Politics & Policy

In Ferguson, a Race to Be Wrong

Firebrand in Ferguson: Al Sharpton (Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
Legions of activists and commentators have convinced themselves that we know exactly what happened.

The events in Ferguson, Mo., have launched a familiar spectacle: the race to be wrong first.

Michael Brown, an 18-year-old African-American man, was shot by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson. The Washington Post had more on the story about what one witness called an “execution-style slaying”:

“Lawyer Freeman Bosley Jr. said Dorian Johnson, a friend of Brown’s, has told the FBI that Officer Darren Wilson confronted the two because they were walking in the middle of the street.

“Wilson cursed at the pair and ordered them onto the sidewalk, Bosley told the Washington Post. When they refused to comply, he said, the officer grabbed Brown’s throat through the window of his cruiser, pulled out a pistol and shot him. Wilson then chased Brown, shot him in the back and shot him five to six more times as Brown’s hands were raised, Bosley said.”

An autopsy commissioned by the Brown family suggests that account is not true, at least in regard to the most incendiary charge. None of the bullets fired at Johnson entered his body through his back. That hardly means Wilson was justified in shooting Brown even once. Nor does it necessarily mean Wilson is a murderer. The simple fact is we don’t know.

The rush to condemn Wilson’s conduct and the gallop to martyr Brown may have set land-speed records. The New Yorker, like numerous outlets, reported that Brown was walking to his grandmother’s home when confronted by Wilson. A video released from the by turns hapless and devious Ferguson Police Department alleges that he was actually walking from a thuggish and brazen shoplifting of a box of cigars from a convenience store.

That video is almost surely irrelevant to Wilson’s state of mind, since the police said he didn’t know about the shoplifting incident. It is, however, inconvenient from the martyrdom angle.

But don’t tell that to the legions of too-often-interchangeable activists, commentators, and reporters who have convinced themselves that we know exactly what happened, or at least all we need to know.

Al Sharpton, with decades of racial ambulance-chasing under his belt, insists that “America is on trial” in Ferguson.

Of course he does.

The New Black Panthers and the Nation of Islam claim that their groups control the situation in Ferguson. And the Ku Klux Klan is dipping its pillowcase-covered beak into this mess now, rounding out the whole legion of doom.

MSNBC’s Chris Hayes, with days of experience in such things under his belt, announced on Twitter, “I think the security problem in Ferguson is not solvable through policing. Until charges are brought against Wilson, this will go on.”

Hayes — actually one of MSNBC’s cooler heads in this tale — was quick to respond to critics that he was simply reporting on the mood in the city. I’m sure he’s right about the mood of the people he’s listening to. But such moods have no legal standing whatsoever.

Nearly everything about this story is ugly: the gleeful ideological and bureaucratic point-scoring, the spectacle of a militarized police force and bunkered police leadership, the self-congratulatory advocacy journalism, the Molotov cocktails and despondent victims of looting, the feeding frenzy of Sharpton and Jesse Jackson and countless lesser activist remoras, and — perhaps most of all — the constant soul-corrupting rationalizations of lawlessness that come with seeing the right “context.” (Context! Is there nothing it can’t do?)

Save for the occasionally reported efforts of Ferguson residents and civic leaders to restore calm and clean up the nightly mess, there’s little admirable or uplifting to any of it. There’s the air of “the worse, the better” behind so many of the agendas.

There also seems to be a bipartisan desire to make President Obama part of the story. He is the first black president and a former community organizer, after all. The media maw needs a quote.

Obama, as is his wont, took the bait. His comments Friday were defensible on the merits, but what was the point? He clearly mollified no one and exposed himself, once again, to being dragged along by events. On Friday, he explained how he and his team are monitoring events closely. On Monday, the White House revealed that it learned of the National Guard’s deployment into Ferguson from the news.

The race to be wrong, it seems, isn’t a sprint but a marathon — and everyone, including the president, wants to participate.

— Jonah Goldberg is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and editor-at-large of National Review Online. You can write to him by e-mail at goldbergcolumn@gmail.com or via Twitter @JonahNRO. © 2014 Tribune Content Agency, LLC

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