Ferguson: Media Images in the Service of White Dispossession

Cooper Sterling


“Look, folks, policing is done this way. You may like to live in Santa Monica and have your little wine party in the backyard and drive your Jaguar and do your little barbecue…. Know that the reason you are allowed to do that in the safety of your community is because police Officers go out and they clean up the streets and deal with all the scum that you don’t want to know about….”
—Stacey Koon [former LAPD Sergeant in charge of the Rodney King incident]
Quoted in Lou Cannon, Official Negligence: How Rodney King and the Riots Changed Los Angeles and the LAPD, 430

The two-week spectacle in Ferguson, Missouri, which culminated in the packed funeral of 18-year-old Michael Brown, produced a cascade of predictable volatility. Brown, an unarmed Black male, died August 9, 2014, after Darren Wilson, a White police officer, fired multiple rounds at the 6’4”, 292-pound amateur rapper known as “Big Mike.” (According to the New York Times, “[Brown] collaborated on songs that included lyrics such as ‘My favorite part is when the bodies hit the ground.’”)

As more details emerge, the sequence of events that prompted the shooting offers a plausible explanation for the skewed original narrative of an unarmed Black male targeted by a White police officer. Several eyewitnesses alleged that Brown was cooperative, had his hands up, and was shot from behind.

However, others tell a quite different story. According to forensic reports, Brown was shot from the front, not from behind. The pattern and number of rounds fired suggests that the officer attempted to stop Brown by wounding him. The two shots to Brown’s head may have been the rounds of last resort in the reasonable use of deadly force against a menacing assailant who was rushing at him, particularly given the possibility that the assailant was a large, physically powerful, marijuana-buzzed, man who showed no signs of being subdued by a volley of shots. Newly released audiotape from an amateur video chat of an apartment dweller near the shooting records ten or eleven shots over a 12-second span. This suggests that Wilson may have tried to thwart Brown by intimidating him at first, then wounding him with a volley of shots before unloading two rounds to the head (a series of six shots can be heard with a one- or two-second break followed by a burst of 4 or 5 additional shots).

Earlier video footage from a security camera shows Brown stealing a box of cigars from a local merchant and shoving the owner into a rack of potato chips during a brief scuffle in the convenience store. Prior to the shooting, Brown and his friends were walking in the street when Officer Wilson asked that they move to the sidewalk and not block traffic. Instead of cooperating and complying with this sensible request, Brown’s aggressive reaction sets off a chain of events that leads to his eventual death. Wilson sustained injuries from a struggle with Brown allegedly over the officer’s firearm.

The media coverage of the shooting and the ensuing unrest by Blacks reflect the ritualized narrative of seemingly justifiable rage — indignant protests — after a White officer fatally shoots an unarmed Black teen. On the other hand, when a non-White officer shoots an unarmed White (or possibly Hispanic) person who was trying to surrender to police (details on the race of both are sketchy because the Salt Lake City police are not disclosing information on race), there is no media interest at all.

So the ritual plays out. Surviving family members portray the “victim” as a gentle, sweet, teddy bear. Parents grieve. Protests ensue. Looting and rioting soon follow, destroying local businesses. Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, and other “civil rights” leaders exploit the upheaval and stoke further indignation. News anchors arrive to broadcast nightly news segments. Local and state authorities are criticized for doing too little, too late to restore order. The Ferguson police department is scrutinized for lacking sufficient numbers of Black officers to properly police “the community.” The police force is too White and therefore insensitive to Blacks. Critics also cite the “militarization” of law enforcement — a military-style presence — which intimidates Black residents, violates the “civil rights” of Black protestors, creating more tension and prompting more riots.

The media coverage also takes an all-too familiar tack: the incident is viewed through the prism of Black grievance and minority injustice.  All too often there is a rush to judgment in which police officers are portrayed as the entire “problem.”

The first round of Sunday news shows following the Brown shooting set the tone and context of the media elite’s portrayal of this incident as one more instance of the unfair treatment of Blacks in American society. In the course of one week the coverage of the incident morphed into a sociological case study of the wrongful mistreatment of American Blacks. Typical of the mindset of broadcast pundits is NBC’s Andrea Mitchell, who actually said on Meet the Press that “[Ferguson, Missouri is] 67 percent African-American community, the arrest rate is 93 percent or 83 percent is the arrest rate, the incarceration rate is 93 percent — or 83 percent is the African-American… the targeting….”

