There have been a good bit of reflection the past couple of weeks on some of the issues that have animated us the most.
The latest intriguing - and welcomed - piece comes from a Washington Post writer, Jonathan Capehart:
In those early hours and early days, there was more unknown than known. But this month, the Justice Department released two must-read investigations connected to the killing of Brown that filled in blanks, corrected the record and brought sunlight to dark places by revealing ugly practices that institutionalized racism and hardship. They have also forced me to deal with two uncomfortable truths: Brown never surrendered with his hands up, and Wilson was justified in shooting Brown.
The report on the Ferguson police department detailed abuse and blatant trampling of the constitutional rights of people, mostly African Americans, in Ferguson. Years of mistreatment by the police, the courts and the municipal government, including evidence that all three balanced their books on the backs of the people of Ferguson, were laid bare in 102 damning pages. The overwhelming data from DOJ provided background and much-needed context for why a small St. Louis suburb most had never heard of exploded the moment Brown was killed. His death gave voice to many who suffered in silence.
The unarmed 18-year-old also became a potent symbol of the lack of trust between African Americans and law enforcement. Not just in Ferguson, but in the rest of the country. Lord knows there have been plenty of recent examples . And the militarized response to protesters by local police put an exclamation point on demonstrators’ concerns. But the other DOJ report, the one on the actual shooting of Michael Brown , shows him to be an inappropriate symbol.
This is what I wrote back in August:
Do I have my suspicions about what caused the shooting? Of course; that's human nature. Here's what I don't have: All the information I need to come to a solid, definitive judgment about what happened. The temptation is to get into debates with people who have come to a hard conclusion, which can quickly lead to seeming as though you have a definitive position even when you know you shouldn't.
Each of us can speculate. The teen could have attacked the officer; or the officer could have murdered an unarmed teen while his hands were raised because he did not value black life; or the cop could have panicked in the heat of the moment and accidentally killed him; or the teen could have panicked, thinking the cop knew about his recent alleged theft from a store, and attacked the officer to try to get a way; and on and on and on ... The speculation can be endless because history is littered with examples of each of those things. But at this point, that's all it is.
Admittedly, though, even as I was writing that, I was also fighting back a major urge to not wait on the facts, to jump right in with definitive conclusions the way many others were. And after the grand jury decided not to indict after a process that didn’t (and still doesn’t) seem credible, it became harder still to resist the “hands up, don’t shoot” mantra.
It’s always tempting.
It’s also necessary to take credible information where it is trying to lead you. In the case of Ferguson, decades of racial strife and division led to the explosive reaction after the Michael Brown shooting, and the Department of Justice uncovered blatant violations of the constitution aimed primarily at black residents. That’s true and must be dealt with.
But that quest for equality should not be built upon a lie.