when a human does. (On the other hand, it’s totally believable that Mr. Brown was “mad” at Mr. Wilson for shooting at him.)

Much has been made of the fact that Mr. Brown was 6-foot-4 and weighed roughly 290 pounds. Mr. Wilson, though, is not a small guy: He’s also 6-foot-4, and about 210 pounds.

But let’s give the officer the benefit of the doubt. Let’s say he was so genuinely scared that his fear distorted what was happening. Whether or not he committed a crime, as defined by a criminal justice system that tends to let cops off the hook, he shouldn’t be carrying a gun. Someone who can let fear get the better of him—who sees a teenager like a super-villain—shouldn’t have easy access to deadly force.

 

By: Juliet Lapidos, The Editorial Page Editors Blog, The New York Times, November 25, 2014

November 27, 2014 Posted by | Darren Wilson, Ferguson Missouri, Michael Brown | , , , , | 1 Comment

“Darren Wilson Saw ‘A Demon.’ What Do You See?”: Michael Brown Was A Very Human Being

“He looked up at me and had the most intense aggressive face.” That’s how police officer Darren Wilson described unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown. “The only way I can describe it, it looks like a demon.”

Wilson’s testimony convinced the grand jurors and others that the officer was justified in shooting and killing Brown last summer in Ferguson, Mo. Yes, the citizens did a tough job admirably when confronted with mountains of material. But could they also have been affected by research that says black boys as young as 10 are seen as older and guiltier than their white peers?

In an August column “So, black teens who aren’t angels deserve whatever they get?” I wrote, “The shelf life for innocence is short when you are a black male — and there is no room for error.” You don’t get the second chance others might have after an incident of teenage rebellion, such as mouthing off to an authority figure or a more serious scrape. See any number of car-overturning, fire-burning melees after a big sports victory or loss for proof of a double standard.

The answer to the question I posed then has consequences for all Americans because Ferguson, Mo., is about more than one shooting in one town in Middle America. Whatever anyone thinks of the grand jury’s findings, “it” was not a “demon.” Michael Brown was a very human being.

 

By: Mary C. Curtis, She The People, The Washington Post, November 25, 2014

November 26, 2014 Posted by | Darren Wilson, Ferguson Missouri, Michael Brown | , , , , | Leave a comment

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