The evil that police do – Darren Wilson and the family of Michael Brown

Ferguson Protest, NYC 25th Nov 2014
Ferguson protests in New York City, Novemeber, 2014.
By The All-Nite Images from NY, NY, USA (Ferguson Protest, NYC 25th Nov 2014) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

“He’s evil.”
– Lesley McSpadden, mother of Michael Brown, speaking to Al Jazeera America about former Ferguson, Missouri, police officer, Darren Wilson

When I went to Germany, eight years ago, my friend in Hanover was less than enthused when she found out we had been to visit the museum at the Dachau concentration camp, near Munich. She wasn’t angry. She just expressed herself in what might be described as a very resigned, German way.

“It’s a shame,” she said with a shrug, “that whenever people think of Germany, they think of Nazis.” Maybe, but murder leaves a mark. Racist hate leaves resentment and anger. Evil leaves a stain.

Evil is blind, too. It draws conclusions in shallowness because it lacks the vision, or the compulsion, to look deeper.

It’s quite callous, the way former police officer Darren Wilson recently described his feelings about Michael Brown, one year out from their fatal encounter on the streets of Ferguson, Missouri. In an article in the New Yorker, Wilson tells writer Jake Halpern that he dismisses claims of historical, cultural abuse at the hands of whites as an excuse that Brown and other young people of color use to justify resenting authority and behaving badly.

“People who experienced that, and were mistreated, have a legitimate claim,” he told Halpern, referring to those he calls the “elders,” who lived through Jim Crow. “Other people [meaning young people, who grew up post-civil rights era] don’t.”

Don’t justify and call it justice; confront truth and discover justice

Wilson goes on to claim that, despite what the article describes as a difficult childhood, he has been able to persevere and build a life, but it comes across as an “I did it, why can’t they” attitude. “What happened to my great-grandfather is not happening to me,” he said, “I can’t base my actions off what happened to him.”

His obvious lack of understanding doesn’t bother him in the least. He thinks he doesn’t have to understand more than what’s going on in the moment. “We can’t fix in thirty minutes what happened thirty years ago,” he told Halpern. “We have to fix what’s happening now. That’s my job as a police officer. I’m not going to delve into people’s life-long history and figure out why they’re feeling a certain way, in a certain moment.”

But doesn’t community policing require more of an effort at understanding the community you’re policing, rather than making assumptions about who they are and what they are capable of? Not according to Wilson. To him, they are as free to make the same, sound choices he has.

“They’re so wrapped up in a different culture than — what I’m trying to say is, the right culture, the better one to pick from.”

Halpern didn’t let that statement go unchallenged:

“This sounded like racial code language. I pressed him: what did he mean by ‘a different culture’? Wilson struggled to respond. He said that he meant ‘pre-gang culture, where you are just running in the streets—not worried about working in the morning, just worried about your immediate gratification.’ He added, ‘It is the same younger culture that is everywhere in the inner cities.’”

Wilson says he is certain that families in the community are to blame, and definitely in the case of Michael Brown’s family. “Do I think he had the best upbringing,” he asked Halpern rhetorically, in a tone the writer describes as “striking.”

“No,” Wilson concluded, answering his own question, “Not at all.”

Given that his own mother was a “compulsive” thief, who Wilson warned his own friends against, who left his father, then put his stepfather $20,000 in debt the first year they were together, it makes one question his frame of reference for what is and is not “the best upbringing.”

“His acts were devilish,” Michael Brown’s mother, Lesley McSpadden told Al Jazeera, Wednesday morning, “and we definitely know he didn’t have the right upbringing, because those are words that you just don’t use, especially after you took somebody’s life and you know you had no reason to.”

Wilson has looked at Michael Brown’s life and just doesn’t care anymore, if he ever did, except that he is being sued by Brown’s family. “Do I think about who he was as a person? Not really, because it doesn’t matter at this point,” he explained to Halpern.

“He can’t hurt me with his words,” responded McSpadden. “What he did hurt me really bad, so his words mean nothing to me.”

