Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.
Incompetence and malevolence can be difficult to tell apart. Acts of violence are the fulcrum where they intersect and pivot around each other, for if violence is the last refuge of the incompetent, it is the chief goal of the malevolent. From different vantage points one can look very much like the other.
Take for instance a police officer who stops a young man in the street. Their encounter is very brief, yet the officer for some reason draws his service weapon and fires. And fires. And fires and fires.
And the young man dies.
Objectively, there is no reason why Michael Brown should not have survived his August 9 encounter with Officer Darren Wilson of the Ferguson, MO Police Department. He was an unarmed, 18-year-old kid who was 2 days away from starting college. Wilson was a 6-year police veteran with all the training and experience that entails, not to mention ready access to the array of lethal and less-lethal weaponry that all cops have at their disposal.
But Officer Darren Wilson killed Michael Brown. In the most charitable point of view, it looks like he found himself losing control of the situation, and despite all his training and experience he saw no other choice than to retreat immediately to his last refuge. But from a different viewpoint it looks more like he deliberately drew his gun instead of his taser (or instead of de-escalating completely and letting Michael walk away) and shot Michael Brown dead, firm in the belief that the world would not care about another dead black man in the street, and secure in the knowledge that his fellow officers would close ranks and shield him from the consequences if that belief proved unfounded.
It turns out that belief was unfounded, but luckily Officer Wilson’s chief had his back and was able to give him almost an entire week to settle his affairs and leave town before the world-at-large even knew his name. Whatever else he may be, Officer Wilson was competent enough to notice which way the wind was blowing and get the hell out of Dodge. He has been conspicuously absent ever since. His neighbors don’t expect that he’ll be back.
The question of incompetence or malevolence does not end with Darren Wilson, however, but extends to every action the Ferguson Police Department has made since the shooting.
- Why did Michael Brown’s body lie bleeding in the street for four hours? Did nobody think to call for an ambulance? Or was he just another dead nigger, so who cares?
- Why, when the authorities eventually deigned to retrieve his body, was Michael Brown carried away in the back of an SUV? Was being properly loaded onto a gurney in an ambulance too good for him?
- Why was a complete incident report of the shooting not immediately filed at the Ferguson Police Department? Why were the eye-witnesses to the event not immediately interviewed? Are there not strict procedures that must be followed whenever regrettable incidents like this occur? Or was Officer Wilson unofficially given some breathing room to come up with a likely story?
- Why, when it became clear that the residents of Ferguson intended to peacefully protest in the streets, was the police response to roll out the armored vehicles, the snipers, and the masked storm troopers? Are rubber bullets and tear gas really the best way to disperse a peaceful gathering? Mightn’t they be considered somewhat antagonistic, antithetical to defusing a tense situation? Or was that the intention all along?
- And why, when Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson finally called a press conference on Friday, August 15 to disclose Officer Wilson’s name, did he spend so little time discussing Officer Wilson and his actions, and so much time discussing Michael Brown and a shoplifting incident that had not even been reported? Is Chief Jackson really so unaware of how badly that press conference was perceived by people who still have no answers to any of the questions that matter? Or was he deliberately blaming Michael Brown for his own death, and poisoning the pool for a neutral jury should the case ever go to trial?
The questions even extend beyond the Ferguson Police Department to the St. Louis county prosecuting attorney’s office. Why has Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch not expressed any interest in determining whether it might be appropriate to bring charges against Office Wilson? Is it because he is blatantly and shamelessly already in the Ferguson Police Department’s corner, and willing to ignore any wrongdoing by his heroic law enforcement officers in the name of being tough on crime?
Is everyone involved in this travesty really this incompetent? Or has this horrible episode merely uncovered for the rest of us what the minority citizens of this country have always known: that black flesh is suffered to live only at the whim of its white overseers, that violent death may be only three minutes away, and that relief for the survivors will be denied as a matter of course.
Meanwhile, Michael Brown’s blood cries out from the ground for justice. We who stand by and do not act are complicit in his murder, and the murders of those who will surely follow him.
If you do nothing else, please sign Shaun King’s petition to enact police reform at the federal level.