Shifting Excuses in Ferguson

Fox News is running a story saying that Darren Wilson, the policeman said to have shot Michael Brown, was seriously injured by Brown during their encounter. He “suffered severe facial injuries, including an orbital (eye socket) fracture, and was nearly beaten unconscious by Brown moments before firing his gun, a source close to the department’s top brass told,” the story says.

Just this morning the story was that Brown was approaching Wilson in a threatening manner, and Wilson fired when Brown was six or seven feet away. This is starting to remind me of the Zimmerman defense; every few hours some unnamed source dribbled out a  new version of what happened, or new details to make Zimmerman look better and Trayvon Martin look worse. And it worked for Zimmerman.

All kinds of things could have happened in Ferguson. Whatever the facts are, I hope there is an honest investigation, and I sincerely hope Officer Wilson gets a chance to present his version of events to the public, if not to a court. But this business of dribbling out details from unnamed sources to support the side of authorities is too obviously intended to cover everyone’s ass.

The article from this morning said the officer’s case could turn on whether he had reason to believe that Brown –  six or seven feet away when he was shot — was moving toward him in a threatening manner. Gee, it’s a shame law enforcement doesn’t have any way to incapacitate threatening but unarmed people except to shoot them multiple times and kill them. (/sarcasm)

Charles Johnson points out that among all the conflicting reports, there is testimony from both police and eyewitnesses that the first shot was fired as Wilson and another man were running away. Then it seems Brown turned around and walked back toward Wilson, either with his hands raised or in a threatening manner depending on who you ask. One of he several shots that penetrated Michael Brown entered at the top of his skull, news stories have said. Was he already falling? And somehow moments before the shooting Brown beat Officer Wilson nearly unconscious. Right.

Lawnorder Ain’t What It Was

To most folks these days “Law and Order” was a television series featuring Sam Waterston as the irascible Jack McCoy and Jerry Orbach as the scruffy but lovable Detective Lennie Briscoe, plus a lot of other great actors and their characters. The spinoffs never quite came up to the level of the original, IMO.

But before that “lawnorder” was a common buzzword, particularly during the Nixon Administration, that excused police brutality toward racial minorities and “hippies.”  Crime was a great wedge issue for conservatives for a few decades, because liberals — with their confounded ideas about civil rights and fair trials — were seen to be “soft on crime.” And make no mistake, the word “crime” was very racially tinged in the minds of white Americans. Popular entertainment reflected the desire to throw out the rule books at meet the threat of thuggish criminals with more thuggishness. You could find this expressed in everything from Dick Tracy comic strips to Dirty Harry movies. Charles Bronson also became known for acting out common vigilante fantasies on the big screen. And even as recently as the 1990s many New Yorkers talked about “Giuliani time”as if it were a good thing.

Today the Washington Post is running an opinion piece titled I’m a cop. If you don’t want to get hurt, don’t challenge me. And boy howdy, the comments are ripping this guy to shreds. Thousands of comments. Granted, the article itself is not as provocative as the headline. But I sincerely think that if it were, say, 1970, most of the comments would be “Yes, of course. Thank you, officer.”

Things didn’t change over night, but between 1970 and now, something has changed. Whether it’s us or the cops, I’m not sure. Maybe because there was no Internet in 1970, and most of us never heard of police dumping paralyzed people out of wheelchairs (seriously; google “police dump man out of wheelchair”; it’s a regular genre).

Hard core conservatives still make excuses for police brutality even as they wave their flags for “liberty.” So not everyone is keeping up. In Ferguson, the “authorities” are playing their usual game of selectively dribbling out information to make the shooting of Michael Brown appear justified. But it seems to me there is not so much widespread acceptance of the official narrative as would have been true even two decades ago.