Nick Kristof Should Stick To High Profile Rescues

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

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.

Darren Wilson’s Post-Police Career

Darren Wilson has resigned from the Ferguson, MO, police force. His stated intentions are honorable, possibly even noble:

It was my hope to continue in police work, but the safety of other police officers and the community are of paramount importance to me. It is my hope that my resignation will allow the community to heal.

We should not, as some rather unkindly have, respond to this announcement with a chorus of “I got your healing right here.”  Yet, in the wake of his entirely unrepentant, six-figure earning, television appearance last week with ABC NewsGeorge Stephanopoulos, one in which Wilson made clear that he had no regrets for having shot Michael Brown dead, that he would do it all over again, and expressed no remorse at the loss of a young man’s life, and certainly no empathy with his grieving parents,  I am, how you say, somewhat skeptical.

In that non-gullible spirit therefore, I hereby offer some speculation about Darren Wilson’s post-police-career alternative means of employment. That  most of these involve speaking engagements should be entirely unsurprising: all too often, the clearest path to eventual riches in today’s US–now that seminars in real estate and finance have lost some of their former cachet–seems to be offering advice.

Darren Wilson could be:

1. A community speaker on neighborhood relations, offering talks such as “The Importance of Street Stops Done Right.”

2. A spokesperson for the National Rifle Association, speaking on ‘This Might Be My Gun, But It Sure Ain’t For Fun.” Flyers for his talks might note Officer Wilson’s “extensive experience in using and discharging firearms till they are good and empty.” (As a side bonus, Wilson will offer dark warnings on “the dangers of unused ammunition.”)

3.  An adviser to Marvel Comics for a new super-villain series, starting with a yet-to-be-named dastardly entity, who, as a mash-up of “Hulk Hogan” and your garden-variety “demon,” gets “mad” if you “shoot at him.” Wilson will also be contracted to supply some artwork, especially for the villain’s highly emotive expressions.

4. A distinguished guest on Rush Limbaugh‘s radio show, speaking on “Model Majorities: The White Police Officer.”

5. An author, writing his memoir–titled My Life Drawing And Coloring The Thin Blue Line‘–one contracted to a major publisher with a hefty advance.

6. A commencement speaker, offering advice on how to navigate the grand jury process and emerge indictment-free. (Pro-tip: start white.)

7. A security director for the National Convenience Store Owners’ Association, describing and designing appropriate steps to secure small items from the depredations of large young black men. (Pro-tip: Start shooting.)

8. A  security consultant on anti-looting measures. (Pro-tip: See #7 above.)

9. A public relations consultants for the pharmaceutical industry, offering talks such as “What To Do When Accused of the Deaths of Innocents: Managing Public Relations’ Disasters.”

10. A special guest on  Fox News, speaking on, “Why They Hate Us And Our Freedoms (Especially Those Pertaining to Peaceful Assembly.”

The demand for Wilson’s resignation was grounded in one overriding principle: that Wilson not do more damage–especially to the communities he polices. As my only half-facetious list suggests, Wilson could yet do more damage and make a better living than he ever has before.

Let The Fire Burn, And Ferguson

Jason Osder‘s searing Let the Fire Burn–a documentary about the tragic standoff between the radical black liberation group MOVE and the Philadelphia city administration in 1985–is ostensibly a documentary about an America of thirty years ago, but it is also about the America of today.

Last night, as my wife and I waited for the ‘verdict’ in Ferguson, we decided to watch Let the Fire Burn; at its conclusion, we sat there stunned and speechless and disbelieving. I could hear my wife sobbing. Contemplating the death of children, left to burn, and indeed, possibly forced back into a burning house by gunfire from a homicidal police force will do that to you. I got up, walked over to my dormant desktop machine, touched the space bar, and watched the screen spring to life. I checked my social media news feed: as expected, the grand jury in Ferguson decided not to indict, and thus bring to trial, the police officer Darren Wilson, for the deadly shooting of Michael Brown.

The brutality and cruelty of what we had just paid witness to was enough to make me pen the following initial response on my Facebook page:

Jesus Christ, the racist, malevolent stupidity on display in this documentary was unbelievable and unbearable.

Much of that same thick, unblinking, deadly mental and moral dysfunction has been on display in Ferguson: in the murderous shooting of Michael Brown, the heavy-handed reaction to the protests, (which sparked an inquiry by Amnesty International), the refusal to indict, the timing of the announcement, and sure enough, the pronouncements of St. Louis County prosecutor, Robert P. McCulloch.

To place this latest episode of the continuing tragedy of African-American life in some context, to see that black American life has always been cheap, that the police get away with murder all too often, all too easily, Let The Fire Burn is essential viewing.

There is no doubt MOVE in the Philadelphia of 1985 was a prickly bunch: they were radical in their deeds; they could be violent; there is ample cause for disagreement with their indoctrinaire methods; they were anti-social and bad neighbors. But nothing I saw in Let The Fire Burn will convince me that the police action, the heavily armed blockade of their ‘headquarters’ in a predominantly black neighborhood, followed by a gun battle in which over ten thousand rounds were discharged, the bombing of their house by a incendiary device dropped by a helicopter, and then fatally, the decision to not put out the fire, and burn down not just the house with its occupants still inside, but a total of sixty-one homes, could ever be justified.

Let The Fire Burn is made up entirely of archival footage; there are no talking heads, no contemporary analysis, no hindsight to be offered. The words and actions you see and hear are those of almost thirty years ago. They speak for themselves; no commentary is required. This is documentary making of the highest order. Watch it, weep, and rage. Most of all because nothing has changed.