Attorney General Eric Holder has been hailed widely for his “leadership” last week in Ferguson, Missouri. But he was following the crowd rather than leading it during his visit. He is famous for calling America a “nation of cowards” for refusing to speak honestly about race, but he shows no such inclination himself. He spent most of his time in Ferguson telling protesters exactly what they wanted to hear. The top law enforcement officer in the land considered it leadership to confirm them in their “mistrust” of law enforcement officials.
It was a display not of sober leadership but of raw politics, with Holder looking like a candidate as he mingled and joked with the crowds. Instead of warning the protesters against automatically assuming that officer Darren Wilson was racially motivated in shooting Michael Brown, Holder emboldened them in that view. “I wanted the people of Ferguson to know that I personally understood that mistrust. I wanted them to know that while so much else may be uncertain, this attorney general and this Department of Justice stands with the people of Ferguson,” he said.
Holder, of course, sees nothing untrustworthy in a Justice Department that launches a federal civil-rights investigation into the shooting without any evidence of racism. The dangers of stereotyping don’t extend to white police officers evidently.
Holder wanted the protesters to know that he too has suffered at the hands of racist cops. But the examples he provided didn’t prove that:
I understand that mistrust. I am the Attorney General of the United States. But I am also a black man. I can remember being stopped on the New Jersey turnpike on two occasions and accused of speeding. Pulled over…. “Let me search your car.”… Go through the trunk of my car, look under the seats and all this kind of stuff. I remember how humiliating that was and how angry I was and the impact it had on me.
I think about my time in Georgetown – a nice neighborhood of Washington – and I am running to a picture movie at about 8 o’clock at night. I am running with my cousin. Police car comes driving up, flashes his lights, yells “where you going? Hold it!” I say “Woah, I’m going to a movie.” Now my cousin started mouthing off. I’m like, “This is not where we want to go. Keep quiet.” I’m angry and upset. We negotiate the whole thing and we walk to our movie. At the time that he stopped me, I was a federal prosecutor. I wasn’t a kid. I was a federal prosecutor. I worked at the United States Department of Justice. So I’ve confronted this myself.
Does Holder have evidence that racism motivated the stops? Or just a hunch that racism motivated the stops? One would think an attorney general’s tales of racially motivated police harassment might involve more specifics.
Evidentiary precision has never been Holder’s strong suit. Earlier in the year he told the National Action Network, led by Al Sharpton, whom Holder considers a racial healer and valued adviser to the White House, that tough questioning from Congress smacked of racism:
You look at the way the attorney general of the United States was treated yesterday by a House committee — has nothing to do with me, forget that. What attorney general has ever had to deal with that kind of treatment? What president has ever had to deal with that kind of treatment?
Holder can so easily “stand” with the protesters in Ferguson because he shares their capacity for hasty racial accusations. Seeing events through the prism of race is more emotionally satisfying to him than carefully sifting through the evidence. That quality doesn’t lend itself to leadership but lying.
As the New York Times recently learned, after daring to write that Michael Brown was “no angel,” honesty is simply not allowed in the discussion. The paper has been roundly criticized, including by its public editor who called the brief moment of honesty “regrettable.” Liberals in recent days have been policing the discussion of Michael Brown, insisting that his possible crimes (such as grabbing a police officer’s gun) be called “mistakes” and his stealing “shoplifting.”
Were Holder willing to show the brave honesty a “nation of cowards” needs, he would resist this culture of propaganda, not reinforce it. He would tell racial agitators what they don’t want to hear: that the crime rate in Ferguson is due not to “disparate treatment” but to a culture of crime — a problem that false accusations and politically correct excuse-making will deepen not solve.