Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Ferguson: It was the town that made America famous

"I speak without fear of contradiction..."

I don't know how many of my regular readers are, or were tabletop roleplayers, but there used to be a bleakly comedic RPG called Paranoia, where the players played troubleshooters in a dystopian future and were encouraged to screw each other over and kill each others' characters. It was advantageous to be the only one left at at the end, because that way you could spin whatever tale you liked about the events of the mission.

I was thinking of this because of the advice to players in the rule book reminded me of Darren Wilson's testimony.
"I speak without fear of contradiction..." is the opening sentence of the ideal debriefing. A creative dramatist can transform a disastrous mission replete with treasonous crimes into a glowing heroic narrative with the speaker as the modest model of a loyal, courageous citizen...
That's the opportunity Darren Wilson was afforded. An extremely friendly prosecutor fed him lines directly out the guidelines for the use of force. "Did you feel threatened?" but subjected any witnesses whose accounts differed from his to withering cross-examination.

MSNBC analyst Lisa Bloom said of this:

The biggest thing that jumps out is prosecutors who aren't prosecuting — prosecutors who let the target of the investigation come in, in a very friendly, relaxed way, and simply tell the story. There is absolutely zero cross-examination. Cross-examination is the hallmark of our system, it's the crucible of truth. And I don't say that to use flowery language. That's how we get at the truth.
I first saw that quote at Mark Evanier's website, and I'm going to steal his links, too.

When the people who approve of the failure to indict say that justice was served, the grand jury has spoken, etc, etc what they fail to realize is that I think the point that a lot of those folks are missing is that while nothing overtly illegal occurred, McCulloch, the prosecutor had broad discretionary powers, and he abused them to get the result that he wanted. It's a truism that a prosecutor can get a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich, but the fact of the matter is that the prosecutor gets the result that he wants out of a grand jury. 

The Prosecutor 

McCulloch was problematic from the beginning. He has a close relationship with the police, and his father was an officer killed in the line by an African American suspect. He is president of the board of Blackstoppers Backstoppers an interest group supporting local police and first responders. I might be going out on a limb here, but I'm thinking he maybe didn't bring his A-Game. A petition to remove him received 70,000 signatures. Jay Nixon should have appointed a special prosecutor. McCulloch was compromised from the very beginning. The thing that leaps to mind about the grand jury is Woody Allen hooking up with his adopted daughter. It might not have been illegal, but it's as sketchy as all hell.

This also isn't the first time he's defended white cops who straight up executed black civilians. Here's an account of his defense of the officers who killed Earl Murray and Ronald Beasley. (And yes, the link goes to the Daily Kos, which has a very liberal bias, but the facts and conclusions there are exhaustively supported by links to neutral sources.) 

Now, there are good cops and bad cops. I like to think that most of the men and women in uniform are good people, and consequently, good cops. At the end of the day, they're only human beings, trying to do a difficult job.

I don't think that Darren Wilson set out to kill anybody that day. I do think the evidence suggests that Mike Brown was insufficiently deferential when Wilson told him to "Get the fuck off the road", and Wilson grabbed him, Brown pulled free, and it escalated from there. I think it's unlikely that a young man two weeks from college is going to commit suicide by cop, and I also think it unlikely that he would flee 150 feet from the car, and suddenly decide to turn around and decide to run back through the gunfire.(Even accepting, arguendo, the idea that Brown robbed the store, that's not a capital offense, and Wilson didn't know about at the time of the encounter.) 

I posted this on Facebook: Why is it that so many of the posts in my Facebook feed can be paraphrased as "It's outrageous that black people get so uppity when given explicit proof that we can kill their children with impunity!" There's an outrage here, folks, but it's not the isolated individual taking advantage of legitimate outrage to commit petty crime, and if you're on the side of the attack dogs and firehoses, perhaps you should take a look at yourself.

And the replies allowed me to fill out my Bingo card. 

The Language of the Unheard

I was reading about Br'er Rabbit, the Southern American Trickster figure the other day, and something in Wikipedia's writeup really resonated.  For both Africans and African Americans, the animal trickster represents an extreme form of behavior that people may be forced to adopt in extreme circumstances in order to survive. The trickster is not to be admired in every situation. He is an example of what to do, but also an example of what not to do. The trickster's behavior can be summed up in the common African proverb: "It's trouble that makes the monkey chew on hot peppers." In other words, sometimes people must use extreme measures in extreme circumstances.

People aren't protesting because a white cop killed a black man.  That's not exactly "Man bites Dog", now, is it? People are outraged because it's  become increasingly apparent that the grand jury was intended as a whitewash from the very beginning. Darren Wilson initiated a confrontation that ended with Michael Brown's death, and he's never going to face any punishment for it. 

Much of the focus in the media has been on those protesting violently. (And this is my bias showing, but I doubt the worst rioters are the ones with a heartfelt belief in social justice. “Some Men Just Want To Watch The World Burn," and this is the perfect excuse.)

Are there riots? Yes. Are they performed by an extremely small percentage of the tens of thousands of protestors all over the country? Yes. Have they been denounced by just about everyone? Yes.

The protests are a reaction to that injustice. What are their choices, realistically? Protest, or do nothing and take it. Martin Luther King is usually the teddy bear that white people trot out when we want to pretend that we care, but a lot of people forget that the man who said "I have a dream," also said, "A riot is the language of the unheard."

And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the negro poor has worsened over the last twelve or fifteen years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice and humanity.

People in Ferguson, rightly, feel there is no legal avenue to address their grievances when one of their own is killed under extremely questionable circumstances. The game is rigged. Everybody knew it, of course, but you expect the powers that be to have a little shame left, and not do things so blatantly.

Unfortunately, the riot narrative is dominating the news cycle, and the main effect is to tar the whole movement. It allows self-identified moderates to tut-tut about civility, and dismiss every one of the protestors with a disapproving wag of the finger. By focusing on the actions of a few of the very worst, by ignoring the proximate cause and focusing only on the consequences, by singling out those who are powerless and ignoring the man in the privileged position who will not face punishment, they're buying into the mindset that allowed this to happen. 

Ferguson is what I think of when the right ring crowd starts braying about local government. You get these tiny little quasi-fiefdoms all over the land. It's Hazzard County by way of Kafka. Bureaucracy is rightly derided, but I'll take faceless indifference over poisonous animosity any day.

1 comment:

  1. You know my views on much of this already. I'll add here that ALL of the abusive police cases and non-indictments we're hearing about are the reason why countries like England got rid of grand juries. I'm thinking it's time we got rid of them too when they clearly don't work as intended.