From the most recent Real Time episode:
BILL MAHER: You know what else I find disturbing is that everybody in America just sides with their own people and doesn’t look at the facts. The cops, I saw on the news a couple of weeks ago, were wearing bracelets or something that said, “I am Darren Wilson.” Why do you want to throw your lot in with this plain murderer?
And Michael Brown’s people. I’m sorry, but Michael Brown’s people say he is a gentle giant. Well, we saw of when he was in that 7-11. No, he wasn’t a gentle giant. He was committing a robbery and he pushed that guy. He was acting like a thug, not a gentle giant. He certainly didn’t deserve to be shot for it. (HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher, October 24, 2014)
Fuck you, Bill.
Now Bill isn’t the first person to say this about Mike Brown, and he does agree he was wrongly killed. My sister is of the same mindset: Mike Brown was a “thug” and Officer Wilson is a “dirty, murdering cop”. I’ve also had conversations with others who thought along the same lines:
“I was very sad and disappointed when I heard the news that this young brother had robbed a store. His mother had us believe he was a big teddy bear who wouldn’t harm a fly. That he was just a young cool kid who was on his way to his grand-mothers house when he was accosted by the police for walking in the street. In just a few days he was on his way to college. With a story like that we all need to get behind a brother like that.
Man, the way he threw that clerk around this guy has “thug” written all over him. These type of people are in the the ATL everyday doing home invasions, killing innocent families on the regular. Someone robbing a store is not normal behavior. My friends and I were never robbing people when we were kids, that never entered our mind.
I know what I’m saying is not popular, but we can’t use up our resources and good will on this dude, no way in hell I would be out on the street championing a dude that in any day might be robbing or killing me.” (Edited for language, ironic considering my title huh?)
I’ll say now what I said then:
“How much dirt do teens do that their parents know nothing about? How many kids are shoplifting on dares or for the thrill of it and taking and sending naked selfies? There was a bunch of white kids running a prostitute ring, I’m sure their parents didn’t know until the cops came knocking. He didn’t have a criminal record so if he was acting a fool outside the house and not bringing the drama home, I wouldn’t expect his mother to know. When I was growing up, it was called respecting your mother’s house. Plus, they had inquired at the QT store (not the liquor store where it took place) so she didn’t have any reason to believe differently.”
Black kids often look older and more mature than kids of the same age of other races. People tend to perceive them as needing to be controlled, instead of guiding them and allowing self expression. I’ve seen young black boys scolded for doing things that are appropriate for their age while other kids around them exhibit the same behavior and go unaddressed or are encouraged in their behavior. When you are a black kid and bigger than the others, like Mike Brown, it’s even worse. Bigger kids are always constantly reminded not to hurt others and to mind their strength. They often have their childhoods inhibited to a degree and are not free to express themselves, because in being open and active, they intimidate others. They are told they are too old to do things that is perfectly fine for other physically smaller kids of the same age. They never really get to “wild out” like other kids do. Older kids may not want to play with them because of their age, and if they do then sometimes they get exposed to things at an inappropriate level or that they aren’t ready to handle. So, if Mike’s upbringing was typical of that which most kids in similar situations receive, I expect everyone around him thought of him as a “gentle giant” because in actuality he was. He had probably had it instilled in him since he could walk to be mindful and considerate of his physical interactions in relation to others.
From an early age, black children in general are taught to view their behavior though the eyes of others and adjust it accordingly. Ask any black man about not making sudden movements to keep others (read: white folks) at ease. Ask them about speaking slowly, in calming tones in order to try to maintain the peace of mind and security of someone else. Ask any black person about going shopping well dressed, because if you are casual in jeans and a t-shirt, store clerks wont take you seriously, especially when it comes to buying big ticket items such as a car. When shopping, I was always taught to keep my hands visible, not to dig through my purse or open it except when I was at the register, not to wear big coats or carry big purses or place my hands in and out my pockets where someone might think I was shoplifting. I was well into adulthood when I was able to get to the point where I was able to go into a store and walk out with out making some kind of purchase, even when they didn’t have what I was looking for, so as not to be thought a thief.
The problem goes beyond this though. When black and white kids display poor behavior, they are judged differently. The black kid’s behavior is seen as being indicative of inherent character flaws and innate criminal tendencies, but the white kid is just going through a phase. Mike used his size to intimidate a store clerk, and while no one is making excuses for that, nor is it related to the shooting incident, somehow that one incident is being used to say he was irredeemable. He was just a kid. They make bad decisions. He would have gone on to college, matured, and become a responsible adult. The white kids at pumpkin fest, who were older than Mike and already in college, breaking out windows, looting stores, starting fires, well they were just being a little rowdy. They will grow out of it. Mike? Well there was no hope for him, those six bullets just stopped him from robbing someone else later on.
The person in the discussion I quoted above went on to say because he was in the adult business, that if he had died similarly and info on his business ventures got out, it would “derail the movement” because “you need someone clean to lead a movement, even in death.”
I say this is bullshit.
We are individuals. We need to get away from black people being collectively guilty or innocent based on the actions of one or a few. We need to get away from saying a black person doesn’t deserve justice because they are poor, have a past, are not well spoken, wear hoodies or sagging pants etc. No other race has to have their victims vetted to see if they are worthy to seek justice for wrongs visited upon them. This is victim blaming and shaming.
It’s asking us to play the game by a set of rules no one else is using by telling black people if you do a,b,c or d, and be the “good negro” then you would be treated well and not be on the receiving end of violence or of racist acts and hate crimes. It is a lie. For decades we have been doing all sorts of contortions to have someone else pass judgement as to whether or not we are worthy to exist and breath the same air and have the same protections that all American’s are supposed to have under the protection of the law by simply being citizens. That’s like telling an abused child that mommy wouldn’t beat them and burn them with the iron or lock them in the closet for days on end if they kept their room clean, or played quietly or got good grades. No, mommy is a deranged monster and no matter how well behaved the kid is, when mommy gets good and ready she is going to go off. None of the changes he makes to his behavior to try to placate her will make one iota of difference. We set some white people off simply because we exist, and it isn’t because we don’t dress like them, or speak like them or carry ourselves a certain way. The only trigger they need is our non-white skin and it doesn’t matter whether it’s covered in a a hoodie or a suit. Oprah is one of the wealthiest and well respected black women in the world. President Obama is leader of the free world. The Obama family is the epitome of respectability. Yet there are people who would hunt them down like animals if they could and mount their heads as trophies. If they aren’t exempt from being called n*ggers and apes, and being the target of racists, why would anyone in the hood or on a lower social/economic level be any different? Hell, often being well to do and successful sets them off even more.
The bottom line is that the protests that are going on are not about Mike Brown’s character. Protester’s are not out for two months straight because they are defending “an angel” incapable of wrong doing. People protesting are not blindly taking Mike’s side, or denying he was flawed. If this is what you, Bill or anyone else thinks, you haven’t been paying attention. It’s about the fact that according to multiple witnesses, recorded immediately in the aftermath, he had his hands up in surrender and was shot multiple times (excessive force), and then left to lie like an animal in the street for 4+ hours. It’s about Ferguson police bypassing basic policing 101 and not filing a police report. (I actually believe they did file a report and made it disappear. The robbery report involving Brown referenced both a Ferguson and St Louis County police incident report number the day he was killed, yet it took them 20+ days to release a report amounting to a blank sheet of paper. At the very least they are incompetent and guilty of shoddy police work. I’ve heard of confrontations between officers and citizens resulting in the shooting of a dog where a more thorough incident report was filed. I’d like to think that people are worthy of more consideration than a German Shepard.) It’s about It’s about having no confidence in the local law enforcement, whose ranking officers have a history of lying and falsifying police reports, but are asking us to believe them now when they say Mike Brown went for the holstered weapon of a police officer in a SUV. It’s about withholding the name of the police officer, giving them time to scrub social media before the general public and reporters could vet him. It’s about Ferguson and St. Louis County police officers trampling on the civil and constitutional rights of it’s citizens and news reporters, treating a grieving community as criminals in a war zone instead of concerned citizens seeking answers. Ferguson has transcended Mike Brown. He was the last straw in a long line of slights and abuses across the entire nation. It’s now also about justice for all the other Mike Brown’s who are shot or beaten by police, who face no repercussions even with video evidence of wrong doing, because they did it with a badge on. It’s about preventing our loved ones from being the next Mike Brown.
One last thought: I’ve seen comments to the effect that because police shootings are such a small percentage of incidents, that we shouldn’t pursue this issue:
This shows a total lack of compassion. This is viewing people as stats, as numbers on a page. By this logic, since the majority of people drive sober, we shouldn’t campaign against drunk driving. Since the majority of husbands don’t beat their wives, we can ignore domestic violence. Since the majority of children aren’t abused or molested, no awareness is needed. Since the majority of children are born without birth defects, we don’t need to try to prevent them. This is telling people, who have been victims of police violence, that their pain is insignificant because the stats are insignificant. We are tired of having our pain and grievances dismissed. I don’t care if only one person in all the world is the victim of police brutality, they deserve justice. Also, please keep in mind, the drama going on in Ferguson is just to get Wilson indicted to be brought to trial, not an actual trial to determine his guilt or innocence. The family of Mike Brown and the people of Ferguson want and deserve to have Officer Wilson give an account of his actions and have them publicly weighed in a court of law.
Someone lost a loved one. Good or bad, Mike Brown was loved and mattered to someone. Several someones. If your loved one was killed, for whatever reason, would you want answers? If you lost your child, your spouse, your best friend, under normal circumstances, let alone a violent shooting, and could not get straight forward answers, how would you react? Yeah, I thought so.