When I first heard of the Michael Brown shooting back in August, I knew two things: 1. The media and so-called minority leaders would milk this for all its worth and 2. I would wait to see what evidence would come up over the next few weeks and months. Of course, I also knew that, partially because of #1, a lot of people weren’t going to do #2. What happened next was extraordinarily predictable: A lot of African Americans (though of course not at all) jumped to the conclusion based on headlines that “White cop shoots unarmed black teenager” that this was yet another example of white policemen targeting black males for no reason other than racial hostility. Many non-blacks on the left, in order to show their great racial sensitivity and care for the every-man, joined in this outcry. Any dissent was interpreted as closet racism, even if the dissent was in the form of, “We don’t know what happened yet, just wait for more evidence to come out.” Any African-Americans who disagreed with this general chorus was deemed an “Uncle Tom.”
It is utterly mysterious to me why people cannot wait and have to have some sort of emotional reaction to everything. What is worse is that they cling to this first impression even if evidence comes up that shows that their first response was misplaced or even downright wrong. A great example of this is the Duke lacrosse case. It was a headline that media outlets dream of in order to gain viewership: Rich white boys sexually assault poor black female. An overzealous district attorney saw this as his way to gain votes and knowingly withheld evidence as he proceeded with the case. Minority leaders such as Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton decried criticism of the girl’s story or character and insinuated that that was racist. A group of Duke professors, the Group of 88, voiced their displeasure in a written document over the whole incident, including one Houston Baker, who blasted athletics and the lacrosse team in particular for being troublemakers who had no accountability. “Racism!” “Class injustice!” “Sexism!” Progressives were primed and ready to use the event as a baseball bat to hammer home their message.
Too bad all of it turned out to be false. Further investigation showed that not only was there not enough evidence to prove that the players were guilty beyond reasonable doubt, it showed that they could be categorically declared innocent of all charges, a much stronger claim. The girl turned out to be a bipolar liar. The district attorney was disbarred and shamed for his conduct. Physical evidence turned up that completely contradicted anything the girl had to say.
One would think that, in the spirit of humility, the people who jumped to conclusions when they first heard the story would sheepishly apologize for their pathetic and stupid conduct. Nope. Sharpton has never apologized for the things he said about the case, instead has tried to claim that he never got involved. The above mentioned professor, Houston Baker, who is now at Vanderbilt, has also never apologized and has been known to contemptuously insult people who call him out (just goes to show that not everyone in academia is actually smart). Many of the Duke professors of the Group of 88 put out another document that didn’t really apologize but tried to rationalize their actions as general displeasure over the climate of the community (sure…). Quite justifiably, the accused in this case have sued the crud out of the city Durham and the school, but I’m not sure how much money makes it worth it to have gone through what they did. Everyone just assumed they were horrible rapists. Why? Because they were rich white kids and the victim was black (wait, isn’t that racist?).
For another example, check out my post on the Trayvon Martin case.
Did people learn from these mistakes? It doesn’t seem so. Rather than a “wait and see” approach to the Michael Brown case, people jumped to conclusions about this police officer and what happened. Now, so sure of how right they were, they have rioted in Ferguson, damaged property, and hurt people. It gets better: There are actually people out there who defend this behavior. “I’m not going to judge them, they’re mad at the system! Blame the system!” Do we really have such emotionally immature adults in America? I mean, it is so ridiculous that it defies explanation. They were literally people waiting to riot if they did not hear what they wanted to hear, regardless of the evidence.
None of this is to defend how the chief of police and the prosecutors handled the case. Many have pointed out, for example, that it is unusual for grand juries to not indict and for prosecutors to dump entire truckloads of testimony and evidence that are both for and against the defendant. Their job is to work towards indictment, presenting just enough evidence as they can for that purpose, and grand juries typically hand indictments out like candy. However, although this and the subsequent release of the transcripts were unusual, it did have the benefit of allowing the public to see what the grand jury saw, and it was muddled at best. If anything, it is clear from the contradictory eyewitness accounts and the forensic evidence (many of which supported Officer Wilson’s version) that it would have been incredibly difficult to get a conviction even if there was a trial. This was a far cry from the NYPD case where there was actually a video of the whole event. If you want to be suspicious of an event, be suspicious of that one, and even then, this does not justify wanton rioting. Again, this is the key difference: We have a video. No one disputes the event itself. The dissimilarities with the Ferguson case are huge.
And that’s the thing that people should be concerned about: Was there enough evidence to convict? Bringing in theories about systematic prejudice does not solve cases. In fact, even if it were proven that there is a general prejudice against minorities among police, this would still not justify jumping to conclusions about the guilt of this particular cop in this particular case. Such a move would be no more warranted than people assuming the guilt of an African American simply because, hypothetically, it were systematically true that most robberies committed in one’s neighborhood were by African Americans. If Officer Wilson is truly guilty, then only God knows that now. The idea that guilty people get off free simply because of the fact that there isn’t enough evidence is enormously frustrating, but we have no other choice as limited human beings. Otherwise, it’d be rather easy to put innocent people in jail, which nobody wants either.
Ultimately, the lesson is this: Don’t forget that every news outlet has its biases (not just Fox News, a fiction from progressives as many blindly swallow MSNBC), and don’t overreact to headlines. Actually think about things and don’t get blinded by race. Doing otherwise makes you a puppet that will dance to the whims of the media, politicians, and “minority leaders” and contribute to racial tensions.