We never met Michael Brown. Meeting the people who knew him makes us feel as though we had and yet relieved that we hadn’t.
Brown’s mother, 34-year-old Leslie McSpadden, allegedly led a party of twenty-to-thirty people who bum-rushed Michael Brown’s paternal step-grandmother in October for unauthorized sales of Michael Brown memorabilia in the parking lot of a neighborhood barbeque joint. The grandmother quotes Brown’s mother as saying “get her ass.” That the mob did, allegedly striking the on-the-make matriarch in the gauche street battle and stealing several thousand dollars of merchandise and money.
“Burn this bitch down!” Brown’s stepfather Louis Head shouted loudly, and repeatedly, after losing his head over the grand jury’s decision not to indict Darren Wilson earlier this week. Ferguson denizens and visitors, recently impervious to police instruction, proved particularly obedient to the ex-con’s command.
Brown’s followers, perhaps in homage to the lasting images of him inconveniencing a convenience store owner, looted shops and destroyed local businesses. One can condemn the rioters. One can’t accuse them of betraying Michael Brown’s legacy.
Al Sharpton parachuted into Ferguson to eulogize Brown and argue his case in the court of public opinion. Was Pinocchio unavailable? Tawana Brawley’s mouthpiece compared Michael Brown to slain civil-rights workers Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner, and James Chaney earlier this week. Was he applauding Brown as a civil-rights martyr or insulting Goodwin, Schwerner, and Chaney as strongarm cigar robbers?
The violent effort to portray Brown as a “gentle giant” shot down while humbly obeying a police officer’s orders instead prejudices living-room observers into concluding the decedent’s guilt by association. He’s not here to plead his case. But so many doing so undermine it.
The average American didn’t wade through thousands of pages of grand jury testimony. Many sat through thousands of minutes of cable news coverage. Watching Brown’s supporters depicting him as inculpable as they held aloft such signage as “F— the police” and “Forget a turkey, I want bacon” prompts anyone ignorant of the case’s facts to lean toward a conclusion at odds with the one promoted by the protesters.
For those delving into the grand jury documents, the testimony that didn’t indict Darren Wilson surely indicted his detractors. One witness said that Brown “never put his hands up… he ran towards the officer full charge.”
The Associated Press explored this disconnect between the ongoing “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” narrative with the facts presented at the inquiry. “Even if you don’t find that it’s true, it’s a valid rallying cry,” protester Taylor Gruenloh told the AP. “It’s just a metaphor.”
“This is not about one boy getting shot in the street, but about the hundreds just like him who have received the same callous and racially-influenced treatment,” Oakland demonstrator Gabe Johnson, identified as “a middle school teacher” by the AP, insisted. “So ultimately, no, it doesn’t matter at all if somehow we can say for sure whether this one young man really said these words or had his hands up.”
But the ideologically seductive mantra, depicting the shooting victim as compliant and defenseless rather than defiant and offensive, colored the media coverage and attracted out-of-town vandals to Ferguson. Facts matter. The death of an unarmed teen does not stand as any moral person’s ideal outcome. But facts, and in the Show Me State they rely on such things, determine whether juries see a killing as justifiable homicide or just plain homicide.
When the facts conflicted with the broader political preconception, the anti-prejudice activists opted for their anti-police prejudice. They still stick their heads in the sand on the robbery in the store, the belligerent middle-of-the-street jaywalking, the blood trail confirming an advancing suspect, the gunpowder residue on the decedent’s hand, and much else. They remain mired in a show-me-not state in the Show Me State.
The “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” protesters above all else objected to police dehumanizing young black men. In the end, demonstrators lamely talking about Brown as a “metaphor” and conceding that the central disputed point in the controversy ultimately “doesn’t matter” demonstrate the degree to which the protesters project. They see in Mike Brown a symbol, a tool, a parable. They don’t see a person.