Wednesday Reads: Two White Americas*Posted: November 26, 2014
I’m very much at a disadvantage today, because I’ve been driving across country for the past two days and I barely heard any news.
I did get to my hotel on Monday night in time to watch Bob McCulloch present his outrageous defense of the killing of Michael Brown by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson. Thanks to Sky Dancing, I was able to read part of Wilson’s shockingly racist story of his encounter with Brown and I saw parts of some of Wilson’s TV appearances.
I have to assume at this point that–to put it kindly–a large proportion of white people who live in Missouri are in thrall to ancient myths about black people. As more educated people around the country look closely at what McCulloch and Wilson had to say, these two men are going to be surprised to learn that many Americans have moved into the 21st century and can recognize racist tropes when they hear and see them.
I drove 11 hours yesterday, and I wasn’t able to get a single NPR station until I got to Ohio. The parts of Pennsylvania that I drove through were so desolate that all I could get on the radio was right wing talk shows, religious stations, christian rock stations, and oldies stations. I finally heard a little bit of actual news as I approached Toldedo, Ohio. I got to my mother’s house at 9:00 last night.
Fortunately I was able to watch Rachel Maddow and Lawrence O’Brien, so I learned a bit more about what’s actually happening. I stayed up late watching the live coverage on MSNBC, but I was so exhausted that I don’t recall many details.
So, as I said, I’m really at a disadvantage, and I can’t write a really knowledgeable post yet.
A big question in my mind after I watched McCulloch’s strange presentation on Monday night has been about which witnesses testified before the St. Louis grand jury. The prosecutor only mentioned one witness–a person who claimed that after being shot several times, Michael Brown turned and ran “full charge” toward Wilson before being fatally shot in the top of his head.
What about the several witnesses who saw the altercation between Brown and Wilson close up, including Brown’s friend Dorian Johnson, who was right there watching what took place inside the police SUV? What about the two women who watched the events from two different close vantage points and whose independently-told stories were strikingly similar? McCulloch chose to discount them in favor of a man (?) who said he watched from 100 yards away? Why were his inconsistent deemed credible while he found descriptions from close by with minor inconsistencies so deeply flawed as to be ignored? Was this person white? Is that why McCulloch found his shifting stories credible?
That obviously makes no sense. No one runs head facing down–how would he see where he was going? It seems clear to me that if Brown did in fact turn, it was because he had been shot multiple times and was either trying to surrender or was falling forward after being wounded. He couldn’t possibly have been a threat to Wilson at that point–thirty-five feet away and shot multiple times.
Lawrence O’Donnell did an excellent job of breaking this down last night, so if you didn’t see it, please try to watch it on-line today. I’m going to do my best to read the grand jury testimony, but I’ll probably have to do it at night, so it may take me awhile to catch up on all that has happened.
Dakinikat alerted me to a post at Vox that discusses the stunning racial stereotypes in Darren Wilson’s testimony, and in yesterday’s thread she also linked to an excellent post by a black writer, Chaucey de Vega on the same subject.
From Lauren Williams at Vox, The terrifying racial stereotypes laced through Darren Wilson’s testimony.
The Ferguson story is entirely about race
It’s imprecise to call race the subtext of this story or an underlying complication. Itdefines it. Race has woven its way through every aspect of the drama, from the shooting of a black teen by a white officer, to the glaring racial disparities in the St. Louis suburb at the center of the incident, to the protesters’ demands that the criminal justice system recognize that “black lives matter.”Although the demonstrators have been explicit, this theme of racism doesn’t have to be spelled out to be understood clearly and painfully. Reading Wilson’s characterization of Brown in transcripts from his interview with detectives and his grand jury testimony is like taking a master class in the gross racial fear-mongering that has pervaded our country for centuries.
Darren Wilson’s Michael Brown
Throughout his testimony and post-shooting interview with detectives, Wilson emphasized the size disparity between him and Brown. He tells detectives, “never at any point did I have control of him. I mean … he manipulated me, while I was in the vehicle, completely.”
Wilson, who testified that he is 6’4 and around 210 lbs, told the grand jury that when he tried to grab Brown, “the only way to describe it is that I felt like a five-year-old holding onto Hulk Hogan.” At one point, he said Brown looked like a “demon.” He also expressed concern that Brown could have possibly killed him with a punch to the face.
In the last moments before Wilson fired the fatal shot, he said, Brown made “a grunting, like aggravated sound” and charged toward him, through Wilson’s gunfire. He didn’t even slow down, Wilson said, after one of the bullets apparently hit him.
“I’ve never seen anybody look that, for lack of a better word, crazy,” he told detectives. “I’ve never seen that. I mean, it was very aggravated, … aggressive, hostile… You could tell he was looking through you. There was nothing he was seeing.”
Brown’s eyes were probably glazed over because he had been shot at least 5 times and was close to death. But to Wilson, he was a monster/demon who needed to be killed.
