Those with long historical memories can savor a bit of irony that the current governor of Missouri is named “Nixon,” and he’s sending in the National Guard to quell the riots in Ferguson. Once upon a time, the “counter-culture” held the President of the United States accountable when the governor of a state called out the National Guard – they even immortalized it in a song that can still be heard occasionally on the radio – but now that they’re graybeards and the President is a Democrat, not so much. (Good luck finding Obama to hold him accountable. He was last seen partying at a jazz festival while Ferguson was burning, having returned to the golf course literally seven minutes after making his statement on the situation late last week.)
After a week of being second-guessed and shredded by the media, and abandoned by the rest of state and federal government, the Ferguson police department has been vindicated in just about everything except public relations – the one thing our titanic federal government, fused with media to the point where there’s a revolving door between “journalism” and Democrat politics, could have helped them with. We’ll be arguing for years over whether it was unreasonable for the police to keep details of the case under wraps for a mere six days while they attempted to conduct an investigation of the Michael Brown shooting, but when the details finally began to emerge, we learned the mythology of Brown as a gentle giant who wouldn’t hurt a fly and got shot in the back by a rogue cop while he was trying to surrender was not consistent with the facts. Brown had just pulled off a strong-arm robbery, and was carrying the stolen merchandise – a box of cigars – when he died. The witness upon whose testimony much of this mythology was built, his friend Dorian Johnson, has now admitted to federal authorities that he was also involved in the robbery, making him an unreliable witness.
There has already been an official autopsy of Brown’s body, and now a private autopsy has been conducted, with results released on Sunday. As the New York Times reports, nothing in the autopsy results is consistent with the “shot in the back while he was running away” narrative. He most certainly was not shot in the back. He was hit six times, in a pattern that strongly suggests he was rushing at the officer when the shots were fired:
One of the bullets entered the top of Mr. Brown???s skull, suggesting his head was bent forward when it struck him and caused a fatal injury, according to Dr. Michael M. Baden, the former chief medical examiner for the City of New York, who flew to Missouri on Sunday at the family???s request to conduct the separate autopsy. It was likely the last of bullets to hit him, he said.
Mr. Brown, 18, was also shot four times in the right arm, he said, adding that all the bullets were fired into his front.
The bullets did not appear to have been shot from very close range because no gunpowder was present on his body. However, that determination could change if it turns out that there is gunshot residue on Mr. Brown???s clothing, to which Dr. Baden did not have access.
Evidently that’s not good enough for Attorney General Eric Holder, who has ordered yet another autopsy by the Justice Department. Hopefully he’s doing that to emphasize to the rioting mobs that the Obama Administration endorses the forensic evidence.
It was noted belatedly by the Ferguson police chief that the officer involved in the incident, Darren Wilson, did not know about the strong-arm robbery when he encountered Brown and Johnson; he saw them walking down the middle of the street and told them to get on the sidewalk (using very aggressive language, according to Johnson, whose testimony is suspect.) But Brown knew he had just shaken down a store clerk. His actions of less than fifteen minutes prior to the encounter with Wilson are highly relevant to his state of mind; it is absolute foolishness to argue otherwise. We don’t have total “exoneration” for the police officer here, but the preponderance of evidence – including the indisputable fact that Wilson was physically assaulted, and has the injuries to prove it – destroys the narrative that plunged Ferguson into anarchy. All of that evidence is consistent with the statements made by the police department all the way back on Monday morning, as recalled by the New York Times:
The police tell of an officer who was enforcing the minor violation of jaywalking, as Mr. Brown and Mr. Johnson ignored the sidewalk and strolled down the middle of the road instead.
The morning after the shooting, Chief Jon Belmar of the St. Louis County police said that Officer Wilson was leaving his police car when Mr. Brown ???allegedly pushed the police officer back into the car,??? where he ???physically assaulted the police officer.???
???Within the police car there was a struggle over the officer???s weapon,??? Chief Belmar said. ???There was at least one shot fired in the car.??? At that point, the police said, Officer Wilson left his vehicle and fatally shot Mr. Brown. ???More than a few??? shell casings were recovered from the scene.
Not only did the rest of our mega-government fail to get behind the Ferguson police department, there were efforts to actively undermine them, notably an NBC News report saying the Justice Department “urged Ferguson police not to release surveillance video purporting to show Michael Brown robbing a store shortly before he was shot and killed by police, arguing the footage would further inflame tensions in the St. Louis suburb that saw rioting and civil unrest in the wake of the teenager???s death.”
