If you turn on the news today, you can’t escape the story of Michael Brown.
He was the 18-year-old gentleman who, depending on which narrative you read, either provoked an argument with a police officer and another individual or put his hands in the air and continued on his way to his grandmother’s house. Conversely, the police officer who ultimately shot and killed Brown was either threatened by the two young men and shoved back into his own official vehicle, or he simply opened fire on a young kid who was complying with his every direction.
Common sense suggests that neither is completely blameless. Maybe Brown postured a bit, thinking that since he was unarmed he would be all right. Maybe the police officer misread the situation, or maybe the other individual involved was armed and the police officer shot Brown by accident.
Image source: CNN/KPUR/KTVI
The reality is that right now, none of that matters.
Yes, it is relevant to determine what happened and who was at fault. Yes, they should probably allow the FBI to take control of the investigation and wait for the results of blood toxicology tests. But the small percentage of citizens who are unwilling to wait for these things are the ones defining the narrative.
Right now, the voices of people claiming that they need to “teach the cops a lesson” are louder than the voices of Brown’s family members, who ask that supporters refrain from dishonoring their slain son by rioting and looting local businesses. The voice of the Rev. Al Sharpton serves to draw attention to the alleged racial components of this incident – racial components that may not actually exist, considering the fact that the identity of the police officer who fired on Brown has not yet been released.
In the aftermath of this incident, however, the city of St. Louis faces several problems.
First, there is a pending investigation into a tragic shooting. A lack of trust in local law enforcement and local leadership – exacerbated by the racially lop-sided nature of said leadership – has necessitated that the investigation be overseen by the FBI rather than at the county or even state level. The investigation is likely to take time, and if history is an accurate predictor, developments along the way could lead to further instances of unrest.
A makeshift memorial sits in the middle of the street where 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot and killed by police, Monday, Aug. 11, 2014, in Ferguson, Mo. The FBI has opened an investigation into the fatal shooting of an unarmed black teenager on Saturday whose death stirred unrest in a St. Louis suburb. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
Second, the city of Ferguson must rebuild. Businesses must decide whether it is profitable to stay in an area where they could be looted and even destroyed at the whim of the public over issues completely unrelated to their business. They must weigh the probable increase in insurance costs against the likelihood that they will face similar attacks in the future. Families must decide whether or not they still feel safe allowing their children to play outside or walk to school. Police officers must decide if the pay is worth being labeled the enemy before all the facts have been tallied.
But most importantly, on a national level, we must address the public’s insistence on responding to issues before the evidence is compiled, and the inability to respond in a way that makes sense. Because we live in an age where technology allows a 24-hour news cycle and an army of citizen journalists, we have become accustomed to having information at our fingertips and on demand. The downside of that is that often times, that information may come quickly but it comes without context. And particularly in cases which result in a police-involved shooting, context is key.
People on the scene in Ferguson claimed to be responding to the unequal application of force against young black men. However, the context is still lacking. The name and even the race of the officer involved have yet to be released. The actions taken by Brown and the other young man involved have yet to be released to the public. No one knows yet if the officer had a legitimate reason to shoot or if Brown was completely innocent.
People raise their hands in the middle of the street as police wearing riot gear move toward their position trying to get them to disperse Monday, Aug. 11, 2014, in Ferguson, Mo. The FBI opened an investigation Monday into the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown, who police said was shot multiple times Saturday after being confronted by an officer in Ferguson. Authorities in Ferguson used tear gas and rubber bullets to try to disperse a large crowd Monday night that had gathered at the site of a burned-out convenience store damaged a night earlier, when many businesses in the area were looted. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
In regards to the actual response, even if the shooting was completely out of line, there is a legitimate way to make that point. Immediately following the shooting, Brown’s stepfather took to the street wearing a sandwich board that read, “Ferguson police just executed my unarmed son.”
That is an action that demands justice and explanation. That is an action that draws attention to a situation that should be investigated. That is a legitimate response to a police action that you believe bears further scrutiny.
People who claimed to be “supporting” the Brown family, however, took to the streets and began looting local businesses. They claimed that they did so in order to “send a message to cops that they can’t run things.” But when you loot and burn a convenience store, you only send two messages: First, that cops are justified in thinking of you as mindless thugs. And second, that at least for the time being, they’re going to have to drive another half block for their coffee and donuts.
Virginia Kruta holds a dual BS in Political Science and History from Southern Illinois University in Edwardsville, and writes from her home in the People's Republic of Illinois. Find her on Twitter @VAKruta or reach her by email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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