The two men were each very tall, although Brown weighed about 80 more pounds than Wilson. Brown was a teenage boy and Wilson was a trained (supposedly) police officer. Yet Wilson feared Brown and felt like a five-year-old in his presence. Wilson believed Brown was a “demon” who could kill with one blow from his fist and could run through bullets without being felled. Why on earth was Wilson allowed to be a policeman? Are there other Ferguson and St. Louis police officers who hold these bizarre beliefs about black people?
Williams goes on to cite articles from The New York Times that conveyed this stereotype of the giant, superhuman black man (she cites blogger Undercover Black Man as her source)
Here’s a sample of how this played out in the Times:
The September 24, 1900, edition included a double whammy: back-to-back stories about criminally insane negroes of “gigantic build,” headlined “Giant Negro Attacks Police” and “Big Negro Spreads Terror.”
In 1897, the paper exclaimed, “Giant negro disables 4 policemen in fight.” He was eventually felled by a baton blow to the head.
A 1922 story, “Seize giant negro, hide him for safety,” told of a typically huge black man who was terrorizing motorists in Atlantic City (the last straw before his capture was apparently an assault on an 18-year-old white woman).
A “ghost-haunted darkey” went nuts at sea in 1916, according to a story titled “Armed giant negro giant goes mad on liner.” He was rather tall, the reporter makes sure to note.
How many of our fellow Americans still believe this bizarre myths and how many of them are patrolling American streets as police officers?
Here’s Chauncy de Vega, Shorter Darren Wilson Testimony: Michael Brown was a ‘Giant Beast Negro’ That Had to Be Killed.
If you have not yet read Darren Wilson’s testimony to the Ferguson grand jury which decided that he would suffer no ill consequences for his decision to kill Michael Brown, please do so.
Wilson’s description of the events on the day that he decided to shoot and kill an unarmed person cannot be adequately relayed to you by a second party.
The absurd, unfathomable, and fantastical story which Wilson spun out of the whole cloth in order to justify killing an unarmed black teenager combines the deepest and ugliest white supremacist stereotypes and fantasies about black folks’ humanitysuch as the “negro fiend”, “black beast”, and “giant negro”, with white racist paranoiac thinking, and dialogue from blaxploitation movies.
Darren Wilson’s grand jury testimony purports to be an accurate description of his encounter with Michael Brown. In reality, it is closer to an amateurish summer stock theater production of the movie Birth of the Nation as performed by the KKK and/or Neo-Nazis.
What century are these people living in? Suddenly I’m beginning to understand where the seemingly insane people in the Tea Party and the voters who elect candidates like Ted Cruz of Texas and Steve King of Iowa are coming from.
Ezra Klein also had an important post at Vox yesterday, Officer Darren Wilson’s story is unbelievable. Literally.
We’ve finally heard from Officer Darren Wilson.
Wilson had been publicly silent since the events of August 9, when he shot and killed 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. And, even as the grand jury announced its decision not to indict him, he remained silent. He had his attorneys release a statement on his behalf.But on Monday night, St. Louis County prosecutor Robert McCulloch released the evidence given to the grand jury, including the interview police did with Wilson in the immediate aftermath of the shooting. And so we got to read, for the first time, Wilson’s full, immediate account of his altercation with Brown.
And it is unbelievable.
I mean that in the literal sense of the term: “difficult or impossible to believe.” But I want to be clear here. 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.
Please read the rest at the link.
The Ferguson story is revealing that there are indeed two white Americas*: one in which people have been educated about bigotry and racism and have learned to recognize racist stereotypes and do our best to counter them, and one in which people have apparently been raised to believe delusional racist tropes and, as a consequence, have developed irrational fears of people who have darker skin than they do.
Do the people in the second group of Americans hold similar beliefs about Asians, Latinos, and Native Americans as well? I think we know how they feel about Muslims. Can anything be done to educate these people and/or to prevent them from passing along these irrational and ugly beliefs to their children? Some Americans still need to be taught that every human life is has value.
Ferguson demonstrates that these are vitally important questions that we need to address as a nation.
Here are a few more recent stories on the Ferguson situation.
Jeffrey Toobin in The New Yorker, How Not to Use a Grand Jury.
Jamelle Bouie at Slate, Rudy Giuiani Doesn’t Understand Crime as Well as He Thinks.
Dana Millbank at the WaPo, Bob McCulloch, the Face of Injustice.
German News site Deutsche Welle, Mother of Michael Brown calls Wilson account ‘insult’.
Jacob Siegel at The Daily Beast, The Three Biggest Unanswered Questions About Ferguson.
David A. Love at The Progessive, Ferguson decision again unearths America’s racial problems.
I look forward to reading more about what Sky Dancers think about all this. As always, please post links on any topic in the comment thread. Enjoy your Wednesday and have a happy Thanksgiving day tomorrow.
*NOTE: This post has been updated to change the title and a reference in the text from “Two Americas” to “Two White Americas.”