The truth is inflammatory? That’s an interesting point to chew over in a philosophy class, but we’ve already seen how inflammatory the lies were in Ferguson. The police department was also getting torn to pieces in the media, and a wave of murderous hatred was building toward Officer Wilson – chants calling for his death have been heard. Was it really better to allow the narrative of Brown as a gentle giant who wouldn’t hurt a fly to endure, knowing that the apparent senselessness of his shooting was fueling public anger and feeding into a perception of the police as mortal enemies of local black citizens? What Holder’s Justice Department did strikes me as, at best, a hideous miscalculation that shows a good deal of contempt for people who would be left to go on believing a falsehood, because the truth would make them angrier.
The other great criticism of the local police came when they tried to tamp down the rioting and looting by deploying a massive paramilitary force, equipped with imposing uniforms and armored vehicles. They were criticized for using tear gas on that Wednesday evening, but then again, the police are always criticized for using it, no matter what uniforms they’re wearing. The results were 16 arrests, two of them reporters, and not much in the way of violence or looting.
Following an outcry over the unquestionably disturbing images of the militarized police force, the Missouri Highway Patrol was put in charge under Captain Ron Johnson, who is black and comes from Ferguson. Johnson was hailed for his hard work and community outreach – the Internet is bulging with videos of him tirelessly walking the streets that day, bathed in summer sweat, meeting with local people who invariably praised his performance. For a day or two, things looked better, and the local cops were said to have egg on their faces for their excessively forceful response on Wednesday.
Then all hell broke loose again, as Molotov cocktails and gunshots filled the air, looting and vandalism resumed, tear gas flowed through the streets, and the state’s Democrat governor, Jay Nixon, called in militarized forces once more – this time the actual military. Fox News reports:
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon ordered National Guard troops to the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson early Monday after authorities used tear gas to clear the streets of protesters hours before a midnight curfew took effect for a second consecutive day, while a private autopsy on the unarmed black teen who was fatally shot by a white police officer reportedly showed six gunshot wounds, including two in the head.
“Tonight, a day of hope, prayers, and peaceful protests was marred by the violent criminal acts of an organized and growing number of individuals, many from outside the community and state, whose actions are putting the residents and businesses of Ferguson at risk,” Nixon said in a statement released by his office. “I am directing the highly capable men and women of the Missouri National Guard to assist … in restoring peace and order to this community.”
As night fell in Ferguson, another peaceful protest quickly deteriorated after marchers pushed toward one end of a street and authorities ??? who said they were responding to reports of gunfire, looting, vandalism and protesters who hurled Molotov cocktails ??? pushed them back by repeatedly firing tear gas. The streets were empty well before a state-imposed curfew took effect at midnight.
“Based on the conditions, I had no alternative but to elevate the level of response,” said Capt. Ron Johnson of the Missouri Highway Patrol, who is command in Ferguson.
At least two people were wounded in shootings by civilians, he said. A Missouri Highway Patrol spokesman said that at least seven people were arrested on charges of failing to disperse.
Nixon had imposed a curfew, but on Sunday the fighting started three hours before it went into effect:
Officers in riot gear ordered all the protesters to disperse. Many of the marchers retreated, but a group of about 100 stood defiantly about two blocks away until getting hit by another volley of tear gas.
Protesters laid a line of cinder blocks across the street near the QuikTrip convenience store that was burned down last week. It was an apparent attempt to block police vehicles, but the vehicles easily plowed through. Someone set a nearby trash bin on fire, and the crackle of gunfire could be heard from several blocks away.
Captain Johnson is evidently putting his chips on the notion that joining the cult of martyrdom around Michael Brown will make him sympathetic to the rioters:
Earlier in the day, Johnson said he had met members of Brown’s family and the experience “brought tears to my eyes and shame to my heart.”
“When this is over,” he told the crowd, “I’m going to go in my son’s room. My black son, who wears his pants sagging, who wears his hat cocked to the side, got tattoos on his arms, but that’s my baby.”
Johnson added: “We all need to thank the Browns for Michael. Because Michael’s going to make it better for our sons to be better black men.”
The Rev. Al Sharpton told the rally Brown’s death was a “defining moment for this country.”
Sharpton said he wants Congress to stop programs that provide military-style weaponry to police departments. He said he expects police to “smear” the slain teenager, his family and his attorneys. He also condemned the recent violence and looting in Ferguson.
Nice of Sharpton to show up and throw gasoline on the fire, setting up the rioters to believe that factual information making Brown look like less of a helpless victim constitutes “smearing.” Deification can do as much damage as smearing; Johnson is derelict in his duty as a police officer by telling the crowd Michael Brown was some sort of angelic messenger who can teach black youth how to be better men. I don’t think he’s referring to the negative example of “don’t rob liquor stores and don’t assault police officers.” Will we get a toxicology report that establishes Brown was under the influence of something on that fateful afternoon, or will Eric Holder’s Justice Department suppress that, too? If it turns out Brown was not in his right mind, will that be part of the glorious example he’s setting for young black men?
