Wednesday, August 20, 2014


I'm having trouble writing about Ferguson and the death by cop of Michael Brown, an unarmed young black man who was jaywalking. I am having trouble immersing myself in the details enough to write about them, because the whole thing is so distressing and commonplace that I can't even take it all in. At this moment, Ferguson, Missouri is burning, and journalists have been told at police gunpoint to stay behind a taped off area. There are tanks in the street and more people have been shot, at least one of them killed, and dogs and tear gas have been unleashed. The whole thing is a tinder box that has blown the fuck up.

I'm incensed that CNN reported this morning that Darren Wilson, the white cop who shot the black kid, is said to be "a good guy" by his friends, meanwhile the Ferguson police force is trying to paint the victim as a career criminal who might have reached across a grocery store counter and took something. The store video's not really clear and it's irrelevant anyway. The cop didn't know anything about that when he pumped six bullets into 18-year-old Michael Brown, two in the head, as the kid stood with his hands in the air begging him not to shoot, according to witnesses. The kid was two days away from starting college. I'm sure his friends thought he was "a good guy," too.

Check out this piece from Huffpo comparing how news headlines describe white killers compared to black victims. Here's an example:

What are they really saying? That unarmed Trayvon Martin deserved to be shot and killed while walking home from the store because he'd been suspended three times from school? And here's another more recent example:

The black man in the second headline, by the way, was a shopper in a Beavercreek, Ohio Wal-Mart who was holding a BB gun on sale by the store. John Crawford III had taken the air rifle from the shelf when he was accosted by police and fatally shot. Despite rallies calling for the release of the store video, police have refused to allow it to be viewed.

I'll leave you with this quote from James Baldwin because he manages to say everything there is to be said today even though he wrote these words decades ago. Has so little changed?

“It began to seem that one would have to hold in the mind forever two ideas which seemed to be in opposition. The first idea was acceptance, the acceptance, totally without rancor, of life as it is, and men as they are: in the light of this idea, it goes without saying that injustice is a commonplace. But this did not mean that one could be complacent, for the second idea was of equal power: that one must never, in one's own life, accept these injustices as commonplace but must fight them with all one's strength. This fight begins, however, in the heart and it now had been laid to my charge to keep my own heart free of hatred and despair. This intimation made my heart heavy...”

—James Baldwin, Notes of a Native Son


  1. One step forward, ten million steps back.

  2. Beautifully written.

  3. As with all your posts on the discrimination that continues I just feel sad and overwhelmed. I want to shake the people who happen to have the same skin pigment as mine. Most of all I want to say sorry that you have to live in a world that is so fucked up.

  4. the epitome of distressing and commonplace. I am just tired of this happening.

  5. Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. Thank you.

    I've posted much of this on Facebook - if we were Facebook friends we could just repost each other. :)

  6. My heart is very heavy. Some years ago, a young man I knew was shot in L.A. and the headline in the paper was very much like these examples. I have never, ever taken a news story at face value since then. Thank you for this post.

  7. I am ashamed...and Denise is right...One cannot take anything at face value...

  8. I wish so badly that it was not this way.

  9. The situation in Ferguson is so terrible. The police have a lot to answer for, and I completely understand the anger.

    I'm wondering about the comparison of news headlines, though. I think to be valuable a more systematic, comprehensive comparison would have to be made. I could probably also find headlines praising a black victim and casting suspicion on a white one. I do not doubt that there are racial disparities in how journalists cover crime -- and CERTAINLY in the ways police and the justice system treat black and white suspects. But selecting individual headlines from different publications about different events for side-by-side comparison seems a bit specious. I'd like to see a wider survey.

    1. Steve, you're right of course. This is hardly a scientific sample. I suppose I'm less skeptical about it because it suggests a trend that I have personally noticed for years. It feels like an overarching truth to me but that is only my personal sense as a journalist who has followed these sorts of cases quite obsessively, but you're completely right that these few headlines prove nothing. Nor is it even apples to apples. And yet it seems to me to speak to some unconscious bias in the way these sorts of tragedies are covered and received. Maybe if I were in journalism school today I'd undertake a more comprehensive study, interviewing psychologists and social scientists and everyone. But yes, I hear you. This is all merely anecdotal here.

    2. It seems the same to me, with or without a study. how many unarmed young white men have been killed by the police this month? I have a count of 4 young unarmed black men being killed by the police in August 2014. If any of the police have been arrested, please someone let me know.

  10. Your thoughts are mine on this, and you've managed to say what I can't seem to utter without shaking. So upsetting. I hadn't heard of the Beavercreek atrocity -- and I grew up mere miles from that WalMart. Unfortunately it doesn't suprise me -- my best friend had a pipe bomb put into his locker at Beavercreek HS (some boys objected to his being openly gay, so a pipe bomb was their reaction to his openess - luckily it didn't work in blasting him away). Beavercreek is a troubled place in many ways.

    I just read a really thought-provoking piece called "Decolonization is Not a Metaphor" by Eve Tuck and K Yang. It has me thinking, and knowing that we all need to do more than think on this - we need to move. Here's the link to the abstract if you're interested:


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