The Ferguson powder keg

“Tensions are rising in Ferguson as new details about the fatal shooting of Michael Brown emerge,” reports CBS News in St. Louis.  That would seem odd to the proverbial man from Mars, hopping out of his flying saucer and getting up to speed on the crisis, because the new details reveal that what they were protesting over didn’t happen.  Rejoice, good people of Ferguson!  Michael Brown was not a “gentle giant” executed on the street by a racist white cop for no reason.


The New York Times reported Friday evening that Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson told authorities that Michael Brown reached for the gun during a scuffle. The officer’s account to authorities did not explain why he fired at Brown multiple times after emerging from his vehicle, according to the newspaper.

The Times reported that the account of Wilson’s version of events came from government officials briefed on the federal civil rights investigation into the Aug. 9 shooting that sparked racial unrest and weeks of protests, some of which turned violent. Wilson is white and Brown black.

The respective skin colors of Wilson and Brown are just about the only details of this story that was related accurately.  Wilson’s account of Brown making a play for his gun is not new.  The forensic evidence showing that Brown did not make the famed “hands up, don’t shoot” gesture is not new.  What’s new is that the grand jury is considering all the evidence and drawing close to the day when it must decide whether or not to indict Wilson.  That’s what has the Ferguson Mob upset.

Following The Times report, two protesters were arrested Monday by the St. Louis County Police, including Missouri State Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, while protesting outside the Ferguson Police Department.

KMOV-TV reports Nasheed had a gun on her at the time of her arrest.

As the fate of Wilson lies in the hand of a grand jury, people are beginning to worry what might happen next.

“Everybody is planning for whatever the grand jury decides,” Amy Hunter, YWCA’s racial justice director, told CNN. “Certainly there are lots of us that are planning peaceful protests should it not be indicted. Certainly there are other people that have other ideas at hand.”

One protester warned to CNN about what would happen if Wilson is set free.

“If there is not an indictment, excuse my French, all hell is going to break loose,” the protester revealed.


This is what I meant when I wrote about the facts of the case getting swept away in the tides of Narrative back in August.  Almost immediately, the Narrative became much larger than what Darren Wilson and Michael Brown did, or did not do, during their fateful encounter.  Although this particular CBS report doesn’t mention it, another little tidbit emerging over the last few days is that “more than a half-dozen unnamed black witnesses have provided testimony to a St. Louis grand jury that largely supports Wilson’s account of the events of Aug. 9,” as reported by the Washington Post.  Much later in the same article, the Post mentions that these witnesses have not “spoken publicly out of fear for their safety.”

In other words, the people who knew the “hands up, don’t shoot” thing was a fabrication were afraid for their lives, intimidated into silence by the Ferguson Mob.  Nothing personal, you understand.  Just business.  Business for opportunistic race baiters, out-of-town agitators, and the Brown family attorney, Benjamin J. Crump, who in a sane world would be worried about losing his law license right about now.  Here he is, throwing gasoline on the fire in that CBS News report:

Benjamin Crump, the attorney for Brown’s parents, told The Associated Press on Saturday that the officer’s account of what happened was “self-serving.”

“The officer is going to say whatever he has to say to try to justify killing an unarmed teenager,” Crump said. “And certainly, his statement should not be taken above independent eye witnesses who are completely unbiased when he has every reason to be biased.”

Crump also said that because there were reports that Michael Brown was shot while he ran away, it “doesn’t matter” what happened in the car beforehand.

“He was definitely not in fear of threat when Michael Brown was running away from him,” Crump said.


The unbiased eyewitnesses who support Wilson’s account were intimidated into silence.  One of the primary “unbiased witnesses” who got the whole “hands up, don’t shoot” ball rolling was Michael Brown’s friend, who had moments ago watch Brown pull off a strongarm robbery in a liquor store.  The idea that none of the other people Crump mentioned are without incentives to misrepresent the incident is laughable.  A lot of people in Ferguson evidently love the idea of teaching the cops a lesson.  They see the Brown incident as a vehicle for expressing whatever grievances they were nursing.  That vehicle becomes no less useful when it turns out to lack an engine of truth.  There are plenty of professional grievance-mongers and ideologues ready to push things along, not to mention a media that loves covering something as dramatic as the Ferguson riots, past and future.  The truth is boring, and doesn’t photograph nearly as well.

Mob rule is also intoxicating.  It’s an expression of power, which is very appealing to people who have been taught to think of themselves as powerless victims of a corrupt system.  A Ferguson fizzle would be a hundred times worse than the curious deflation of expectations that comes when a hurricane changes course, and the people who boarded up their windows are left with nothing but a bit of rain and a stiff breeze.  Sure, they didn’t want the hurricane to hit… those things are terrifying… but they find themselves coping with an undeniable sense of letdown as their minds ratchet back from red-alert status.

