One highly regrettable aspect of the rise of the Internet and social media in particular is the "participation" of the general public via Twitter, Facebook, e-zines, comment threads and the virtual world in general in every criminal case that possesses the right meme-worthiness to sustain itself for the 3 or 4 day attention span (liberally speaking) of the American populace. One such story, following along lines similar to the Trayvon Martin case, was the very recent shooting in Ferguson, Missouri of one Michael Brown by a police officer named Darren Wilson.
The MSM had everything they needed to generate a Tweetapalooza with this one. The clean-cut young African-American on his way to college gunned down in the street by a brutal, "militarized" police. Another young life destroyed by out-of-control cops. The Huffington Post poured it on, cable news had a field day, the streets of Ferguson erupted in violent demonstrations (along with opportunistic looting and general vandalism). It was Watts and Rodney King all rolled into one.
I feel obliged to observe that the problem of police brutality and militarization of local police seem like very real problems. They are what you might call broad social issues which have everything to do, no doubt, with the USA's bad habit of fighting wars nonstop in Muslim lands for no discernible reason and to no apparent advantage. This has been going on now for 13 years. Hundreds of thousands of American soldiers have served in miserable theaters of war where death can come at a moment's notice from innocent-looking locals.
It would appear that the military-industrial complex just can't help itself. Among other problems, such as national bankruptcy, this Sparta-like approach to foreign policy tends to produce vast numbers of ex-soldiers who are understandably on hair trigger after spending years expecting the citizens on the streets of Baghdad or Kabul to suddenly blow themselves up or pull out a concealed weapon and open fire. These soldiers come back to a lousy jobs market, but they are expertly trained in patrolling the streets in a certain way, and law enforcement seems like a natural continuation of their previous work. And the Pentagon has even been thoughtful enough to furnish the local cops with the same kind of up-armored, humongous hardware, such as MRAPs and Bradley Fighting Vehicles, that these guys already know how to use.
Chalmers Johnson told us it would come to this a long time ago, but of course he was "radical." Maybe not so much.
So the Michael Brown story was perfect for dealing with the "militarization" of the police and police brutality in general. Eric Holder, who is apparently still the U.S. Attorney General, aroused himself from his customary comatose state to say something. President Obama took a break from the 4th tee in Martha's Vineyard to weigh in. This was the issue du jour: what are we going to do about these militarized police and police brutality? Well, Mr. Obama is the Commander in Chief, and Eric Holder is some kind of top lawyer, apparently, so one idea would be: how about the Pentagon stops furnishing the local Mayberry gendarmes with all this Army surplus? Just a thought.
But solutions aren't really the idea when the Tweets are screaming at the 140 decibel range and the Facebook pages are erupting, and Arianna Huffington, the Zsa Zsa Gabor of serious political pundits, has gotten hold of something that even distracts her from "Gaza" for a couple of beats so she can run 50 point red fonts in her headlines: "FERGUSON!"
It was all perfect. Then the local police chief, the (always-described-as) "embattled" Thomas Jackson, releases a convenience store surveillance video of Michael Brown on the very same day Jackson identifies the police officer involved. The video was taken a few minutes before Michael Brown was fatally shot:
I saw the police chief being interviewed yesterday. In a moment of unintentional hilarity in this sad and tragic episode, the chief was grilled and subjected to hostile cross-examination by a suddenly aroused press corps (some of them from big national outlets) on his highly questionable decision to release the video without being able to prove that the cop in question had known about this "strong arm robbery" at the time of the shooting. Chief Jackson seemed pretty calm and collected about the whole thing. He offered the somewhat lame reason that the video had been the subject of many FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) requests, and he knew he had to release it eventually. So he did it now. The chief did not make much of an effort to prove the shooter cop knew about the robbery; the apprehension of Michael Brown was because Brown was walking down the middle of the street and did not cooperate with Wilson.
When you think about it for a moment, though, it's pretty extraordinary that such a surveillance video should exist of an event that happened within moments of the fatal police-citizen altercation, and to conclude, as the MSA are anxious to conclude, that there is no connection between a strong-arm robbery in which the decedent was the perp (and this is the correct legal definition of the heist Brown pulled off - it was larceny accomplished by force, ergo, robbery) and what happened a few minutes later. But the real problem for the MSM and the Big Meme Machine in general is that this video makes Michael Brown look pretty damn bad.
There's just no getting around it. In the longer versions of the video (taken from different perspectives) Brown takes his time pawing through cigars (as if he owned the place, you might say), loads up on a lot of smokes, and then insouciantly strolls toward the front door. The proprietor, a diminutive Asian, attempts to restrain Michael Brown. Brown, who was 6'-4" tall and over 200 pounds, uses his left arm to shove the owner away with considerable force. And then when the owner has the temerity to come toward Brown again, the felonious Mr. Brown "rises up" over him in a display of dominance and intimidation, then turns and walks out the door.
This short film has a lot of meme-killing elements. Number one, Michael Brown comes off as a thug and a bully. Second, the diminutive Asian is just all wrong for his part; after all, he's another minority and Michael Brown is oppressing him, which is something our clean-cut and college-bound victim/hero should not be doing if this story line is going to work.
So naturally the media gave Chief Jackson the business. How dare he release this video! Naturally, there were instantaneous allegations that the chief was just trying to "smear" Michael Brown, but let's face it: Michael Brown, the star of the video, does a pretty good job of that all on his own.
Was Michael Brown gunned down in cold blood by an out-of-control police officer in broad daylight for no good reason? I don't think we know the answer to that question yet. I found a very long and in-depth analysis in the Washington Post which made that point. The only real eyewitness is Michael Brown's friend and accomplice in the convenience store robbery.
The problem for the Meme Machine in an encounter like this is that it's anecdotal and full of idiosyncratic factual circumstances The media do not like this. Michael Brown needs to be a college-bound nice kid, not a thug shoving a little Asian around in the Asian's own convenience store. Darren Wilson, the cop, needs to be a cold-eyed killer who shot Michael Brown "execution style" not a cop on the beat who was perhaps himself subjected to Brown's brutality and sociopathic behavior. There are parts to be played here, dammit.
Zsa Zsa Huffington loves the phrase "cannot be unseen" when she runs photos of weird things on her screed-zine. This is the problem for the MSM and the Meme Machine generally: the video of Michael Brown cannot be unseen. It's unthinkable that the video wasn't going to surface in the near future. It's clueless and disingenuous to claim that it's "irrelevant." It's a reminder that these sad incidents always involve very specific facts, that the protagonists are not actually acting out assigned roles in some greater "social drama," but just going about their lives. Maybe someday we'll find out what really happened, and long after the one or two elements of the original story that were used to build a national controversy have faded into obscurity in favor of the next outrage.