Jack's Ruminations

The New Jim Crow: Ferguson

Posted on: August 16, 2014

A week into the Ferguson, MO story, I finally dove into it. What a tragedy. Here’s my take:

1. Michael Brown. A week ago, Michael Brown was a big (6’4″ 300 lb) black kid, with no criminal record, who was a week away from starting college. He lived with his mother, who was divorced from his father. But his father lived in the area.

That’s all I gathered.

The public story of Brown takes a decisive turn one week ago. From his actions — recorded on videotape and spoken about by his friend Dorian Johnson — it appears that Brown had decided that he didn’t want to go to college. At least he didn’t seem to on that fateful day.

On that day, he seemed to be skirting the line between “good” blacks vs. “thug” blacks — a cultural fault line about which Michelle Alexander writes in The New Jim Crow. One week from taking a decisive step toward becoming the former, Brown tragically seemed to go out of his way to embrace the latter.

Security video from last Friday shows Brown in a Ferguson convenience store with his friend Johnson. Brown is there evidently to shoplift some cigarillos. But he doesn’t try to sneak them. Instead, he provocatively walks up to the counter and grabs some in front of the clerk. He then begins to walk out.

Interestingly, Brown first hands a package to his friend Johnson. Johnson clearly wants no part of this because when Brown is turned, Johnson places the package back on the counter.

As the pair leave the store with Brown holding his shoplifted cigarillo package, the clerk runs in front of them to stop them. Brown is seen on the video bullying the shorter clerk backward.

While Brown is doing this, Johnson slips behind Brown out of the store. He seems to want no part of this.

Then Brown and Johnson leave the store, and according to Johnson, they walk down a street together. But they don’t just walk on the sidewalk. Instead, these two guys who just rolled a convenience store brazenly stroll in the middle of the street. I suspect this was Brown’s idea. This is Brown’s second provocation.

A police car pulls up beside them and the cop says: “Get the f*&k on the sidewalk.”

I bet at this point, Johnson takes one or two steps toward the sidewalk. Maybe even he says: “C’mon Michael, let’s move over”. But Brown doesn’t move. This is Brown’s third provocation.

The pair are still in the middle of the road when the cop, who had driven by, suddenly reverses and swerves backward so that his car is perpendicular to the road and his door bumps into Brown.

The cop tries to open the door, but Brown won’t let it open. This is Brown’s fourth provocation.

The cop then grabs Brown by the throat and tries to pull him into the police car through the driver window.

At this point, I tend to believe the suggestions of the cops that Brown probably punched the cop in the face — but only to get the latter to stop choking him. This is Brown’s fifth and final provocation.

At this point, the incensed cop pulls out his gun and shoots Brown for the first time.

Brown breaks free and runs. The cop gets out of his car and chases Brown, shooting recklessly.

One of the shots strikes Brown. At this point, it seems that Brown has had enough of his provocations. He’s ready to start the thug life.

Brown turns around to face the cop with his hands up and begins dropping to his knees.

At this point, if the cop simply did his job, Brown would merely have become part of the invisible statistics about young black men with a felony record. And we never would have heard about Ferguson, MO.

But at that moment, the cop didn’t do his job. Instead, he kept firing at Brown and murdered the kid.

2. Darren Wilson. At the time of the shooting, Wilson is a 28-year-old 6-year veteran of the Ferguson police force. He had no violations on his record.

At the time Wilson drives up to Brown and Johnson who are walking in the middle of the street, he does not know that they are even suspected of robbing the convenience store let alone that they did it. He just knows that two young black guys are walking in the middle of the street.

So he speaks to the pair as if they are sub-human.

Looking in his rearview mirror, he sees that his command has been disobeyed. Likely angry now, he reverses and aggressively bumps his car into Brown.

When Brown won’t back away as he tries to open his door, Johnson reports that Wilson became obviously incensed.

Getting punched in the face probably made him apoplectic. This explains the first shot.

It also explains and justifies the second shot.

But every shot he pumped into the surrendering Brown from the third shot on was murder.

It should be second degree murder, I would think. Seems clearly a crime of passion.

But when the coming trial of Wilson is moved out of Ferguson to a white suburb with a white jury … well, we’ve all seen the movie before.

3. Upshot. Two troubled people — a black kid with a promising future who was just not ready to accept it in the New Jim Crow era, a white cop deeply complicit in the New Jim Crow era — tragically met last week and opened yet another fissure in the false calm of America.

This is yet another step on the road to what I write about in the previous post.

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