The Death of Michael Brown: Who is to Blame?

When the story first broke, of an unarmed black teenager shot by a white police officer, it was tempting to immediately take to social media to vent outrage. But something told me to hold back and wait until all of the facts came out. Since then, CCTV footage of Brown appearing to rob a convenience store, stealing a packet of Cigarillos has been released, there have been conflicting witness accounts, and now we have the decision from the Grand Jury, having reviewed the evidence that Darren Wilson, the officer responsible for the killing, will not face charges.

 

This decision has set the internet (and in the literal sense, Ferguson) ablaze and having read various blogs, and commentaries, I feel like I can finally piece my thoughts together to throw in my opinion, worth little as it is.

 

There is a clear dividing line when it comes to views about Brown’s death. There are those who believe that Brown was a violent thug, and Wilson was the hero who put a stop to his tyranny, and those who argue that Brown was unarmed, and therefore should not have been shot at and killed. The latter feel that, the only reason he was killed is because he was black, and in America, black lives do not matter. It seems to me that there is some truth in both opinions. But it seems that not many people are willing to accept that. Not those who have immediately started burning down buildings and looting in Ferguson, nor those who sit comfortably behind their computer screens hastily posting insensitive comments suggesting that Brown deserved to die.

 

I should mention a third camp. Those who are sympathetic to the anger that surrounds Brown’s death, but question why there is not the same anger expressed when a black person is killed by another black person. There are problems I have with each of these views.

 

To those saying that Michael Brown was a violent thug who deserved to die, I say this: when one views the CCTV footage, it is hard to argue otherwise. But a person is often more than one thing – he was also a high school graduate for example. Furthermore, it’s important to put things into perspective. His violence, as far as I’m aware, did not involve killing anybody. To say Brown deserved to die because he was violent, sends out a message that any kind of unlawful or undesirable behaviour is punishable by death, administered by the gun of whichever law enforcement officer happens to feel threatened by person who has misbehaved. The last time I checked the death penalty in the America is the most serious of punishments, only meted out to cold blooded murderers. Had Brown had the chance to live, who knows whether he would have changed his ways, and developed the more positive aspects of his character.

 

A key feature of the argument above, is that colour played no part in Brown’s death nor in the police and media response. It’s difficult for me to accept that. Many black men in America speak of how they are perceived by whites as being threatening, in situations where they are innocently going about their business. At the point Brown received the fatal bullets, he was already wounded from the earlier scuffle, and had run away from Wilson. Some witnesses say he was surrendering. But did Wilson nevertheless perceive Brown as a threat because he was black?

 

Was the media colour blind in its reporting? Why was the CCTV footage released, when it later transpired that the robbery was unconnected to the shooting?  The Huffington Post have an interesting article called “When the media treats white suspects and killers better than black victims”( http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/08/14/media-black-victims_n_5673291.html), which makes the point better than I can. To put it gently, it is quite naïve to say that colour has nothing to do with Brown’s death and its aftermath.

 

To those that say Brown was unarmed and therefore should not have been killed, I admit I have much less to say. I largely agree with that, but find that there tends to be a blindness to the anger connected with this view. Too much of a blind eye is turned to Brown’s violence and thuggery. It has to be asked, why did Brown not simply hop on to the sidewalk when asked? According to Wilson’s first account (which later conveniently changed), he did not even know about the convenience store robbery, and just wanted Brown to stop walking in the middle of the road. And though some part of Wilson’s account seem incredible, it’s probably true that Brown gave him some attitude. Again, why?

 

Brown good and bad

Turning to the third argument, which I find particularly irksome, why are people not angry when a black person dies at the hand of another black person? This is my answer: that is simply beside the point. Firstly, it does not sit well with me to suggest that people should only get angry when somebody of their colour dies or is killed. Secondly, the real issue here it seems, is anger against the system. Wilson was not just a white man. He was a police officer. An officer charged with the duty of protecting citizens, yet he killed one. Imagine if there was no anger about this situation? We’re talking about holding a powerful institution accountable for the way it treats black citizens. It is just too simplistic to say “oh but black people get killed by blacks all the time”.

 

When a black person kills another black, they usually end up in prison. How many times in such a situation, do you hear of a cover up? Does it ever appear that the system tries to protect the black murderer from facing justice? Not that I have ever seen. But it does sort of look like system is trying to protect Darren Wilson. Even Piers Morgan has written a piece (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2849133/PIERS-MORGAN-farce-Ferguson-Darren-Wilson-6ft-4in-210lb-five-year-old-history.html) about the holes in the investigation into Brown’s death, and even though I thought I already knew all there was to know about the case, the new information I learned, I found disturbing.

 

So back to my question; who is to blame? I still do not have a straight answer. I can’t say it’s all Brown’s fault, as appalling as his behaviour was, we are all sinners, but by the grace of God, not all of us get gunned down and left dead in the street for hours. In this fallen world there remain many injustices. Perhaps it is too much to ask that at the very least, Darren Wilson be taken to trial, his actions put under scrutiny, so it can be properly decided whether he is truly free of blame.

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