With the Baltimore events going on, one readily recalls the Michael Brown incident last year, where an unarmed African American teenager was killed by a white cop in Ferguson, MO. The predominately left media seized on the story, virtually jumping to the conclusion that this was a racially motivated crime by this cop. This widespread belief led to both peaceful protests and violent riots. “Hands up, don’t shoot” became the slogan, referring to the alleged testimony that Brown put his hands up trying to surrender before being gunned down. Dissenting from this narrative brought accusations of closet racism.
The right, on the other hand, along with their news organization Fox News, were very skeptical and focused a lot on Michael Brown’s criminal history (which included that very same day, with him stealing from a convenient store and roughly dealing with the store owner). They argued that accusations of systematic racism were unwarranted, that the cop had no prior history of bad behavior, and that his injuries sustained were consistent with his testimony. In contrast, the reliability of other witnesses were questionable, with some even expressing fear of telling the real truth because there might be repercussions in their own community. Just liberal race-baiting, everyone.
Finally, in March, Attorney General Eric Holder’s report came out. It basically did two things: It slammed the city of Ferguson and its police force for unethical practices, and it also refuted the “Hands up, don’t shoot” narrative. Regarding the former, it became clear that the city viewed its police as a revenue generating arm, dishing out tickets left and right with a bullying nature. Though one has to be careful with statistics, those statistics did seem to be skewed towards the poor and minorities. Even if one ignores all of Holder’s explanations and opinions in the report, the statistics and emails are troubling. However, despite all this, the report found absolutely no evidence whatsoever supporting the notion that Michael Brown had his hands up. If anything, the report corroborated Officer Wilson’s story. In other words, the whole narrative was found to be a pile of made up garbage.
Can both of these things be true? You betcha. I’m going to toot my own horn and quote myself from back in December:
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.
It has been amusing since then to see how people on both sides of the aisle respond to this report. Many conservatives have mocked the liberals for the destruction of their narrative, demanding apologies for fueling riots with a false story. However, when it comes to the troubling aspects of Ferguson’s police, they either dismiss it offhand as a product of a race-baiting Eric Holder or they say that a few emails here and there do not prove systematic racism. While it is true that a few emails and statistics do not prove that, it seems lost on them that those things should at least raise some eyebrows. Fox News, for example, trumpeted the vindication of Officer Wilson but largely ignored the parts about the city of Ferguson as a whole.
Liberals, on the other hand, viewed the report as proof of police prejudicial practices while largely sweeping the Michael Brown part under the rug (which is, well, the whole reason why Ferguson was even put on the map by the media). This was not only seen in media outlets such as MSNBC but also in comedy shows where, let’s be honest, a lot of young liberals get their news, such as The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. Jon Stewart acknowledged the falsehood of the Michael Brown narrative briefly but very defensively (after all, he was one of those people who jumped to conclusions). He responded to calls to apologize with what can only be described as an “I know you are, but what am I” tactic, blasting Fox News for its fear-mongering over the Benghazi incident. He may be right in that case, but how is that relevant? It was an obvious red herring to avoid the fact that the whole narrative was wrong. As far as Oliver, he took the city of Ferguson to task in August but, when this report came out, he glossed over the report on Officer Wilson to focus on the report on the city. It is startling how fast the liberal narrative has changed from focusing on Michael Brown to focusing on these racist emails.
Who is more right here? Probably the right, since people jumping to conclusions on the Brown case caused this whole mess in the first place. Still, intellectually honest people on both sides can learn some things from this whole fiasco. A lot of conservatives can come to grips with the fact that it is still possible that racial bias exists and that the poor can be easily picked on by people in power. What’s actually curious about this is that conservatives of all people should be suspicious of broad government power, yet that skepticism of big government strangely does not often apply to the police, who are the government’s enforcers. It should bother conservatives a great deal that the police in many cities like Ferguson are basically just trying to generate revenue, often by putting a big burden on the poor.
On the other hand, liberals could learn not to jump on any story for the purpose of driving their own social causes and to actually use a modicum of calm logic when stories like this come out. Not every situation that involves a minority and white person or a man and a woman has to be turned into a civil rights narrative; doing this is often dishonest and clouds the issue. It would be nice to see a large number of liberals actually apologizing for jumping the gun here, but all I’ve heard is mostly silence in that regard (or very sarcastic apologies like that from Stewart). This is, unfortunately, not surprising, given the liberal track record on topics like this (see: Duke lacrosse case).
Thus, a report that could have generated real discussion from both sides is instead used to continue to trumpet each side’s chosen narrative. Very little humility, self-reflection, or comprehensive treatment. It basically boils down to people choosing to protect their own stupid emotions over sound reasoning, wanting to be right over wanting to display the truth. This is why political discussion in this country is becoming more and more infuriating, and of course, everyone is just going to blame the other guy without coming to grips with their own contributions to this mess. This is also why I hate politics, by the way. I need to blog more again about football and the NBA playoffs.