My open letter to Jonathan Capehart | #BlackLivesMatter

“‘Hands up, don’t shoot’ was built on a lie.

Jonathan Capehart


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
‘Hands up, don’t shoot’ was built on a lie(2:10)

 

The Justice Department report on the shooting of Michael Brown forces Post opinion writer Jonathan Capehart to face uncomfortable truths. (The Washington Post)

Dear Jonathan,

I’ve been an admirer and supporter of yours for some years, particularly when it comes to LGBT and race matters. I fully intend to remain a fan and supporter. I appreciate the passion and thoughtfulness with which you always approach your work. While I am usually seated well to your left on many other political matters, I’ve always counted on the assurance that, at least on these two core issues, we are in full agreement. It saddens me to no end to disagree with you on Michael Brown.

You see, Jonathan, the outrage was the ease with which Darren Wilson calculated his justification to fatally shoot Michael Brown. In the end, what were we talking about? A box of cheap cigars. Darren Wilson claimed he had no idea Michael Brown was involved in a theft at the time he stopped him. That was the lie, Jonathan. He knew!

Darren Wilson didn’t need to accost Brown. He should have waited at a distance and let the officers who were dispatched to the scene do their job, rather than attempt to handle Brown alone. We will never know what Wilson might have said or done to provoke Brown. You assume that Brown attacked Wilson. Has it occurred to you that, facing his own death and in the atmosphere of terror we now know permeated Ferguson, Michael might have been trying to save himself? Given the petty nature of his “crime,” wasn’t Brown entitled to expect to live through an encounter with police? As the situation with Wilson devolved, would he not have been justified in doing everything he could to save himself?

You see, Jonathan, there is no such thing as the right symbol, not if every life truly matters.

Darren Wilson’s career consisted of working for a disbanded police department before joining the Ferguson PD which, itself, is a department that should have been disbanded for even worse abuses. Thanks to the deeply flawed “prosecutive decision” of one very problematic prosecutor, we will never know what might have motivated Darren Wilson to kill Michael Brown that day, or how the now well-documented racially-toxic atmosphere of Ferguson PD affected his decisions. Thanks to Bob McCulloch’s intentionally sloppy handiwork, Darren Wilson will never be examined and cross-examined in open court. Wilson will never have to face a jury of his peers and Mike Brown’s family will never see justice.

An important aspect you don’t account for in your op-ed, Jonathan, is the fact that Black men and women under the duress of racial oppression and bodily threat are expected to forego their human rights in order to submit to a supremacist authoritarian regime, and do so with a cool and dignity not expected of any other people. It strikes me as oddly ironic that in death, and with the knowledge we now have of just how racist Ferguson is, some among us still expect Michael Brown to have pushed down his human emotions to submit to whatever assault Darren Wilson had in store for him.

Furthermore, it is sad and alarming to note that in virtually all of the opinions written thus far by your colleagues, few, if any, have tackled the right of citizens to defend themselves in situations where they are inappropriately handled by police. Is a woman who is about to be raped by a police officer to simply submit? Is a man whose life is about to be snuffed out supposed to lay down and give in?

Just as Trayvon Martin was justified in defending his life, there is a strong possibility that Michael Brown was too. As wrong as it was of Brown to steal, there is no theft that merits or justifies a police kill. Policing doesn’t include an entitlement to act as judge and executioner. As entitled as Darren Wilson might have been to stop and question Brown, he had no right to kill him, but every duty to ensure he delivered him to Ferguson PD headquarters safe and sound. When unable to arrest Brown, Wilson should have left the arrest for another day. That is what bench-issued warrants are for. The job of police officers is to bring suspected criminals to justice, not mete it out under the guise of fear for their lives, as most police shootings are now purported to be, in virtually all cases of an unarmed civilian death.

Justice is a basic human right that applies to everyone equally, including criminals of all stripes. When we condone a type of killing of citizens by police officers, we condone the diminishment of our civil rights and, most importantly, we undermine justice.

Even those among us who have character flaws or a mental illness are entitled to equal rights to life as those among us who meet the highest criteria of respectability and soundness of mind. There should be no such thing as a criminal who was justifiably shot to death unless that person was committing an extreme crime. By extreme, I mean a shooter at a standoff with hostages, as was the case with Christopher Dorner. What Michael Brown was accused of doing doesn’t fit that bill and, therefore, did not merit whatever it was Darren Wilson instigated. No incident of petty theft should ever devolve into an officer’s gun being unholstered, much less fired. Police officers are trained to defuse situations, not inflame them.

What you have unwittingly done with this op-ed is concede to police a right to judge and execute human lives that they just do not possess. I hope you will reconsider your position, Jonathan.

Respectfully and in friendship,

Rima Regas

  • csettino

    Thank you, Rima. I totally agree. It seems that way too often pulling the gun and shooting is the first reaction. I can’t get out of my head that video of the white construction worker with his hands up yelling “He had his hands up” immediately after the shooting. That did it for me.

    • I’ve not forgotten him, either. He had absolutely nothing to gain and most likely stood to be penalized in some way for stepping forward.

      Thanks so much for leaving a comment!

  • beulahmo

    What a respectful, thoughtfully presented rebuttal to Capehart’s column. His reasoning and his conclusion bewildered me. I found myself asking … why? Why did he conclude that “hands up don’t shoot” was a lie? Why didn’t he consider the possibility that Brown was trying to defend himself during the “confrontation” at Wilson’s vehicle? Why didn’t he consider the possibility that Brown may have been a very normal teenager who was perhaps “showing off” in front of an older peer by acting tough and scoffing authority (obnoxious behavior to be sure, but not unusual for a teenage boy, and definitely not cause for a police officer to unholster his gun)? These things all seem to be within the realm of reasonable possibility, and there will never be a proper jury trial where these possibilities can be tested against the evidence and the defendant’s and witnesses’ testimony. So where does his certainty and subsequent judgment come from?

    I agree with your belief that Capehart’s “realization” gives shelter to the law enforcement meme that they are entitled to escalate encounters to violent levels and then make hasty judgments about whether a person “deserves” to be subjected to lethal force. Right now, all I can feel is shock and disillusionment that Capehart chose this event to make a point about choosing “worthy” victims for the #BlackLivesMatter movement. I admire you for maintaining your respect for Capehart despite your disagreement on this issue. Frankly, I don’t know how I will feel about Capehart in the future.

    Anyway, thank you for posting this.

    • Thank you so much for the thoughtful comment. It is much appreciated!

      As I wrote at the top of the piece, I have a great deal of admiration and respect for Jonathan. I consider the totality of his body of work and not just one piece I disagree with. I don’t have to agree with someone on absolutely everything in order to like and respect them. Whatever bafflement we all may have felt upon reading his piece on Hands Up Don’t Shoot, he doesn’t deserve the insults that some people hurled at him. No one does. Writing something that is disagreeable to people doesn’t necessarily make the writer evil. Unfortunately, in the polarized world we now live in, it has become a “you’re either with us or against us” atmosphere and it is terrible.

      I read a lot of different opinion writers. I take them all one column at a time.

      Thanks again,

      Rima