“And then after he did that, he looked up at me and had the most intense aggressive face. The only way I can describe it, it looks like a demon, that’s how angry he looked.” This is how Officer Darren Wilson described Michael Brown in the moments before Wilson killed the unarmed Brown. According to Wilson, Brown wasn’t angry, infuriated or even enraged – because for Wilson, Brown wasn’t even human. Notice that Brown’s face isn’t even his (Brown’s) face; Wilson calls Brown’s face an “it.” (Found on pp’s 224 — 225 of Wilson’s testimony.) Brown was a demon, he was a black devil. And because Brown was a black devil, it required nothing more than Wilson feeling he was threatened for the threat to have the legal standing of an objective fact.
It is unclear whether Wilson’s description really was his own words, or whether he was coached into using terms whose overtly racist character would be lost on the members of the Grand Jury. But that his terminology was patently and overtly racist is a fact that is altogether beyond even the abstract possibility of reasoned dispute. This gesture of dehumanization is not accidental, even if it was (in some sense) mostly unconscious. The symbols and assumptions of racism are so deeply embedded, and thoroughly institutionalized in our culture, that a white police officer can deny the very possibility of humanity to a black teenager, and no one even blinks at it, much less raises an objection.
There are many deeply problematic issues with the Ferguson grand jury and how it was managed by assistant DA McCulloch. The most salient red flag for the non-legal expert is the fact that grand juries fail to indict in only the most vanishingly rare of instances. Greater detail from actual legal experts can easily be found on the web with even the most casual of searches. So rather than dwell on issues specific to this grand jury, I want to turn my attention back to Wilson’s demonization of Brown, and what it takes to stipulate the legal reality of a mortal threat. The emphasis to be drawn here is the difference between a legal criterion, and a logical one, the latter of which alone can actually go some ways toward establishing such a threat as an objective reality. Legal “criteria” are more arbitrary than lightning strikes (lightning is at least governed by the laws of physics.) Indiana once passed a law stipulating that the number pi was equal to four. Absurdities of legality can be multiplied without bound. One might even mention that it was once the law of this land that African-Americans were chattel property who bequeathed to their owners and their owners’ states 3/5 of an extra vote (in which they had no voice) when it came to populating the lower chamber of the United States Congress. So if I am uncharitable toward mere “legalities” here, it is with good reason.
That said, the point to be made is a fairly simple one that has already been made above, but deserves to be repeated and emphasized: The only thing Darren Wilson had to do to establish the legal reality of a mortal threat was to insist that he felt his life was in danger.
None of the forensics – neither the physical evidence nor the eyewitness testimony (other than his own) – could be used to justify such a claim. But Wilson’s claim was sufficient. After all, Brown “looked like a demon” — IT looked like a demon. Wilson – the poor helpless police officer, wearing body armor, carrying a combat baton, pepper spray,
taser, (correction — according to Wilson’s testimony, beginning on page 206 of the relevant document, he did not have a taser) 9mm semi-auto, with the full force of the entire Ferguson police department at his immediate beck and call – was facing a black devil, and could therefore justify his immediate exercise of deadly force because he felt his life was endangered.
Notice the pattern that has emerged here: George Zimmerman felt his life was threatened (because he was getting slapped around by the unarmed black kid he’d been stalking) and so he killed Trayvon Martin. But getting your ass kicked is not equivalent to mortal danger in pretty nearly any possible world you can think of.
Unless, of course, you are white and the person slapping you around is black.
By this time, most everyone has seen the actual pictures of Darren Wilson (NOT the fraudulent twaddle fabricated by various extremist groups, mind you) after his encounter with Michael Brown. It is quite evident that Brown did hit Wilson a couple of times. The time when the pictures of Wilson were taken were too soon after the event for significant bruising to develop. But even so, it transcends comprehension how anyone could be persuaded that such inconsequential taps could be legitimately construed as evidence – real, objective, evidence, mind you – of a mortal threat.
My first thought on seeing those pictures – and obviously such thoughts/impressions carry no probative weight – was that I hit harder than that, and I hit like a girl. And not one of those full-contact, crush cinder-blocks, Ultimate Fighter girls; but the plastic tea-set, I-want-to-be-a-princess kind. If I got my ass kicked and had nothing better to show for it than what Wilson displayed in his photos, I’d never admit to the fact. Yet this is the only physical &/or objective evidence that Wilson faced any threat at all. Wilson, who was wearing body armor, carried a combat baton, pepper spray,
a taser, a 9mm semi-auto pistol; who had the full force of the entire Ferguson police department at his immediate beck and call, who claims Brown tossed him around like a five year old facing Hulk Hogan, and who never-the-less chose to pursue Brown on foot, without backup, and then kill Brown a few seconds later.
Because he felt his life was in danger from the “Black Devil” (who had just slapped him around a bit in his own car.) The last, parenthetical remark is prejudicially rhetorical. It is, of course, also true.
“Feeling” threatened is not a universal, “get out of jail free” card, but it provides an enormous amount of leverage toward such freedom. What is most noticeable about that leverage is that it generally only works against the Black Devils. (See this article for more details.)
Which brings me to my ultimate point: appealing to emotion (“I felt X”) as anything beyond a statement of one’s personal, phenomenological experience is a blatant logical fallacy. It is known as the argumentum a misericordiam, and the fact that it has a Latin name tells you that people have recognized it as a fallacy for well over a thousand years.
And yet THIS bit of twaddle is commonly thrown out as justification for slaughtering another human being. Admittedly it does not always work, even when the object of that feeling is a “Black Devil” (see the article cited above.) But it frequently works, it works far more frequently when the person feeling threatened is white, and they feel that threat from some “Black Devil” whom they can only see as looking like “a demon.” If there was even the littlest show of anything other than utter, abject submission from the “demon,” then the white person’s “feeling” is almost always sufficient to justify deadly force.
But “feeling” is not a reason, any more than flatulence is a reason. It is a subjective fact – a “fact” just and only so far. “Feeling” threatened is no more indicative of objective mortal danger than breaking wind is a counter example to Einstein’s general theory of relativity. If the latter example strikes you as grotesquely irrelevant, then you should consider the fact that it is no less irrelevant than the unbridled “feeling” of “threat” that white people so automatically justify when confronted with “Black Devils.”
Ask yourself, then, why the “Black Devils” excuse passes examination so easily when deadly force is promiscuously applied within the warm, comforting blanket of institutionalized, unspoken, white entitlement.
Gary Herstein said:
“One aspect of the willful racial blindness often called “white privilege” is the collective insistence that an event like the Brown shooting must be considered on its own in some Platonic void, as an isolated forensic and legalistic question unconnected to any larger historical pattern or to issues of race, culture and power.”
Gary Herstein said:
Adam Kotsko has some remarks on the history of demonization and demonic language here: http://itself.wordpress.com/2014/11/26/on-demonization/
Pingback: HERSTEIN’s FIRST LAW | The Quantum of Explanation
Pingback: Until It Bleeds – Until It Burns | The Quantum of Explanation
Pingback: The Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King | THE QUANTUM of EXPLANATION
Pingback: The Year of The Plague 6: Only The Lonely | THE QUANTUM of EXPLANATION