And I think it is this. There’s a reason I have decided to try to stop commenting on politics and current events on this blog. It’s because I no longer want to be a part of the narrative-driven, agenda-driven, ideology-driven approach to the controversies of today that ignores inconvenient facts, distorts reality, and relies on a mainstream media and social media monster that is incapable of accurate reporting.
I’ve been a liberal all my life. I have generally sided with those who cry foul at police tactics, particularly those directed at African-Americans and other minorities. I’m a fundamental believer in the idea that there are a lot of African-Americans who have experienced horrible treatment at the hands of law enforcement in this country. I can’t even begin to imagine how those experiences can affect their reality and create mistrust for law enforcement.
My problem, though, is that to me the appropriate response to that is to do everything one possibly can to not give them a reason to bring the hammer down on you. The last three times I’ve been pulled over by a cop, it’s been because the cop made a mistake. The first time it was because the cop incorrectly entered my license plate number and his computer told him the plate didn’t match the model of car I was driving. The second time it was because … well, the simplest way to say this is because he was having a bad day. And the third was because the cop apparently didn’t bother checking for the three different decals I have on my car that indicate I can drive in the carpool lane because I drive an electric vehicle.
All three of those situations ended as they were supposed to, although I will never forgive the cop in the second situation for what he put me through. In addition, I realize that I’m a middle class white male that generally presents well, so I don’t start with two strikes against me as many African-Americans probably feel they do. I also realize that there are a very few cops who are so vile that they will treat poorly an African-American no matter how respectful the African-American acts. That said, I’m pretty sure that if in any of those three situations, if when I was pulled over, I stormed out of my car and started screaming at the cop “What the F*$%* are you doing? I’ve done nothing wrong!” and generally acting like a belligerent fool, all three of those circumstances would have probably ended differently. Don’t you think?
Which leads me to Michael Brown. First, let me say this to make it abundantly clear. He should not have been killed. He should not have died that day. The police officer, I believe, over-reacted. But, the reality is, based on all of the evidence that has come out and been presented, Michael Brown was not innocent in all of this. There’s a very real chance he was leaving the scene of a crime he had committed. I think it’s pretty clear he mouthed off to the cop and very possibly engaged physically with him. Brown’s friend’s own testimony is that they did not comply with the cop’s request that they get out of the middle of the street. Why? Why is it necessary to ignore a reasonable request of a law enforcement officer? Why is it that they believe they have the right to walk down the middle of a two-lane road that doesn’t have a median? All it took for this not to have happened was for Brown and his friend to walk on the side of the road like most people would. But they didn’t. And chaos ensued. Again, this doesn’t mean he deserved to die. This doesn’t mean the cop had a right to shoot him to death. But why couldn’t they just get out of the middle of the road?
And ultimately, the biggest part of this, is that it is simply impossible for any of us sitting on the sidelines to really know what happened. To really know enough to appropriately establish fault and responsibility. And the media and bloggers and pundits have done a horrible job of making it any easier. Everybody has a pre-conceived notion. If you tend to believe cops are racist pigs just looking for a reason to shoot a black kid … Brown was a saint and Wilson antagonized him and shot him without cause. If you believe black teenage males are thugs and cops are always right … Brown was a criminal and tried to beat Wilson up, giving Wilson no choice but to shoot. And regardless of which side you are on, you ignore any facts that are inconvenient to your argument.
Which really comes into play on the next controversial police shooting. Eric Garner. Unlike with Brown, there is video. Which to those who want the narrative to be about racist cops say shows that Garner did nothing wrong and he was dragged to the ground in a chokehold and treated like a piece of meat. What’s interesting is that even a lot of pro-law enforcement people on the right have expressed outrage or at least concern about this one. What’s interesting is that all seem to be missing a fundamental point. Garner resisted arrest. One can quibble over whether the cops were right to question him. Although I wouldn’t since apparently a shop owner called to complain that he was selling cigarettes in violation of the law. Let me ask you this … if you call the cops with a complaint and they don’t show up or respond, do you think they did their jobs or didn’t do their jobs?
So, the cops were obligated to check him out and what the video shows me is that he was having none of it. He wasn’t cooperating with their questions and when they finally gave up and moved to arrest him, he resisted their attempts to arrest him. It absolutely amazes me that those I generally agree with, like Andrew Sullivan and many others on the left, completely ignore this and instead claim that he did nothing wrong. No. This just isn’t true. Watch the video.
And, again, I have to say this. I don’t believe any of this justifies his death. Justifies the cops putting him in a chokehold (I mean, come on, there were about five or six of them and only one of him). Justifies them treating him like a piece of meat once he was down and the absolute lack of any concern for his condition while they waited for an ambulance to arrive. But … one can quibble over whether what he was doing on the street corner that day was so wrong? One can quibble with whether there should be a law that outlaws what he was alleged to have been doing? One can quibble with a lot of things about what the cops were doing, but the simple reality is that what everybody seems to want to ignore is that he refused to cooperate with the police and ultimately tried to resist their attempts to arrest him.
But everybody has their beliefs about what happened, driven almost entirely by what they want to believe, rather than objectively looking at what actually may have happened. Cops are pigs, they are racist. Ignore what Garner was actually doing. He died. Nothing can justify that. On some level that’s true. But, the reality is that his behavior justified the cops’ efforts to restrain and subdue him.
[Edited to Add: I think it’s rather simple actually. If you don’t want a cop to do something that might end in your death … don’t give them a reason to.]
The larger problem though is people’s willingness to rely on today’s media to reach conclusions so quickly and blindly about these types of events. This week has provided a beautiful example of this. On November 19, Rolling Stone published a lengthy article about a young woman who claimed to have been viciously gang raped in a fraternity house at the University of Virginia. She also claimed that when she finally brought the incident to the attention of university officials, their response was less than supportive.
The reaction was immediate. UVA immediately suspended all fraternity activities on their campus — not just for the fraternity where this allegedly happened, but all campus fraternities. So, let me stop here and provide full disclosure. I was never in a fraternity. I hope neither of my boys ever joins a fraternity. My bias about fraternities is that they are nothing but places where college students drink copious amounts of alcohol, engage in dangerous hazing rituals, treat women like fourth class citizens, and generally do everything they can to prove true all of the worst stereotypes of the American male species. So, I am tailor-made for this kine of story and reaction.
Only the problem is … well, turns out there are a whole lot of reasons to have questioned the young woman’s story and the journalist who wrote the piece didn’t engage in any of the standard things most journalists (particularly those who don’t have an agenda, which I think was the problem here — both the “victim” and the reporter had an agenda they wanted to pursue and it had nothing to do with truth) do to ensure the accuracy of their reporting. Yes, that link is to the Rolling Stone, the publisher of the piece, now distancing itself from its own published article.
But, you know what happened in the two and a half weeks since the article appeared. Everybody jumped to conclusions. Everybody reached conclusions. Reputations were ruined. Charges leveled. All sorts of things happened. And all of it was based on something that apparently and probably didn’t happen the way it was reported. (Disclosure: I wouldn’t be surprised if something happened to “Jackie” that night, but I believe there is a whole lot of fiction that showed up in the Rolling Stone piece.)
And, this is why I am trying to fulfill a commitment to myself to try to remove myself from the dynamic of politics and cultural events and these kinds of controversies and remove them from what I share on this blog. It’s a no-win situation. It’s impossible to know what really happened in any of these circumstances and I’m tired of rendering judgments based on the reporting of a news industry that is failing at its job and on pundits who aren’t interested in the truth but are instead interested in their agenda.