Racism and Ferguson: a systemic problem requires a systemic solution

It’s a shame. It’s a shame that in communities of color – in Ferguson, in Staten Island, in North Charleston, in Baltimore, in Cincinnati – that when people think of white police officers working in those communities, they think of careless, frightened, hair-trigger murderers.

This need not be the case.

Many law officers have been caught escalating too quickly to violence, asserting superiority over unarmed men and women, too quick to draw their weapon, shoot a fleeing suspect in the back or physically abuse a prisoner already in custody.

Dying in custody – a necessary conversation

There is a problem with training that says, “You have a gun. You’re in charge.” If that’s your philosophy, go join the army, if they’ll have you. They need people who will shoot to kill.

But police should be working with communities, not against them. Cops need to be evaluated not by how many tickets they write and how many arrests they make, but on how they get along with the communities they are sworn to protect and serve.

Ferguson fallout – justice dancing on the head of a pin

Asked whether she could ever forgive Darren Wilson, Michael Brown’s mother answered simply, “Never. Never.”

It’s a matter of respect – the kind that police expect and the citizens deserve. Killing officers only reinforces this us vs. them attitude. As long as one lives in fearful resentment of the other, people will be as uncomfortable in their own neighborhoods as the cops who patrol them.

Unless full, mutual respect is achieved, citizens will die, families will be torn apart and police who kill will remain the face of evil for entire communities.


One thought on “The evil that police do – Darren Wilson and the family of Michael Brown

  1. PG, the way you opened your article really struck me. The interjection of the evil displayed during the Nazi years in Germany and the affect that it has on modern day German citizens is interesting. I would never debate with you regarding evil that is lived by people and society directly impacted by that period in Europe. However, I would point out that Ferguson Missouri or Baltimore Maryland or Staten Island are not Europe in the late 1930’s through today. More importantly, the psychosis that you make a stretch to derive from the New Yorker article by Jake Halpern, that infects Darren Wilson and the understandable reactions of the citizens and activist in those areas is not how I interpreted the same article.
    Halpern’s article and attempt to accurately reflect what Officer Wilson said did not strike me as a lack of understanding on anybody’s part. Wilson was a cop. He was exonerated twice. Once by President Obama’s own Department of Justice. Wilson was not using code language, he was not “callous”, he is just a cop, a bit inarticulate, but knows his job and his role when called to a crime scene.
    Wilson’s thoughts about the families in Ferguson, or the culture in Ferguson was his opinion and probably accurate. These municipal areas that produce kids and young adults that commit crimes are a problem. As most Americans, I understand that the roots run deep for these community breakdowns and I don’t offer any solutions here. But I will say that “Hands up don’t shoot” was not spoken and did not happen that night. All the attention focused on Ferguson and Officer Wilson was based on false information and caused more problems for the community than it deserved. From bad publicity, destruction of property and livelihoods in a struggling community and a platform for race baiters and outside agitators with their own agendas.
    The notion that, as you say, “when people think of white police officers working those communities they think of careless, frightened, hair-trigger murderers” is ridiculous. I contend that the majority of residence in areas like Ferguson, Baltimore etc…respect the job the authorities do and recognize that they are the thin blue line protecting the good law abiding citizens from the criminals. Michael Brown, a criminal, attacked Officer Wilson and died as a result. Michael Browns mother may never forgive Officer Wilson, I understand. But perpetuating the lie that Darren Wilson was evil and full of racist hate and therefore due all the scorn and banishment from society truly “lacks the vision or the compulsion to look deeper” as you remarked.
    I would even go deeper and say that the article showed that a kid who grew up in a messed up situation like Officer Wilson, can, with focus, good choices, diligence, hard work, sacrifice and other qualities, make a better life for himself and his community. I don’t know why Michael Brown didn’t try to live a life of lawfulness, he chose lawlessness. But he did. And it resulted in terrible consequences for himself, his family, his community and our nation. Shame on him and all the people that have leveraged the lies for their own political and journalistic gains.


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