Today was the funeral of Michael Brown. The man with an all-American name was laid to rest after several weeks of chaos following his violent death. First, let’s start with an admission. The shooting of Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old black man, is not a good test case to represent the current state of relations between Law Enforcement and the African-American Community (or America at large). It’s time to admit it. Brown has been described by his mourning family as a gentle giant, sweet, kind and loving. I have no problem believing this is true. Brown’s baby-faced portrait disseminated by the media does not give the impression of a violent thug.
Unfortunately, Brown was not a model citizen of Ferguson, Missouri on the day he died. He was not minding his own business. He was certainly not gentle. He was committing a crime against an innocent business owner, who did nothing to deserve it. Video released by Ferguson police showed Brown stealing shows him stealing cigars, then pushing aside the store minder who confronted him about it. What does this mean? It does not mean that Michael Brown was a thug. It does not mean that he deserved to die. It also does not preclude the possibility that a law enforcement officer exceeded his mandate to protect and serve. What it does mean is that the situation is muddied.
The only information we have about Darren Wilson, the police officer who fired the fatal shots into Brown, is that he received a commendation from Ferguson six months before the incident. That is all we truly now for now. Everything else is lost unclear. There are conflicting eyewitness reports as to what happened that day. These testimonies are just not reliable.
It’s difficult to admit, but with what is presented, the benefit of the doubt goes to Officer Wilson. Which is fortunate for him. As of yet, I cannot feel overly angry or vengeful against the officer without knowing more of the details of what happened. Again, this in no way saying that Michael Brown was a bad person or deserved to die. Nor am I saying that there shouldn’t be a thorough investigation into the circumstances of the shooting. But as a poster child goes, Michael Brown has serious failings.
However, there are a mounting number of cases of police brutality and corruption in this country that are troubling to say the least. Injuries, false imprisonment and death are occurring at an alarming rate.
The consequences for assaulting a police officer are severe in this country, however there seems to be little-to-no consistent consequences for police officers who maim, beat and kill the private, often law-abiding citizens they claim to protect. In a system where there are no consequences for corruption, corruption will run rampant, even amongst the most noble in society. Then you will have cases like Michael Brown.
What makes this most depressing, is that there are dozens, hundreds of instances of police brutality and/or corruption that have escaped the attention of the national media and The Justice Department. Many of these cases are more worthy of being a focal point for a debate on the role of law enforcement in our society, how much power we give them, and how they are culpable for their actions and misdeeds; or how the justice system is so heavily stacked against the poor, disenfranchised and, of course, young black men.
There’s Patrick Dorismond who was murdered outside a nightclub by undercover NYPD officers trying to get him to sell weed. There’s the case of Tanya Weyker who was charged with DUI (despite being sober) when an officer rolled through a stop sign and hit her, breaking her neck in four places. Then of course, there is the case of Eric Garner, who was killed in broad daylight by NYPD using an illegal choke hold. There are many more.
These people and many more would make ideal examples for how an overzealous and out of control law enforcement officer has the potential to be as dangerous as any criminal in any prison. But they haven’t carried the message as far as Michael Brown has. He’s what we have. So, let’s carry on.