Darren Wilson has resigned from the Ferguson Police Department. In a statement, he claimed that he did not want to put the “residents and police officers of the City of Ferguson at risk.” And I suppose that is a better way to put it than, “I will be too busy with my ghostwriter and video acting courses.” And who can blame him? One needs to take advantage of these opportunities. I mean, how likely is it that he is going to get another opportunity to kill an unarmed teenager and walk away from even an indictment? I’ve predicted a six-figure book deal, but it is entirely possible that he could get over a million dollars. There are a lot of conservatives for whom he is now a hero.
I was surprised, however, to have a conversation with my father Thanksgiving night. Despite his hour per day of Fox News, he completely sided with Michael Brown. He didn’t find Wilson’s story credible. And interestingly, what he had a problem with was a minor statement. According to Wilson, the first thing he said to Brown and his friend Dorian Johnson was, “Hey guys, why don’t you walk on the sidewalk?” My conservative father just couldn’t get past that. Despite the fact that my father has never been in any trouble (he’s never spent a moment in jail), his interactions with the police have generally been very negative. And one thing is for certain: officers never ask people to do something, they tell them what to do. And Dorian Johnson’s quote sounds right, “Get the f*** on the sidewalk!”
What bothered me at Thanksgiving was that there was a lot of mention of the size of Michael Brown — by mostly non-political people. Michael Brown was 6'-4" and 290 pounds. No one was aware that Darren Wilson was also 6'-4", although lighter: only 220 pounds. The information that seems to have made it into the minds of the casual news consumer is, “I felt like a five-year-old holding on to Hulk Hogan.” It is poetic, but as such, it should be taken lightly. (There is the other way of looking at it: Darren Wilson is so used to manhandling smaller people, that dealing with someone larger really did frighten him.)
Despite my experience with my father, my takeaway from Thanksgiving is that the whole Michael Brown shooting will be remembered inaccurately and badly in the public sphere. It will be that Brown was a thug who maybe didn’t deserve to die, but who brought it on himself. And even worse, it will be seen as a case where the police officer acted appropriately. It will be yet another instance that separates the white and black communities. The white community will continue to think that cops are generally okay guys doing a hard and dangerous jobs. And the black community will continue to think that cops have chips on their shoulders and treat people of color as though they are guilty until proven otherwise. No one who reads this site can be confused about who I think is right.
There was always a problem with the Michael Brown case. The problems with policing and the criminal justice system are not about any particular person, police force, city, or region. People tend to overestimate the age of black children and to assume they are more dangerous than white children. This is not a problem with bad people. It is a systemic problem — dating back hundreds of years. It requires systemic solutions, and they start with economics. If we don’t look broadly at the problem, we will continue on with the white majority continuing to learn the wrong lessons from these pointless deaths.
I think that dealing with our economic problems is the most important thing to do because it has the broadest effect. But there are more specific things that we should do that would have greater immediate effects. In particular, I think that the police officers and prosecutors should be held accountable for what they do on the job. For example, Ricky Jackson and Wiley Bridgeman were shown to be innocent and released from prison 39 years after the crime. Regardless of what happens to them, nothing will happen to the police and the prosecutors who railroaded them. People claim to be for the death penalty because it disincentivizes murder, but no such concern exists when it is government officials using the system to kill innocent people. But the big problem is that the white community by and large thinks such things are just unfortunate errors in the system rather than what they are: explicit designs of the system.