The most remarkable event to come out of the tragedies in Ferguson over the past months was not that Officer Darren Wilson, the killer of Michael Brown, was not indicted. This was expected in the days leading up to the announcement. There is a history of a lack of prosecutions from deadly shootings by police in America, and in McCulloch’s jurisdiction specifically. No, the most surprising occurrence was the content of the speech that prosecutor Robert McCulloch gave just before he stated there would be no indictment of Officer Darren Wilson. In his speech, McCulloch didn’t blame the unrest in Ferguson on Wilson, or the abhorrent actions of the Ferguson Police Department, or the systemic racism in America, the country that enslaved people who shared the same skin color as Michael Brown. Instead, McCulloch blamed the people.
He didn’t state it outright. He didn’t need to; it was all there in the obvious subtext. He said the biggest challenge in the case was the national media and social media on the internet. Because of them, too many rumors floated around and unrest was incited. If they had simply kept their mouths shut, there would’ve been no problems, and this whole situation would’ve been open and shut. But, no, they dared to discuss the case and its implications for the country as a whole.
McCulloch is incorrect. The biggest challenge the case faced is not any form of media. The biggest challenge the case faced is that Darren Wilson shot an unarmed black man. Had this not occurred then there would’ve been no problems to begin with. The fact that such a shooting did occur begs the attention of the nation.
This shooting is not an isolated incident, sadly, nor is the lack of consequences noteworthy. At Mother Jones is a list of some of the shootings by police officers in St. Louis in recent years. More disturbing is that a list of nationwide fatal shootings by police officers can never be complete because it is unknown just how many people police officers kill thanks to state obfuscation. People who are killed by the police are often classified as criminals before all the facts are released, giving the police an easy excuse for the killing. America is a country that enjoys the idea of a cowboy shooting a villain. The problem is, in America, the cowboy is increasingly a racist, unstable lunatic, such as George Zimmerman or the police officers who mercilessly beat Rodney King.
America has long been reluctant to admit to racial issues despite the fact that slavery was only eliminated 150 years ago, a very small timeframe when one looks at all of history. President Lyndon Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act only after footage of black protestors being mercilessly beaten was played by the media; had that not happened then there would likely have been no movement on widespread legislation. Coverage of civil rights problems is absolutely mandatory should we want action. The current media cannot be relied upon to show such footage and air such discussion. The Ferguson police’s actions during the August riots were deplorable. The police, outfitted more than the soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, stormed protestors and shot off tear gas with impunity, the tear gas often landing in the yards of citizens who had nothing to do with the protests. There was no coverage of this outside of social media. The recent violence in Ferguson after the announcement about a lack of indictment was covered by major media networks like CNN not with a discussion on racial relations, police overreaction, and militarization and why there is such rage just below the surface of many Americans, but about how Don Lemon might have smelled marijuana in the air. It was an idiotic comment from Lemon, but not a surprising one from the man who asked a woman who was raped why she did not simply bite off Bill Cosby’s penis, continuing the age old horrific narrative that women who are raped might be somewhat at fault. The surprise in the circumstance is that CNN stands by this as its coverage of the events in Ferguson.
The unquestioning, state worshipping, sycophantic current media is half the reasons tragedies such as Ferguson are allowed to continue. Just take a look at how the media only covers the protests when they’re violent, much more concerned about property damage than the ongoing slaughter of men of color by police departments across the United States, by the ongoing militarization of the police, by the lack of oversight when it comes to police brutality.
But you wouldn’t know that if you listened to Robert McCulloch. To him, the media is the problem for an entirely different reason. The media, loathe as it is to do so, allows the possibility of discussion by covering the Ferguson case at all. McCulloch and others like him don’t want discussion on racial matters; they’re quite happy with the status quo. McCulloch has been in bed with the police for quite some time. He even had no problem with the actions of the Ferguson Police Department’s protestor suppression tactics back in August, an opinion held by few other Americans at that point, save a few chapters of the Ku Klux Klan. It’s no surprise his speech Monday night made him sound more like Darren Wilson’s defense attorney than the prosecutor because in many ways he was Darren Wilson’s defense attorney.
We don’t know exactly what went down when Michael Brown was shot. That alone is enough of a reason to have a trial where we can try and put together what occurred. You need not take my word for it- take the National Bar Association’s. McCulloch was never going to allow a trial, would never allow for the possibility that we could explore just how the police treat black men in this country, and how Michael Brown in particular was treated. It’s been made abundantly clear that, when faced with the possibility of examining how black people in America are treated, the state shrugs and says “why bother?”
The only people McCulloch is interested in putting on trial are Americans who dare to question the way race is handled in their country. McCulloch’s smack at social media is on target for him because social media is where much of the criticism of police brutality and state oppression is coming from. To McCulloch, and those who think like him, the problem in America is not that there’s systemic racism; the problem is that some people dare to talk about it. McCulloch went so far as to verbalize it, a key mistake that even the most odious of state officials do not usually make.
You’re going to see coverage in the coming days of Michael Brown’s stepfather screaming “Burn this shit down!” after the verdict was announced. It wasn’t the best reaction, but it was an expression of grief, and an understandable one. We should keep in mind that white America often holds black people to a different standard. White America loves to declare how black people should behave. It’s practically a national pastime.
You’re going to see coverage of the protestors that do become violent. You won’t see statistics on the killings of citizens by the police departments that are supposed to be protecting American citizens. You won’t hear how police can get away with almost any action when it comes to harming citizens, especially citizens of color. You won’t read much about the protestors who have overwhelmingly urged others not to become violent. You won’t read about Michael Brown’s father standing up for non-violent protest. You’ll only witness surface level analysis of what’s going on.
But to the state, even surface level discussion is far too much, hence McCulloch’s remarks about the media. And social media? Well, there the talk is far too incendiary for the state and it needs to be toned down. The people are speaking and the state will damn them for it every step of the way. We just have to be wise enough to keep talking.