Monday, August 18, 2014

Michael Brown The Martyr

Images Taken From Michael Brown's (apparent) Robbery of a Cigar Store (Earlier the day he was shot)
As Ferguson boils (the National Guard was called in and (BREAKING) Obama didn't know about it) the political discourse has shattered over continuing revelations and events. For example:
  1. Brown was shot six times
  2. He was not shot in the back (so says the autopsy)
  3. Mike Brown had marijuana in his system when he died
  4. He'd committed a robbery earlier that day--but the officer in question (the one who shot him) didn't suspect him of it when they encountered him (Brown was accosted for walking in the middle of the street)
  5. There has been continued violence during the protests. Some (peaceful) protesters have tried to prevent looting by, well, looters
  6. Now the officially militarized national guard has been called in to maintain order
  7. Texas Governor Rick Perry was (in a grossly partisan manner) charged with crimes seemingly having to do with playing political hardball (okay, that has nothing to with Ferguson--but it can't be helping things, can it?)
This thing is not shaping up well.

Competing Narratives
When something happens (any major event) there is always a rush to build a partisan narrative around it. Sometimes that narrative more or less holds up. Sometimes it doesn't. Usually, as facts trickle out, people become distanced from it and new information misses them. As such, it's key to understand what these narratives are in their Ur state (their beginning format) and less about what happened.

It's also important to understand what the specific talking points are--what are the lessons that the observer is supposed to take away from the story? All of this--far moreso than the facts--is what the meaning or impact of the event is in the national consciousness.

On the Right
Right now the Republicans are a bit split on how they're reacting to Ferguson. Actually, there are two splits.

Republican Narrative One: Law and Order
In this narrative (which could also be titled Michael Brown got what he deserved) the story is that HERO COP accosted a thug who, thinking the jig was up (that he was caught for his latest strong arm robbery) first ran--but then charged the police officer who then fired in self-defense.

The Aesop (the moral): Times have changed and now we need militarized police. Brave New World.

Republican Narrative 2: Police State Rising
In this narrative the police-state whose fin crested the water at the Bundy Ranch is now starting to rear its head. The masses of bullets bought by Homeland Security are part of a new wave of warrior-cops who will eventually be turned on us (white people) to maybe take our guns. This is, of course, the left's doing.

The Aesop (the moral): Liberals will always show their true (fascist) colors.

On The Left
The left is having a more-or-less easier time of it since to the left this breaks down to a simple racial narrative: white cops shot an unarmed black teenager and then tear-gassed police. This, without any nuance, at least, has the benefit of all being factually (to the degree we have undisputed facts) correct.

The basic idea is that (a) The police are acting as thugs and (b) the killing was utterly unjustified. In this formulation it's a white governance group who is ruthlessly (and lethally) oppressing a minority.

The left is largely silent on what should be done to restore order (in unrelated--but maybe symbolically similar news, Gawker maybe thinks letting children just rob you is better than running them down and apprehending them).

The Aesop (the moral): White privilege is oppressive and destroys society.

The Middle Ground
Let's get one thing really clear: all these summations are necessarily stark and are taken from a huge variety of sources (and The Omnivore's interpretation). Reality is complicated. It's also true that there's a very easily found middle ground that, in fact, many people actually hold:
  1. Let's wait until the investigation clears before passing too much judgment
  2. The police doing things like tear-gassing news crews and pointing weapons directly at peaceful protesters was bad policy (so was releasing the Brown robbing video--it's political positioning and it makes the police look like spin-doctors, something that you should really never want).
  3. Brown certainly didn't deserve to die for anything we know he did (uncontested elements such as smoking pot, robbing a shopkeeper, walking in the middle of the street) but we may never know what went down with the cop. The original story held, to The Omnivore's read, that he was shot in the back--something the independent autopsy falsified. On the other hand, if killed a good distance from the vehicle, Brown was clearly not right on top of the officer either.
This isn't hard. In this case we need reasonable force for the riots (the National Guard may well provide that) and regular cops for the protesters (during the day, etc.). We need to recognize that Brown's shooting was a personal tragedy for his family and has taken on larger meaning in the community.

The question then is this: is that larger meaning legitimate?

The Legitimacy of Brown As Martyr
Although unspoken, the above world-views orbit an epicenter questioning whether or not it is legitimate for the community to see the killing of Michael Brown as a symbolic part of a larger picture. Attempts to try to derive that (in order: NO, MAYBE, YES) all fall against an objective realization: it has already happened.

Indeed, The Omnivore thinks you (for group values of 'you') do, in fact, get to choose your martyrs. In other words: if the community sees Brown's death as meaningful beyond the bare facts of the case? That is legitimate

To argue otherwise is to need to (a) set up a standard by which the legitimacy is to be judged and then (b) persecute that case against either those who disagree (the left attacking the right) or those who have adopted him (the people of Ferguson). Both of these have a specific problem in that it assumes the rights on the part of the standard-holder that are, simply, not in evidence. The Omnivore knows of no one who he feels has the authority to say the people of Ferguson are wrong to protest what was done--indeed, if anything, the police's actions seem to have confirmed their worst fears whatever Brown actually did (remember: the police don't know either).

That's the real moral of the story: you don't get to objectively judge the people who are peacefully, if angrily, protesting his killing.


  1. I really don't think the police deserve any benefit of the doubt here. They've tear-gassed and shot (with rubber bullets) peaceful protesters, handed out death threats all over the place, tried to tarnish the name of the kid they killed, and generally acted like a gang of monstrous thugs.

    So if the police testimony differs from the testimony of the eye-witnesses, I'm gonna go with the witnesses' version. Especially because the witnesses have far less reason to lie than the police do.

    1. I didn't read the statement--but remember that the eye-witness testimony (at least the version I got) said Brown was shot -in the back-. The autopsy refutes that, not the police.

      Yes, the police have behaved very badly--tear-gassing reporters on camera, for example, leaves little room for interpretation. On the other hand, keep in mind that sometimes things we *know* (the NBC Zimmerman edit) turn out not to be actually *true*--so I don't see that waiting for the investigations before saying we have a really good idea of exactly what happened is a bad idea.

      That's not the same as accepting the police's version of the 'the truth' (especially as we don't actually have that yet).

      -The Omnivore

    2. What I'm saying is that once you've tear-gassed reporters on camera I'll interpret ambiguous situations against you. If I already know you're scum, why should I pretend to be a court and give you the innocent-until-proven guilty treatment?

      Tell you the truth, though, I'm not sure how much it matters what happened to Brown. The police department has already earned imprisonment for the things nobody will dispute them doing.

      PS: I haven't actually compared the autopsy and the testimony, so I can't really discuss that. The bits and pieces I've seen were consistent, but I've only seen bits and pieces.

  2. I find the trend of over-militarization of local police forces worrisome. I'm old enough to remember when most ordinary cops carried double-action .38 Special revolvers such as the Smith & Wesson Model 10 and the Colt Official Police. But it seems that the infamous Miami FBI shootout of April 1986 changed all that, and we've seen what many regard as an unwarranted escalation in law-enforcement weaponry ever since.

    It's worth listening to what comedian John Oliver had to say about this subject last weekend, particularly the deployment of an MRAP by the Saginaw, MI sheriff's department.

    -- Ω