And while I hope the best in life awaits Johnson’s son and he’s an honorable young man, I would delicately suggest he doesn’t seem to be dressing for success, based on his father’s account. How long are we supposed to go on pretending that such things don’t matter – that people who can’t find success are victims of a society they refuse to participate fully in? “Assimilation” is a process that must occur for native-born youth, as well as immigrants. Why is anyone surprised that people who refuse to assimilate with society tend to have an uneasy relationship with it?
Part of the problem in Ferguson is that so many agendas and narratives have been piled on top of a tragic incident that was particular to the individuals involved. Instead of waiting for solid evidence that would help sort through conflicting testimony and establish why this particular police officer and this particular young man had an encounter that ended with the death of the latter, they were made symbolic of vast social forces. They became flotsam on the tide of national debates stretching back for years. The facts of the case were swept away by this tide; people believed whatever was necessary to support their feelings and long-standing grievances. Whatever fair points might be made against the militarization of the police mentioned by Sharpton, for example, none of that has anything to do with what happened between Officer Wilson and Michael Brown one week ago.
Not only do I reject this idea of keeping “inflammatory” facts suppressed because it’s an insult to the populace that supposedly can’t handle the truth, but I charge that allowing people to entertain fantasies enables this terrible spiral of civil unrest spiraling far beyond the events that originally sparked it. It is irresponsible of anyone in a leadership position, inside or outside of government, to let political agendas and side issues become towering ideological thunderclouds over Ferguson, rather than focusing on the immediate issue of what actually happened in the Brown shooting, and that certainly includes appropriate disciplinary or punitive action for Wilson, if it is determined that he used lethal force improperly or acted inappropriately. But it is also possible he didn’t do anything actionable, and no one can claim they’re calling for “justice” if they really mean “burn the cop, no matter what the facts and the law say.”
A just and honorable civilization stands up for itself. Lawlessness and chaos are not tolerated or indulged. We’re talking about more than just the government here. Shop owners in Ferguson are arming themselves and protecting their property because they’ve been told the police won’t help them. They’re talking about leaving town and never returning. It is inexcusable that our multi-trillion-dollar government would allow this town to degenerate into anarchy, but it’s also the fault of every citizen who continues to let their fellow townsfolk down by sustaining a situation that has produced such violence. The people inclined to break faith with civilization respect strength, and are very sensitive to signs of weakness; they see a degree of guilt on the part of a society that lets them run wild. They can hear that guilt explicitly laid out in much of what the political and media classes are saying about Ferguson. Were things better on the night of “paramilitary police terror” on Wednesday, or on Sunday night?
Update: Governor Nixon evidently saw no reason to notify our semi-retired President that he was calling out the National Guard.
Update: According to the Washington Post, the St. Louis County medical examiner’s report said Brown had marijuana in his system at the time of his death. The cigarillos he took from the liquor store are said to be used by pot smokers to roll joints. That’s not behavior that should be presented by any responsible member of the media or government as a “role model” for young men.
Update: When ideology trumps the facts, ideology has a way of escalating its disconnect. The original narrative out of Ferguson was that a racist cop gunned down an innocent and inoffensive “teenager” for no reason, shooting him in the back while he was trying to surrender. (They never got around to explaining why someone would turn his back to the police officer while surrendering, but it was part of the mythology.) As each part of that narrative has been peeled away, agitators have suddenly started claiming it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter that Brown was huge and intimidating, not a little “teenager.” It doesn’t matter that the officer was injured. It doesn’t matter that the police officer is a six-year veteran with a clean record. It doesn’t matter that Brown roughed up a store clerk and stole cigars from a liquor store. It doesn’t matter that the primary hostile witness was revealed to be a liar and accomplice to the robbery. It doesn’t matter that Brown wasn’t shot in the back. It doesn’t matter that he had marijuana in his system…
On and on it goes, with each new fact cast aside because it doesn’t fit into a narrative that agitators aren’t ready to retire yet. Some of them are past the point of more-or-less saying that whatever actually occurred during the encounter between Wilson and Brown doesn’t matter any more, because the “underlying issues” and “deeper truths” are more important than the facts of the case. Through that process, ideology grows increasingly unmoored from objective reality, with consequences that will last far beyond the Ferguson riots… just as elements of Trayvon Martin mythology have been cited by Ferguson agitators and opportunists, no matter what the court trial in that terrible incident established. These things have a way of snowballing, until groups of people can’t effectively communicate with each other any more.