When physical confrontations between policemen and young black men result in injury or death, the American public and media light up at a near 24/7 intensity.
Initial reports of an incident are repeated and expanded at a minute-by-minute pace; video tapes of the scene and photos of the injured or dead are frequently on the television screen; commentators, witnesses, and celebrity activists are interviewed and subsequently repeatedly quoted; protest marches and looting erupt.
Ironically, incidences that lead to severe injury or death are the very worst to submit as examples of white policemen harassing young black males. Even when an incident begins with harassment, there may be a point of no return when real or perceived police harassment escalates to a matter of life-and-death. At and beyond that point, harassment ceases to be a matter of skin color or prejudicial hostility.
The confrontation suddenly becomes primordial.
I believe that’s what happened in Ferguson, St. Louis when Michael Brown allegedly and most likely rushed toward the policeman. If I’m correct about this, the often-emphasized description of the policeman’s firing of “six shots at an unarmed man” is not the “cold blooded” and “pre-meditated murder” it’s often purported to be.
Every man has an instinct that tells him the most likely outcome of a physical encounter with someone who is younger and stronger than he is—that critical assessment is all the more accurate when made by a professional policeman. Yes, Michael was unarmed, a fact that is stressed when the incident is reported. But Michael’s youth and strength provided him with an overwhelming advantage over the policeman if they were to engage in a street fight. The policeman must have instinctively known that.
To stretch my assumptions a bit further, it’s reasonable to assume that having failed to stop the (allegedly onrushing) teenager with four rapid shots to his right arm, the policeman then made a split-second decision to shoot Michael with two more bullets with the very likely intention of killing a man who was intent on beating him to severe bodily harm or death.
I am not saying that this is what happened. Assumptions, of course, are not facts unless and until they’re proved to be true. But I’ve deliberately posited alternative interpretations to the largely irresponsible descriptions of the incident made by the media and other biased parties. My assumptions are much more likely to be true than their often-repeated description of “premeditated, cold-blooded murder.” The incident was certainly neither premeditated nor cold-blooded. Out of context, emphasizing the fact that six shots were fired implies hatred, not self-defense.
Whatever else prompted the officer to shoot Mr. Brown at that moment of no return, it wasn’t color. That fact occurred to me long before I saw surveillance tape that clearly shows that Michael Brown was a bully. I’m sure that whether or not the policeman knew that Mr. Brown was a bully did not influence him to shoot the teenager, as has been suggested. Of course Michael Brown should not have been killed because he was a bully, but neither should we expect a policeman to be severely injured or killed rather than use his gun. Whatever else may be true about that tragic point of no return, the instinct of self-preservation always instinctively overrides contemplation (see my article, Justice, Prejudice, and Testosterone, April 9, 2012).
What is particularly disturbing about the Ferguson incident is that whatever happens at the trial, a jury will in effect be asked to make a choice between a verdict of guilty even if its collective conscience silently believes the officer is innocent of murder, or genuinely find him innocent and face the aftermath of a verdict that is sure to spark riots, great property damage, multiple injuries, and death.
Many African Americans claim that they are subject to police harassment. I take them at their word. Harassment is contemptible and must be comprehensively and legally addressed in all its forms no matter how subtle. It should be dealt with as seriously as sexual harassment is dealt. However, the Brown family tragedy will be compounded if a case of self-defense is mistaken or slanted to be one of harassment.