CNN has some quotes from Ferguson residents that make it clear their Narrative is far more important to them than the facts, and if Wilson is not indicted, they plan to make trouble:


Many in Ferguson don’t care about reports that a scuffle preceded the shooting and that Brown may have reached for Wilson’s gun.

The only facts that matter, they say, is that Wilson shot perhaps as many as 11 times, hitting Brown six times above the waist. The fatal shots came as he stood roughly 30 feet away from Wilson’s police cruiser, and, according to some witnesses, with his hands up in surrender.

It’s an unnecessary use of force, say many residents who feel Wilson aimed to kill, not arrest, Brown.

Marquita Rogers, a 27-year-old mother of two who lives a few blocks from the Canfield Green subdivision where Brown died, said in August, when the protests were at their ugliest, that she didn’t care what Brown did before encountering Wilson.

“Jaywalking? Smarting off? Stealing cigars? Running? You’re not supposed to die for that,” she said.

Her neighbors, Arvid Wilkerson, 22, and Patricia Pendelton, also predicted during August interviews — days after a grand jury started hearing evidence in the case and the Justice Department announced an independent investigation — that the turmoil in Ferguson would only worsen if Wilson wasn’t indicted.

“If this police officer don’t get no kind of charge,” said Pendelton, 41, a nurse, shaking her head, “they think it’s chaos now?”

And if the police officer got charges he beat in court, would you be any happier?  Of course not.  The Ferguson powder keg has been packed and fused by experts.  There’s no political, financial, or emotional payoff for them without a detonation, so there will most likely be one.  Too many bets have been doubled, and doubled again.  It no longer matters what cards everyone is holding.


It is widely thought the grand jury leaks, along with DOJ’s hemming and hawing about federal charges, is an attempt to de-escalate tensions by preparing the Ferguson Mob for disappointment.  It’s probably not going to work – in fact, they seem savvy enough to realize they’re being handled, and they don’t like it.  Those who think the Ferguson powder keg can be defused are also underestimating how important the Gentle Giant Narrative has become – how many other issues have been plugged into it, like strands of Christmas lights connected to an overloaded electric socket.  Another quote from CNN:

Amy Hunter lives in St. Louis and is the director of racial justice at YWCA Metro St. Louis. She has been taking part in the protests and notes it’s a young people’s movement and that Brown was the unfortunate catalyst in a “seminal moment for change.”

She remains concerned, however, about what might happen in this St. Louis suburb of 21,000 if the grand jury decides not to indict Wilson.

“I think we are all worried,” she said. “As a mother of three sons and a daughter, I also worry that if we don’t end this that I will be sharing a fate just like Michael Brown’s mom.”

That sense of identification is what makes this narrative tide so powerful.  It’s also horribly counter-productive.  Worrying about the threats that don’t exist makes you vulnerable to the threats that do.  This is why conservatives have sought to emphasize the statistics for what actually causes the premature death of so many young black men.  A “seminal moment for change” is not an opportunity, but a curse, when it’s based on false premises.  At the very least, what a community changes into under those circumstances will not solve its problems, and could make them a great deal worse.  In a few years, the people of the community angrily wonder why their lives aren’t improving… and the same pack of hucksters and grifters is ready to sell them the same old false narrative.


One more quote from protester Osagyefo Uhuru Sekou, who CNN describes as “a Boston-based author and pastor who grew up in St. Louis,” and has gotten himself arrested twice in Ferguson:

“The only words that would have mattered, that could have possibly began the process of some symbol of justice, is the creation of a special prosecutor or the announcement of the indictment of Darren Wilson,” he said.

He also has his doubts about assertions that the case is traversing the justice system and that citizens should have faith as it runs its course.

“This justice system?” Sekou asked. “Which has a wonderful set of facts to support the way it has engaged police who have taken black lives? This justice system?”

The rule of law exists precisely because the passions of an angry mob cannot be allowed to dictate the terms of justice.  That means you don’t get indictments just because you really, really want them, or because you’re super-angry about things other police officers have done.  It’s frustrating, but then, civilization has always been hard work.  It’s hard work for the authorities, too, and they certainly do get things wrong sometimes.  But even leaving the question of Darren Wilson’s legal rights aside, in what way could focusing on the wrong person possibly help correct actual problems?  There are people who seem to fervently believe that does work – that as long as someone’s head rolls, and the mob gets to demonstrate its power to cowed authorities, things will get better.  It’s a very old delusion that has tempted people far beyond the borders of Missouri.



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