Remember Michael Brown, the 18-year-old whose fatal shooting in Ferguson, Mo., last August triggered two waves of riots, a national protest movement, death threats against the officer who shot Brown, lamentations by college presidents regarding America’s enduring racial injustice, vilification of St. Louis prosecutor Robert McCulloch for not obtaining an indictment against the officer who shot Brown, a campaign to eliminate grand jury proceedings when police officers use deadly force, the assassination of two New York police officers, and a presidential task force to reform policing? The press and public leaders don’t appear to remember Brown, now that a Justice Department report has demolished the narrative that turned him into a martyr to police and prosecutor racism. His shooting is now mentioned in passing only as a prelude to a second Justice report, also released on March 4, that preserves the meme of a racist Ferguson police force, thus providing a substitute rationale for the summer and fall rioting.
Before the Justice Department report on the Brown shooting is consigned to total oblivion, it is worth examining its findings, as well as the strategies used to marginalize them, in some detail. They bear on the ecstatically received second Justice Department report on Ferguson police racism and on the larger discourse about policing and race.
Attorney General Eric Holder was clearly not happy that his own agency had so resoundingly shredded the incendiary story of a pacific Michael Brown gunned down by a trigger-happy cop while trying to surrender. And so he provided the mechanism for sidelining his own department’s report. A few days before its release, he told Politico that he wanted to lower the standard of proof in civil rights cases. The subtext of this announcement: The decision not to pursue civil rights charges against Officer Darren Wilson for killing Michael Brown was forced on DOJ by an overly stringent evidentiary standard; under a more realistic standard, Wilson would have been prosecuted. Voilà! The media had their angle. “The Justice Department announced on Wednesday that its investigation did not support federal civil rights charges against Darren Wilson,” the New York Times acknowledged morosely in an editorial, before immediately turning to the good news: “Still, the department found overwhelming evidence of entrenched racism in Ferguson’s police force [emphasis added].” The Huffington Post said that the Justice Department had decided “not to file federal charges against Wilson for fatally shooting Brown last July.”
“Did not support”? Decided “not to file”? Such understatement massively misrepresents the content of the Brown report. This was not a question of evidence “not supporting” high-threshold civil rights charges; it’s a question of evidence eviscerating virtually every aspect of the pro-Brown, anti-Wilson narrative. Under no imaginable standard of proof could Wilson be found guilty of civil rights violations—or, for that matter, murder. As the report states: “Multiple credible witnesses corroborate virtually every material aspect of Wilson’s account and are consistent with the physical evidence.” Those “material aspects” include Wilson’s testimony that Brown punched and grabbed him while Wilson was in his SUV, that Brown tried to seize his gun, and that Brown charged at Wilson after Wilson had exited his car. Wilson had first seen Brown walking in the middle of Canfield Drive with another young man. Wilson suspected that Brown was the thief who had just robbed a convenience store and roughed up its owner a few minutes before, since he saw the stolen boxes of cigarillos in Brown’s hands. Wilson asked Brown to move to the sidewalk. Brown responded: “F— what you have to say.” Wilson called for backup and then tried to block Brown from proceeding. At that point, Brown reached into Wilson’s car and starting pounding him and grabbing his gun. Wilson fired and Brown ran off. Wilson gave chase on foot. Brown then turned and charged towards Wilson. At no point did Wilson fire at Brown when Brown’s back was turned or when he was on the ground. As for the now-iconic “Hands up, don’t shoot” claim—the DOJ report is withering:
There are no credible witness accounts that state that Brown was clearly attempting to surrender when Wilson shot him. As detailed throughout this report, those witnesses who say so have given accounts that could not be relied upon in a prosecution because they are irreconcilable with the physical evidence, inconsistent with the credible accounts of other eyewitnesses, inconsistent with the witness’s own prior statements, or in some instances, because the witnesses have acknowledged that their initial accounts were untrue.
President Obama, speaking today in Selma on the 50th anniversary of the historical Bloody Sunday march:
"Look at our history. We are Lewis and Clark and Sacajawea, pioneers who braved the unfamiliar, followed by a stampede of farmers and miners, and entrepreneurs and hucksters. That’s our spirit. That’s who we are.
Slowly but surely, the toxin of bias is being leached out of American culture, if incrementally and by degrees. A Catholic was elected president in 1960, and since then Catholic nominees and candidates have become commonplace. A Jew was nominated in 2000 for vice president, and was a help to his ticket. In 2004 and 2008 respectively, Joe Lieberman and Rudy Giuliani ran for president, and their names and religions did not become issues.
Over at Harper's, Jack Hitt has filed a report from the RNC convention, "A Troubling Chant on the Convention Floor." According to Hitt, nativist Republican delegates started chanting "USA! USA!" in response to a heavily accented speaker from Puerto Rico. Of course, racism had nothing to do with it, as Tim Carney explains:
Arkansas Democrat Gene Jeffress, who is running for Congress in Arkansas's Fourth District, offered a strange story about health care reform at a recent campaign stop. The video, picked up by Caleb Howe at RedState, contains some offensive language from Jeffress, who suggests that Republican opposition to universal health care is racist. Watch it below: