John McWhorter’s Time essay on Ferguson demonstrates his graceful way with words, and his struggle to fight the truth about Ferguson. The only bit of truth that survived McWhorter’s preferred narrative is this:
I’m not sure that what happened to Michael Brown — and the indictment that did not happen to Officer Darren Wilson — is going to be useful as a rallying cry about police brutality and racism in America.
McWhorter recognizes that, yet it is instructive to see the mental gymnastics he performs in order to stay with the liberal line:
The key element in the Brown-Wilson encounter was not any specific action either man took — it was the preset hostility to the cops that Brown apparently harbored.
So far, so true—although Brown’s hostility, and the acting-out of that hostility, seems hardly to have been limited to cops.
But then McWhorter writes this:
And that hostility was key because it was indeed totally justified.
So, despite the fact that McWhorter goes on to agree that Wilson’s actions were not necessarily motivated by racism, and despite the fact that he even acknowledges that Brown had just robbed a convenience store, and despite the fact that McWhorter knows nothing—absolutely nothing—of Brown’s actual attitudes towards police, why he might hold those attitudes, and what his previous encounters with police had been, he claims that this supposed attitude of Brown’s was not merely justified, but totally justified.
McWhorter goes on:
The right-wing take on Brown, that he was simply a “thug,” is a know-nothing position. The question we must ask is: What is the situation that makes two young black men comfortable dismissing a police officer’s request to step aside?
Let’s see: arrogance? Drugs? A sense of their own physical strength, and a history of using it to dominate over those smaller and physically weaker?
No, not at all:
These men were expressing a community-wide sense that the official keepers of order are morally bankrupt.
So, McWhorter knows that Brown’s actions were the result of his strong sense of morality, and his “totally justified” judgment that Wilson and all his fellows were “morally bankrupt.”
And what is to be done, according to McWhorter?:
What America owes communities like Ferguson — and black America in general — is a sincere grappling with that take on law enforcement that is so endemic in black communities nationwide. As Northwestern philosopher Charles Mills has put it, “Black citizens are still differentially vulnerable to police violence, thereby illustrating their second class citizenship.”
We troglodyte know-nothings, who cannot dismiss and/or imaginatively justify Brown’s reprehensible actions, refuse to take McWhorter’s far more nuanced position, which is that Brown was not the individual that he was, making incredibly bad choices. To McWhorter, Brown is a sociological construct responding to forces that justify any behavior, and it is white America which must always seek the answers within itself, because it is always and eternally guilty.
Black people in general are “differentially vulnerable to police violence,” but what might the cause of that be? Surely it can’t be that they are more likely to be violent criminals who attack police, as Brown was? That’s putting the cart and horse in the wrong order, according to McWhorter, who seems quite certain they are merely reacting to the perception that police are against them.
And I wonder what McWhorter would like to happen, other than “sincere” soul-searching by guilt-ridden white people. Should white police (or black police, for that matter; I’m not sure McWhorter exempts them, either) allow themselves to be beaten to a pulp or killed by their own service revolvers in order to demonstrate their sociological sensitivities towards violent criminal black youths such as Brown as interpreted by nonviolent professors such as McWhorter?
McWhorter goes on to add that (although there’s absolutely no evidence of this) Brown came back towards Wilson “likely trying to indicate surrender.”
But despite distortions of the record like that, McWhorter realizes that Brown represents a tough case to use to make the point he wants so desperately to make, and he at least is honest enough to say as much:
…I fear the facts on this specific incident are too knotted to coax a critical mass of America into seeing a civil rights icon in Brown and an institutionally racist devil in Wilson.
It appears that McWhorter would dearly love it if America could be “enlightened” (his word, not mine) by the Brown/Wilson case into believing just that, in order to reflect the higher truth of racism in America as he sees it. But he regretfully realizes that Brown was just too thuggish, Wilson too blameless, and the facts too stubborn (although not for lack of trying to misstate them).
Here is the best example of McWhorter struggling with the truth, and partially accepting it:
The Ferguson episode…requires, as a rallying point, a degree of elision, adjustment. It will require turning away from Brown’s criminal act just before the incident, and his conduct toward a police officer a few moments later, based on the tricky proposition that these things must have no bearing whatsoever upon how we evaluate the succeeding sequence of events. The now iconic gesture, the hands up in “Don’t shoot” surrender, will become sacrosanct regardless of the evidence as to whether Brown actually held his hands up in that way. Icon, sacrosanct — there is an aspect of the ritual here.
But ritual dazzles more than it convinces. Beyond the converted, the less committed observer will see the facts piling up and conclude that one can be fully aware of racism’s persistence and yet still feel that the part racism played in Brown’s death is too abstract to qualify as a Selma-style — or even Trayvon-style — teaching moment. We need here Selma, Sanford — we want to make all of America put down their beers and feel this turning point.
McWorter wishes Brown were a better victim, and Wilson a better villain, than they actually were. Another Selma—now, that would be the ticket! But at least he acknowledges that Wilson and Brown didn’t quite fit the bill. The amount of “elision, adjustment” that would be required to believe they do—the ability to say that 2 + 2 = 5 with a straight face—is just a little bit beyond him.
However, John B. Judis manages to go further towards truth in his TNR piece on the very same theme, “The Ferguson Decision Was Not a ‘Miscarriage of Justice.’ Liberals Need to Accept That.” Judis regretfully writes:
While the grand jury and federal and local investigators received witness testimony that was contradictory (which is in line with what criminologists expect in these kind of cases), it received physical evidence from autopsy and DNA and hospital reports that wasn’t open to the same kind of questions. This evidence suggested that there were grounds for believing that Brown had scuffled with Wilson in the police car and had even grabbed the officer’s gun. That conformed roughly to Wilson’s own account of what had happened in the police car.
The physical evidence ruled out that Wilson had shot Brown in the back while running away, as Brown’s companion Dorian Johnson initially had claimed. And it was not conclusive one way or the other on whether Brown had, after he turned around to face Wilson, tried to surrender. In all, the forensic evidence did not prove Wilson innocent of killing Brown when he was trying to surrender, but it also did not give the grand Jury “probable cause” to indict him on that basis. Other evidence may surface, but from what the grand jury learned, I think it did the right thing, and that it’s also unlikely—given this evidence—that the federal government, which must meet an even higher evidentiary standard, will choose to indict Wilson.
There’s a lot more hemming and hawing and parading of liberal bona fides by Judis in the article to prove that his heart’s in the right place and that of course there’s plenty of racism among American cops, probably even in Ferguson. But in this case? No:
Liberals took the decision by the grand jury to symbolize, or stand in for, the greater injustice of the Ferguson and of the American criminal justice department. But in fact the reverse occurred. They projected the larger injustice of the system onto the grand jury’s ruling.
I’m not sure why Judis was able to go this route and allow that much truth into his column. And what does it mean that he does? Probably not all that much. Judis’ article may merely be an illustration of what Churchill once said:
Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing had happened.
What articles like these two probably indicate is that liberals and the left realize that the facts of the Ferguson case present them with a particularly uphill battle, and that they would do well to stumble, pick themselves up, bide their time, and wait for the next opportunity to indict white America.
[Neo-neocon is a writer with degrees in law and family therapy, who blogs at neo-neocon.]DONATE
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