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,