Posts Tagged ‘Ferguson Missouri’

Out of order: Despair and the American way

May 1, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
May 1, 2015

There have been a handful of days in my life that have shaken my belief in America, the nation that has sheltered and nurtured me. Two of them have come in the last six months.

The earliest such occasion was March 30, 1981, when I came home from school and learned that someone had attempted to kill President Ronald Reagan. It was the first time since 1963 that an assassin had seriously jeopardized the life of the leader of the free world.

The next world-shattering day was Jan. 28, 1986, when the seven people aboard the space shuttle Challenger were killed by an explosion 73 seconds into their ascent. It was the first time in history that an American space mission which had cleared the gantry had resulted in the loss of lives. I got out of school early because of testing and spent the afternoon in the basement of my friend Eric’s house watching coverage of the catastrophe on CNN and other TV channels. The deaths seemed entirely at odds with my belief in the United States (and in adults) as technologically competent.

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Law vs. justice: A grand jury declines to indict a police officer in racially charged Ferguson, Mo., shooting

November 26, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
Nov. 26, 2014

Legally speaking, the Missouri grand jury that declined to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson for the Aug. 9 shooting death of unarmed teenager Michael Brown may have made the right decision.

But the fact is that another man — another white man — another white man with a license to carry a deadly weapon — won’t face charges for the killing of another black man — another unarmed young black man. Morally speaking, this episode seems to reinforce an unwritten, unofficial American hierarchy that values white lives over black lives.

This is the same power dynamic that we’ve seen play out over the past several days — in fact, over a number of decades — in the case of beloved comedian Bill Cosby, a talented, successful entertainer who appears to have drugged and sexually assaulted more than a dozen women dating back to at least 1965. In Cosby’s case, a number of his alleged assaults were white, while he is black.

But make no mistake. The entertainer’s ability to escape most consequences of his apparent misdeeds is an extension of the same societal structure from which Wilson has benefited, and George Zimmerman before him, and Woody Allen before him, and Bill Clinton before him, and countless others before them. This structure habitually favors men over women, the rich over the poor and the powerful over the powerless — even if its beneficiaries occasionally sport darker skin, as in the case of Cosby.

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Crimes and misdemeanors: Considering criticism of The New York Times’s Michael Brown profile

August 26, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
Aug. 26, 2014

The New York Times published dual profiles Sunday of Michael Brown and Darren Wilson. The former man, of course, is an unarmed 18-year-old who was killed this month  in Ferguson, Mo., while the latter man is the police officer who fired the deadly shots.

The profile of Brown, written by John Eligon, was poorly received. The sticking point was essentially this, the fifth paragraph:

Michael Brown, 18, due to be buried on Monday, was no angel, with public records and interviews with friends and family revealing both problems and promise in his young life. Shortly before his encounter with Officer Wilson, the police say he was caught on a security camera stealing a box of cigars, pushing the clerk of a convenience store into a display case. He lived in a community that had rough patches, and he dabbled in drugs and alcohol. He had taken to rapping in recent months, producing lyrics that were by turns contemplative and vulgar. He got into at least one scuffle with a neighbor.

The complaints seem to boil down to the following two points:

• Why does Eligon mention Brown’s very minor offenses — experimenting with alcohol and drugs, scuffling at least once, making rap music — when these are things that many, many teenagers have done?

• Why does Eligon characterize the shooting victim as “no angel,” which many read as an implicit condemnation of Brown’s character?

I’m not impressed by either of these objections. Let’s examine them in order.

The first complaint is by far the flimsier one, to my mind. Brown’s use of drink and drugs, his one known fight, and his rap music are relevant because those are among the things that Eligon found in his reporting.

And Eligon didn’t exactly focus on Brown’s possible failings to the exclusion of all else. Here is the very next paragraph in his story:

At the same time, [Brown] regularly flashed a broad smile that endeared those around him. He overcame early struggles in school to graduate on time. He was pointed toward a trade college and a career and, his parents hoped, toward a successful life.

Might it have been better to put more emphasis on these details? Perhaps. But if the profile’s fifth and sixth paragraphs had essentially been flipped, I have a hunch that critics still would have focused on references to some of Brown’s questionable behavior.

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