The Grand Jury decision to not indict in the Ferguson, Missouri case has sparked outrage in Ferguson. It has created ripple effects across the country. Despite the fact that the evidence and testimony heard by the Grand Jury is now freely available, and despite the fact that objective analysis of the facts must lead rational observers to the same conclusion as that of the St. Louis County Grand Jury, folks remain angry, frustrated and doubtful.
Much of the objection to the decision of the Grand Jury boils down to three interrelated arguments: the officer should not have used deadly force because Michael Brown was unarmed, complaints about the number of shots fired, and woven throughout is disbelief that Michael Brown would have or did attack Officer Wilson. This denial that Brown was the aggressor is the crux of his family’s anger at Officer Wilson and is the underlying premise held by Vox founder Ezra Klein.
Throughout his public life Vox.com founder Ezra Klein has said and done some less than well thought out things (Hunter shan’t repeat President Obama’s error and say Klein acted ‘stupidly’). From Klein’s ethically troubling JournoList to his bizarre notion that a sitting Senator, out of spite, would let folks die as political payback – the blogger cum wannabe journalist isn’t exactly a Mensa brain trust or moral leader. However, in his recent article expressing doubt in the testimony of Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, Klein moves himself outside the realm of credibility.
Klein’s doubt of Officer Wilson’s testimony and the decision of the Grand Jury approaches a lunatic quality previously seen only in the likes of UFO abductees and 9/11 Truthers.
In Officer Darren Wilson’s story is unbelievable. Literally.Klein provides us his take on the shooting of Michael Brown. It is a position which is, to use the most polite term one can use without being accused of political correctness – naive.
A review of Klein’s ‘argument’ provides the reader with one take away: Klien knows nothing about how actual people behave, particularly when those people are young, are cocky, or have just committed a semi violent crime.
Klien has clearly bought into the narrative that Officer Wilson’s actions were unjustifiable, that deadly force was unnecessary, that Brown was surrendering following the incident inside the car and, in the words of Michael Brown’s mother, that Wilson ‘wanted to kill’ that day.
Klein believes the narrative.
So, while others latch on to irrelevant issues like the number of shots fired or the fact that Brown was unarmed to justify to themselves their preconceptions, in truly Klein-esc fashion Ezra Klein embraces the genuinely incredible notion that ‘people won’t act this way’.
Let’s begin with Klein’s assessment of the events of August 9th, 2014.
In introducing his position, Mr. Klein tells us he thinks Officer Wilson’s story is ‘unbelievable’. Klein explains that he means it “in the literal sense of the term: “difficult or impossible to believe.” Klein goes on to insist “I’m not saying Wilson is lying. I’m not saying his testimony is false. I am saying that the events, as he describes them, are simply bizarre. His story is difficult to believe.”
Keep in mind that Klein followed up his “unbelievable” article with a kinda sorta ‘retraction’. We have him, after describing the events leading up to the incident at the car, saying
Every bullshit detector in me went off when I read that passage. Which doesn’t mean that it didn’t happen exactly the way Wilson describes. But it is, again, hard to imagine. Brown, an 18-year-old kid holding stolen goods, decides to attack a cop and, while attacking him, stops, hands his stolen goods to his friend, and then returns to the beatdown. It reads less like something a human would do and more like a moment meant to connect Brown to the robbery.
As Klein acknowledges in his followup (written later in the same day he wrote “….Unbelievable” ) that
Johnson does semi-corroborate a key moment in Wilson’s account.
And as Klein himself had argued in his original article that the cigarillos incident with Johnson and Brown was the
“most unbelievable moment in the narrative”
Klein was stuck in his own moral dilemma. If it was theincident that was so unbelievable that it had set off his “bullshit detector”, and yet was confirmed by Johnson himself, what could he do. As any person in self deluded denial must do, Klein simply moves on to his real primary objections.
Klein tells us that
Johnson, Wilson, and the ballistics report all agree that the first shot was fired from inside the car. But where Wilson says this shot came after Brown tells him, “You’re too much of a fucking pussy to shoot me,” and then lunged for the weapon, Johnson reacts with total confusion when the grand jury suggests Brown was trying to get at Wilson’s gun inside the car
Klein quotes Johnson’s ‘confusion’:
In order for Big Mike to have touched the gun, it is almost like his whole top half of his body had to be inside the vehicle and that never happened,” Johnson says. It’s a pretty specific objection: he doesn’t just say Brown never went for the gun, but that he was never so deeply embedded in the car that he could have gone for the gun. Johnson’s whole memory of the fight is Wilson trying to pull Brown towards the vehicle and Brown trying to get away.
