Nick Kristof writes on his Twitter feed:
Activists perhaps should have focused less on Michael Brown, more on shooting of 12-yr-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland http://nyti.ms/1CHROG7
This is the kind of sensible, pragmatic advice that journalists like Kristof, safely ensconced in their opinion pages, are in the habit of handing out to unhinged radicals everywhere: pick your battles, choose wisely, activist resources and public attention are scarce, and on and on. (My guess is that Kristof also finds the activists’ rhetoric ‘incendiary and counterproductive.’)
Except that this advice is vacuous and misguided, and shows a severe lack of political nous.
The reason Kristof offers this second-guessing of activist strategies is because he has internalized some irrelevancies pertaining to the Michael Brown case. To wit: Brown was a ‘hulking young man’, a shoplifter who smoked marijuana and scuffled with a policeman. None of these factors remotely mitigates his shooting in cold-blood by a police officer whose actions that day and afterward suggest if not outright racism, then at least spectacular incompetence. Furthermore, the Michael Brown protests might have started out as protesting a young man’s senseless death, but they very quickly turned into a much larger statement against police brutality. It would have been politically dumb of those who resist police brutality and heavy-handedness to not make a visible statement against the excessive, ongoing militarization of the police that was visible, day after day, night after night, on Ferguson’s streets. And then later, after the grand jury’s scandalous acquittal of Darren Wilson, after a process that has now been shown to be irredeemably flawed and corrupt, protests broke out again, which had the salutary effect of highlighting the almost unconditional protection that police enjoy from prosecutors everywhere.
Michael Brown was shot on 9 August 2014; Tamir Rice was shot on 22 November 2014; the grand jury acquitted Wilson on 24 November. What does Kristof think the activists should have done between August and November? Waited for someone really, really innocent to be shot? A younger man, a slighter man, a man who didn’t smoke weed? Should they have canceled all protests against the grand jury decision, saying “Sorry, we got a a much better case to concentrate on”? Sauve qui peut, I suppose.
The most offensive implicit statement in Kristof’s tweet is that somehow Tamir Rice was ‘more innocent’ than Brown, that his death was ‘more tragic,’ and deserved more attention from activists and protesters. This is morally obtuse. The deaths of both young men were tragedies and they deserve equal attention precisely because the same system–the same deadly combination of systemic racism and an over-armed, trigger-happy, incompetent policeman–killed them.
Journalists like Kristof continue to write weak pablum on this nation’s most prominent editorial pages and persist in offering inane, offensive advice to those engaged in struggles whose dimensions they remain blithely unaware of. They insist that political protests–about issues which are far removed from their lives and experiences–conform to their notions and expectations in form and content and target.
What a waste of a soapbox.
PS: Do read the linked article Kristof provides; it details the criminal negligence that led to Rice’s death.