Just Another Criminal?

Just Another Criminal?

Michael Brown

This is the type of lingo commonly used to describe Michael Brown, an 18 year old male gunned down by Darren Wilson, a white police officer. According to Officer Wilson’s report, Brown, unprovoked, assaulted him in his vehicle after politely asking him to get out of the street and onto the sidewalk. The confrontation that ensued , which apparently involved Brown allegedly reaching for Wilson’s gun, resulted in Brown being shot to death only a couple of yards away from the police vehicle. Wilson claimed it was in self-defense.

In a country where race relations are still a difficult balancing act on a tightrope it doesn’t bemuse why such a case would incite the amount of protests and rioting that it has in the aftermath of the incident. Black Americans have always carried a deep level of distrust for law enforcement, and tend to view our judicial system as an arbitrator that unfairly targets blacks and other minority communities. “The system wasn’t designed for people like us,” they say. And it isn’t hard to see why they would perceive as much. Black males are more likely to be stopped by a police officer than their white counterparts. Blacks also make up a huge portion of the prison population, mostly for minor drug offenses, despite using recreational drugs at the same rate as whites. Black-on-black crime statistics are often cited to dispel and dissent the claim of racial bias in the legal system, but those same dissenters fail to acknowledge that white-on-white crime is also just as problematic, yet no one assumes that whites are automatically guilty simply because of the color of their skin, a luxury blacks simply aren’t able to enjoy.

Preconceived misconceptions. This is the racial bias that leads to a double standard in this country, as it has with Michael Brown and many others who look like him. After the Michael Brown incident, the police released a video of Brown stealing a pack of cigarellos from a local convenience store, and strong arming the store clerk, only minutes before he was gunned down in the street. With the available footage showing a young black male engaged in a criminal act, Wilson’s testimony that Brown assaulted him seemingly corroborated his claim of Brown being the aggressor, which left the media to portray an unflattering portrait of a young man that none of us knew well enough to judge.

To his parents, he was their son, the light of their life, a natural peacemaker. To his friends he was “Big Mike,” a so-called gentle giant who had just graduated high school and was on his way to college. He enjoyed rapping and playing football in his pastime. So say what you will about Brown himself, but the speculation surrounding his death has done nothing but shift the narrative in a startling direction. Yes, Brown was guilty of stealing a pack of cigarellos from a convenience store a few minutes prior to the incident that lead to his death. Yes, he had strong-armed the store clerk, pushing him out of his way and gloatingly walked out the store, plunder in tow. Yes, he was a big guy, whom at 18 stood 6’4 and 292lbs, an intimidating size. No one is disputing these facts. But to use them to obfuscate the narrative as a means of justifying his death, is simply unacceptable.

The question of whether or not he gratuitously assaulted Officer Wilson, is debatable at best. In Officer Wilson’s testimony he stated that Brown had attacked him in his vehicle, despite having treated him with the utmost courtesy. In a nation as racially tense as ours, where black youth are conditioned to fear law enforcement, it’s rather difficult to believe that an 18 year old male, with no discernible history of violence, would randomly assault an armed white police officer in his own vehicle, and even more befuddling that he would charge at him, placing himself in Wilson’s direct line of fire. In fact, the behaviour Brown exhibited during the theft at the convenient store was strikingly much more gracious than the aggressive behavior Wilson claimed he showed that ultimately led to his death, and this was without provocation. It should also be noted that the lack of visible injuries to Wilson’s face post-assault, which he originally described as severe, raises more questions and suspicions. But this is the testimony that Wilson gave, the one the public is supposed to accept and validate. Brown isn’t alive to tell his side of this ill-timed tale, and with the character assassinations he has faced in public it’s no surprise he has already been deemed guilty and deserving of his punishment by so many.

Brown is not the first 18 year old to steal, either with stealth or outright impudence. His actions in that one singular incident alone were not the determinate factor in his future or his potential. In our world exists a plethora of successful people, and many were guilty of similar misbehaviours at one point in time. The difference is that they still had the opportunity to make believable turnarounds in their lives and become decent contributing citizens without being stuck to an acrimonious label of culpability. Brown, however,, will always be seen as the crime they had committed and the outcome that followed. That does not excuse his faults, but it certainly doesn’t justify him being gunned down in the streets, and the same would go for anybody, white, brown, or black. Brown deserves the benefit of a doubt in his case. Too many young black males like Brown are seen in a negative light, and the injustice done to them goes on unquestioned and unchallenged. Criminals deserve to be prosecuted for their crimes, but it is important to recognize that sometimes the most egregious culprits can be a victim as well. As long as we bear these facts in mind we will avoid the bad habit of writing off the wrong individuals with more potential than we give them credit for.

Blog By Nonye Oheri

Image courtesy of Susan MelkisethianFlickr License

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