A week ago I thought the tragedy in Ferguson might be the Bull Connor Moment that would propel real reform in law enforcement. But this weekend responses hardened along all-too-familiar lines. (More)
“Hyped on Marijuana”
County autopsy: Michael Brown was shot from the front, had marijuana in his system, yesterday’s Washington Post headline declared. The location of the wounds was consistent with the independent autopsy requested by Brown’s family, which also found no physical evidence of a struggle. But an anonymous radio talk show caller who identified herself only as “Josie” said there was a struggle, and Brown was “charging” Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson when the fatal shot was fired. That’s also the story being spun by right-fringe talker Bryan Fischer, who said Brown was “hyped up on marijuana,” citing “stories from Colorado, people going berserk” as evidence.
There has been some reporting of odd behavior in Colorado, especially from highly-potent edible marijuana products. But both the violent and property crime rates in Denver dropped over the first three months of 2014. But of course data don’t matter to Fischer, who was happy to cite one or two vivid-but-exceptional incidents as proof that marijuana – and Michael Brown – were dangerous.
Yet while even the private pathologist who examined Brown speculated on Fox News about the possible effects of tainted marijuana, the information about Brown’s toxicology screen came from anonymous sources. The St. Louis County medical examiner has not confirmed that any marijuana was found at all, let alone in what levels or with what other chemicals. And while the 40-day window commonly cited in news stories is exceptional, THC can often be detected in blood or urine at least three days after ingestion.
And despite marijuana’s tendency to inhibit rather than enable aggression, the anonymous leak fit nicely with a long-standing racial narrative of The Drug Crazed Black Man.
“The cop doesn’t call – doesn’t call in the shooting”
On the other side, the widely-spread and potentially damning story of Wilson leaving the scene without calling in the shooting also collapsed yesterday with CNN’s release of a video made by eyewitness Piaget Crenshaw. Talking Points Memo reports that Crenshaw made the video immediately after she heard the shooting, but withheld it on the advice of an attorney until authorities named Wilson as the officer involved.
The video is graphic and I won’t embed it here, but it clearly shows Wilson talking with another officer at the scene. That doesn’t explain the Anonymous video of radio conversations where a St. Louis County 911 operator said the Ferguson P.D. had not reported a shooting, but that now looks less like a conspiracy of silence and more like bungled inter-department communications.
“He is a hero!”
A Ku Klux Klan group are also fundraising off the shooting, describing Wilson as “a hero” and adding “We need more white cops who are anti-Zog and willing to put Jewish controlled black thugs in their place.”
And while Klan leader Frank Ancona disavowed that group, he also said the “legitimate Klan” may “help” Wilson if he’s charged with a crime.
They won’t be alone, as demonstrators turned out in St. Louis to support Wilson yesterday:
“He was doing his job,” said Kaycee Reinisch, 57, of Lincoln County, Missouri. “And now because of public uproar in Ferguson, he is being victimised. He is being victimised by the whole city, the state and the federal government.” Reinisch said she had relations in law enforcement who would be “frightened to do their jobs” if Wilson were punished for the incident.
Talking Points Memo reports that 124 whites – and one black man – attended the two-hour protest. That fits the data from yesterday’s Pew Research poll, where 80% of black respondents said the Ferguson case “raises important issues about race,” while 47% of white respondents “race is getting more attention than it deserves.”
“Generalizing against law enforcement officers”
And then there’s Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ). On Friday, New Jersey Public Radio’s Matt Katz asked if “there was a general problem in this country with the way police deal with young African American men and teenagers,” and Gov. Christie responded:
Listen I think it’s very dangerous to make generalizations about anybody like that, Matt. We have millions of dedicated men and women who are police officers across this country, who work in grave danger every day, who try to make sure they protect innocent people across the country. So I’m not going to get into this game of generalizing and characterizing people in that way. Everybody should be judged on their merits. Whatever happened in Ferguson, we have a justice system in this country that will be able to make that judgement and if there are people who need to be held accountable I’m confident they will be. But I’m not going to get into this business of generalizing against law enforcement officers. It’s not right.
Note that he went from “generalizations about anybody” to “generalizing and characterizing people” and finally landed on the very specific “generalizing against law enforcement officers” as “not right.” Because it’s okay to generalize about Those People:
Christie told the group that an “African-American female speaker of the Assembly” is blocking a vote on a school voucher bill that “would let children in failing districts attend classes elsewhere.”
Democratic Speaker Sheila Oliver, to whom the governor was referring, and who represents a district with some “failing” schools later said she was “appalled” that Christie “injected race into the discussion on education.”
“Not just in Ferguson, but beyond”
A thin ray of hope shone from Attorney General Eric Holder’s comments yesterday:
The selective release of sensitive information that we have seen in this case so far is troubling to me. I realize there is tremendous interest in the facts of the incident that led to Michael Brown’s death, but I ask for the public’s patience as we conduct this investigation. No matter how others pursue their own separate inquiries, the Justice Department is resolved to preserve the integrity of its investigation. This is a critical step in restoring trust between law enforcement and the community, not just in Ferguson, but beyond.
The DOJ will conduct their own autopsy – at the request of Brown’s family – and their own investigation, and asking for “the public’s patience” is certainly understandable. But so is the public’s impatience with reports of four unarmed black men killed by police in the past month alone, among the (literally) countless such incidents in recent years:
But quantifying that pattern is difficult. Federal databases that track police use of force or arrest-related deaths paint only a partial picture. Police department data is scattered and fragmented. No agency appears to track the number of police shootings or killings of unarmed victims in a systematic, comprehensive way.
For the DOJ’s investigation to have any hope of “restoring trust between law enforcement and the community, not just in Ferguson, but beyond” it must go beyond the specific facts of Ferguson to carefully document the pattern that repeated itself in Ferguson.
Because we can’t stop what we refuse to see.