If we take Officer Darren Wilson’s grand jury testimony and treat it as 100% true and he really was so frightened and intimidated by unarmed 18 year-old Michael Brown that he just had to shoot him to death, then this must also mean:
you have an officer who, despite being specifically trained to handle difficult and at times violent incidents – precisely what a cop’s job is – is too afraid to do his job and is the last person who should be given a gun and a license to kill.
As a colleague of mine put it in making this point to me recently, this would be like her going into class and saying “I’m sorry, I just can’t give a lecture.” This is her job. Lecturing is one of the things we do as professors. Handling physical altercations and conflict is what cops are supposedly trained explicitly to do without always resorting to unnecessary or disproportionate, including lethal, force. If, as my colleague further went on to point out, Wilson was indeed being physically assaulted by Brown while in the driver’s seat of his police car while the car was running, then all he had to do is step on the gas pedal.
This is, of course, a conclusion that you will hear from almost none of those who are commenting on this case in mainstream media. Instead, you will hear again and again that police officers are trained to use their guns to kill if they use them at all and that the presumption under the law in Missouri and in general is always if the police used deadly force that they must have felt threatened enough to kill.
Wilson admits that Brown had his hands up, the universally understood signal that you are giving up and surrendering, but he claims that Brown had an angry look like a demon on his face and that this is why he had to shoot Brown dead.
Does this description by Wilson of the angry look on Brown’s face not remind you of a child describing the face of someone in the playground that they’re afraid of? Is this the kind of full-grown person who should be in charge of “keeping the peace”?
If you’re the kind of person who has paid attention to the reasons cited by police in general for why they have to use lethal force in case after case after case after case, you know that Darren Wilson’s account of having to “defend himself” by killing is their invariant story. These guys who spend a lot of time getting as physically intimidating as they can be by pumping iron and drinking body building supplements, claim that they turn into weak willies with knees of Jello in the face of especially black and brown people.
I don’t know what it is about black and brown people that produces such fear and trembling in the police. It’s somewhat like what happens to prosecutors whose usual job is getting a grand jury indictment against black, brown and/or poor people and who do this so well that they could get “a grand jury indictment against a ham sandwich,” who suddenly become incapable of getting a grand jury indictment against police officers who kill unarmed civilians.
If the police are indeed such cowards who just have to open fire when someone makes a face at them, then are these the kind of people you want to have packing guns and a license to kill? Does it make you feel safer that there are loads of these kind of people roaming the streets? Note in this regard that members of the St. Louis Police Department were going around wearing bracelets that said “I am Darren Wilson” after Michael Brown’s death. Rather than disassociating him from themselves, they were embracing their affinity for his actions.
Even when, for the sake of argument, we take the stories told by killers like Darren Wilson or wannabe cops like George Zimmerman at face value, when you play out their stories’ logic to their logical conclusion, their stories are inconsistent, at variance with key facts, and in brief cannot possibly be true.
The jury in George Zimmerman’s case found him not guilty on the grounds that he had a right to use deadly force to defend himself against Trayvon Martin. If, however, you take his claim that he had to use deadly force to kill Trayvon Martin as a case of justifiable self-defense, then you have to say that Trayvon had at least as much, if not more, a right to self-defense, including using deadly force against a hostile stranger who was stalking him for no apparent reason, never identified himself to Trayvon, and who was brandishing a gun.
The verdict of not guilty for Zimmerman hence makes no sense. It only makes sense if you’re a racist or using racist reasoning unconsciously and applying a double standard and assuming that what black people do is bestial and what white people do must be civilized. Anyone who knows anything about the experience of black people in the US with the police knows that Darren Wilson’s claim that Michael Brown said to him that Wilson’s “too much of a pussy to shoot me” is an utter lie. Black youth know from extremely early in life that no cop in the US is afraid to shoot them, that many of them are not only not afraid to kill black people but that many of them are looking for the merest excuse to do it, and that cops know that the criminal justice system and the political system will back them up to the hilt for doing it. Blacks know that they have the crosshairs of the law on them every day of their lives. Why should anyone with a conscience tolerate a system that declares that if you’re a black or brown person that no cop will ever be found guilty if he or she feels like executing you?
It says something extremely important that the entire edifice of the American political system, from the black President of the United States, to St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch (who in his twenty-three years as prosecutor has never once prosecuted a police shooting), to cops like Darren Wilson and all his brethern wearing “I am Darren Wilson” bracelets, stands foursquare against black people who every 28 hours are victims of another police murder in the USA. Not only does this entire edifice of the American political system fail to punish cops (and vigilantes) who kill blacks, but they direct the armed might of the state against those who dare to stand up in protest of these murders. Not only do authorities routinely murder black people, in other words, but they are determined to crush with violence the outrage against these killings and to turn around and blame those who speak out against this as criminals and the perpetrators of “senseless violence.” Who are the biggest and worst perpetrators of violence? Who are the liars? Who are the biggest criminals of all? What kind of system deserves respect that does this over and over and over again, not as some kind of accident or error, but deliberately as part of its very nature? How can anyone with a conscience not say that such a system needs to be done away with as soon as possible?
Dennis Loo sits on the World Can’t Wait’s Steering Committee. He is a Professor of Sociology at Cal Poly Pomona and teaches, among other things, criminology. His most recent book is Globalization and the Demolition of Society which will be available for the first time in paperback in time for Xmas. This article first appeared on November 26, 2014 at his website DennisLoo.com.