Beyond the incoherence, the assumption here is that Blacks are unfairly targeted given the lopsided disparity of Black arrest and incarceration rates. It’s simple. Any departure from equal percentages of people being arrested or incarcerated imply White racism. End of story.

Thankfully, Heather MacDonald, a scholar at the Manhattan Institute, interviewed on camera for the Meet the Press intro segment, noted that the arrest and incarceration rates reflect the disproportionate reality of violent Black crime rates.

But despite this glimmer of sanity, the show went downhill from there. Rep. John Lewis, a Black congressman from Georgia, was introduced by Mitchell as one who “more than half a century ago … survived that brutal beating by police in Birmingham, Alabama’” — the point being that Lewis, like Brown, was a victim of brutality by racist White cops and therefore in an unassailable position to comment on the Ferguson incident. Lewis responded to Mitchell’s question about whether Congress bears some responsibility for the “militarization of local police”: “Well, I was watching the film coming out of Ferguson. … It looked like it was in Baghdad or some other war-torn zone. You know, Ferguson is a part of the United States of America. It’s not China. It’s not Russia. It’s not the Congo. It’s America. People have the right to protest. People have the right to engage in peaceful, non-violent action and a person has a right to coverage what is going on.”

People have the right to protest but that was never an issue. The problem was the looting and destroying local businesses and yes, trying to prevent that requires a military-like presence.

Newsweek posted a photo captioned “Up in Arms” of the Black protestors in Ferguson, noting, “The mostly black residents of the suburbs northwest of St. Louis say they are frequently the victims of police brutality and are disproportionately targeted for traffic stops and marijuana arrests.”

This is typical. The media have focused on every conceivable and inconceivable aspect of this incident — police brutality, lack of “diversity” on the police force, the “militarization” of law enforcement, unjust social conditions that Blacks continue to endure, “profiling” or “targeting” Black youths, disproportionately greater arrest and sentencing rates among young Black males, etc. — except for the elephant in the room: why are Blacks seemingly less cooperative, more prone to sudden bursts of violence, and more likely to resist social norms of conventional behavior (consider the coarse lyrics of Black hip hop artists or even talking loudly in a movie theater)?

Media malfeasance doesn’t end there. It’s well known that Black criminal suspects are rarely identified by their race in daily news coverage of garden-variety crimes, such as car-jackings, rapes, assault, robberies, theft, or murder. News accounts of local crime usually gloss over in vague or nondescript terms the race of a suspect.

On the other hand, Blacks involved in Ferguson-like incidents with the police are customarily identified by their race, typically portrayed as an “unarmed Black [youth or teen].” Suddenly it’s critical to identify victims by race. Likewise, the race of the police officer will be thoroughly noted, especially if the officer is White.

And of course, simply because someone is unarmed doesn’t preclude the possibility that he acted violently or erratically or was reasonably perceived as acting in a threatening manner.

One routinely overlooked factor avoided by journalists is the possibility of a genetic basis of race differences in criminality. But who’s surprised given that the media is decidedly on the left on everything related to race? The issue is rationally discussed by Glayde Whitney in Crime in Biological, Social, and Moral Contexts, edited by Lee Ellis and Harry Hoffman (Praeger, 1990). Whitney and other researchers on this topic have explored the issue of differences in IQ, personality, temperament, and other possible sources of genetic differences between the races as a possible explanation for the racial differences in crime rates. The book addresses a number of related issues. The topic is also taken up by Michael Levin in Why Race Matters.

There is a glaring disconnect between the reality of the brutal, violent daily existence in many largely Black urban areas versus the constant media treatment of incidents like Ferguson as little more than yet another example of White mistreatment of Blacks in a straight line from slavery, to Jim Crow, to the present.

The real agenda, then, is to condemn White America. In the eyes of its hostile elites, White America has no moral legitimacy, as seen yet again in Ferguson. And therefore it is entirely reasonable that Whites be marginalized, demographically swamped, and moved away from the center of national life as soon as possible. And that is exactly what is happening.

For American elites, there can never be too many Fergusons.

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