Here’s the problem with that. The physical evidence, including blood and gunshot residue, and the testimony of numerous eyewitnesses – all of whom are black – support Officer Wilson’s testimony that indeed Brown grabbed for Officer Wilson’s gun. This was, as we now know, how and why Brown received the initial shot to his hand and, possibly, to his arm.
Moving on… Having contrasted Johnson’s version of the shots that killed Brown with that of Wilson and other eyewitnesses who backed Wilson up, and having acknowledged that Johnson may have lied about/misrepresented the struggle inside the car and about Brown assaulting Officer Wilson, and having acknowledged as well that eyewitness testimony can be unreliable (such as that of Johnson and the ‘hands up’ crowd) Klein delivers his denouement, stating
where Wilson’s account presents Brown as completely irrational and borderline suicidal, Johnson’s account is recognizable. It isn’t a blameless, kindly beat cop who gets set upon by a rampaging Michael Brown. And nor is it a blameless, kindly Michael Brown who gets set upon by a cold-blooded murderer with a badge.
It’s a cop who feels provoked by these two young black men who won’t get out of the street, and who tries to teach them a lesson, to put them in their place. His actions escalate the situation, and then the adrenaline floods, and then there’s a struggle, and the situation escalates, and escalates, and escalates, and then Darren Wilson shoots Michael Brown and Michael Brown dies.
One is tempted to inquire: “‘recognizable’ to who?”
From the Grand Jury transcripts and the police radio calls we now know that after Wilson’s initial request for Johnson and Brown get out of the street the officer began to leave. He reversed his car and reengaged with Brown and Johnson only after he received a radio call re the robbery and after he then observed that Johnson’s clothing matched those of the suspects and that Brown was carrying the stolen cigars. Officer Wilson was not ‘provoked…by…two young black men who won’t get out of the streets’. He was attempting to stop and question suspects in a strongarm robbery. From eyewitnesses who backed up Wilson (witness 30 , witness 10, witness 34, witness 32, , and from forensic evidence we now know that It was Brown’s actions which both caused and ‘escalated’ the situation, not those of Wilson. This and yet we have the repeated, nearly pathological denial of responsibility by Klein, the Brown family and by Brown’s various supporters.
Here lies the rub of this denial: those who express disbelief in Officer Wilson’s version of events do not believe that Brown, or many people, would act as Brown did.
As Brown’s mother puts it
I don’t believe a word of it….I know my son too well to – he would never do anything like that. He would never provoke anyone to do anything to him and he wouldn’t do anything to anybody. I don’t believe a word of it
Klein puts his disbelief this way
Why did Michael Brown, an 18-year-old kid headed to college, refuse to move from the middle of the street to the sidewalk? Why would he curse out a police officer? Why would he attack a police officer? Why would he dare a police officer to shoot him? Why would he charge a police officer holding a gun? Why would he put his hand in his waistband while charging, even though he was unarmed?
Mr. Klein presumes that people will behave rationally. He presumes that they will not challenge the police to such a degree; the good Mr. Klein believes that people will not deliberately create their own problems or escalate risk to themselves. He’s partially right, most won’t
However, Mr. Klein clearly knows nothing of how some – in fact many – actual real world people behave when they deal with the police. He knows nothing of life in urban areas. A simple search of YouTube will find video after video of folks loudly, obnoxiously insulting, harassing, and provoking police so as to get an emotional and – they hope – physical response.
Those of us who live in city centers (and, occasionally in rural areas) observe this behavior on a daily basis. A week spent in the city is all it takes to confirm the obvious…many young people act like thugs. They neither respect nor fear the police. “You’re too much of a fucking pussy to shoot me”.
Mr. Klein – and indeed Michael Brown’s mother, family and supporters – would prefer to ignore this behavior, especially as none other than Michael Brown himself behaved this way. Michael Brown’s mother chooses to be in such denial that she continues to pretend that the video of Brown strongarming a shop owner proves nothing. She even suggests that perhaps it may not be her son. She’d deny the evidence of her senses rather than believe that on the day he died her son acted like a thug. Deniers will choose to ignore the racism and violence in Michael Brown’s rap lyrics as they lend credence to the notion that Brown was, in fact, a thug.
Like unicorn spotters they will grab at any data no matter how irrelevant, such as the number of shots fired or the fact that Brown was unarmed, in hopes it will help their case. Facts and evidence – like videotapes, blood spatters, and credible testimony – slides off these folks as photos of corpses and scratches on walls do for holocaust deniers.
They will deny Mr. Brown’s thuggish behavior which led to his altercation with Officer Wilson. They will ignore any testimony or physical evidence that does not fit their image of a ‘gentle giant’ and ‘hands up, don’t shoot’.