Our racial/class divide has again been ignited by gun violence. An entertainment-based news media umbilically linked to images of violence, the more violent the better, has descended in numbers equivalent to a Super Bowl, and political leaders better suited for managing profit and loss ledgers are at a baffled for what to say and what to do next.
As the spectacle nears the two-week mark, the situation is as over-heated and overwrought as the last days of the Rodney King trial in LA in ’92. And that was before CNN had 24/7 competition. The toxic brew is so bad its hard to imagine even an indictment against the white cop, Darren Wilson, will do a lot to tamp down the protests, the posturing and the overreactions. (Only an event more irresistible to the cable outlets will make them reconsider their all-hands-on-deck Ferguson deployment. Think: Beyonce trapped on a cruise ship without adequate plumbing.)
No one knows what exactly happened when Wilson shot Michael Brown, and the expectation is that no one ever will. That is often what happens when these things get as politicized and celebritized (made that one up) as this. The truth becomes what it needs to be to “restore order”, which of course to the legitimate protestors in Ferguson means “business as usual’, where an overwhelmingly white police force will continue to routinely shake down every black kid dressed like a rap star.
One area of discussion that has remained largely taboo amid all the talk of the “militarization” of American police forces, with their surplus tanks and Hollywood-looking SWAT gear (the latter used most for over-the-top drug raids, like the one in St. Paul last month) is the character quality of those paid to “protect and serve”.
Recognizing that police work is A: Dangerous, as we saw again in the killing of Officer Scott Patrick recently; B: Thankless, unless you count the occasional “atta boy” award from the chief; and C: Poorly compensated, because the menace of public employee benefits, including pensions, is at least as serious to pandering politicians as street crime, the “bulldog” media is extraordinarily reluctant to question whether certain individual cops should ever have been in uniform to begin with. (That and the reality that ripping the notoriously tight brotherhood of cops means a kind of sourcing death for offending reporters and their newsrooms.)
The suspicion at this point is that Darren Wilson was/is an unremarkable ordinary suburban cop … and that he panicked when Brown pushed back at being collared for walking across a street. (Even the cops have said Wilson didn’t know about Brown boosting the cigarellos.)
My point is that I doubt guys like Wilson go into police work for the money. Most likely they need a secure job, they like the idea of doing something useful, something that commands a level of respect, and … work that comes with a community, a like-minded brethren that they relate to day in and day out. It’s within that brethren where things get funky, especially when the predominantly white “us” is given loaded-gun authority over a nearly all black “them”. With such a brethren you earn respect is a number of ways, not all of them attractive to or publicly condoned by polite society. Occasionally you overreach with someone (a big guy like Brown in this case) who is in no mood to take it and has his own bull moose machismo to display for his peers.
A truly honest discussion of all the factors culminating in Wilson killing Brown should include what it would take to cull out the weakest, least stable, most thuggish of cops and replace them with people in better command of their ego and emotions.