It wasn’t so long ago that Ferguson, Mo., was supposed to be an American morality tale of racism, the militarization of police, and all manner of other evil. For a few weeks in August, the attention of the national media focused on the suburb of St. Louis, and MSNBC practically broadcast nothing else. President Barack Obama even mentioned Ferguson at a U.N. speech in the context of terror groups that behead people and sectarian conflicts that kill hundreds of thousands of people.
While the media long ago moved on, the protests have persisted, entering their late, decadent phase of self-indulgent triviality. Cornel West got arrested last week, and Al Sharpton is heading back to Ferguson at the end of the month to pump up attention for what styles itself a movement, although it is more tinny by the day.
A hallmark of August was pointlessly destructive civil disorder, and it’s only gotten more pointless. In late September, the makeshift memorial to Michael Brown on the street in Ferguson burned down, probably set alight by its own candles. This set off minor rioting, including the vandalizing of a beauty salon that has been hit multiple times for the offense of operating a business in a town where protesters are so committed to justice.
In nearby St. Louis a few weeks later, an off-duty cop working as a private security guard shot to death a teen who had fired at him with a Ruger 9mm. It turned out the gun had been stolen two weeks earlier, and the teen, monitored with an ankle bracelet, had been awaiting trial on a felony concealed-weapon charge. This event was nonetheless filtered through the lens of Ferguson. Protesters took the streets to demonstrate against what would strike most people as a legitimate act of self-defense, chanting the inapt “Hands up, don’t shoot!”
During a vigil over this shooting, protesters took to burning American flags, chanting “Burn, baby, burn!” The upside-down American flag has become a mainstay of the Ferguson protesters, who have made sporting events one of their myriad, ongoing targets. It is one of the reasons that the demonstration outside the St. Louis Rams game last weekend turned confrontational with fans who didn’t like seeing the nation’s flag disrespected.
A grand jury is still considering the evidence in the shooting of Michael Brown, which protesters long ago concluded is a case of murder in the first degree. It’s not possible for anyone who wasn’t there to know what happened on that day, when Brown’s friend said Brown was attacked by Officer Darren Wilson and shot while running away. But this story of a coldblooded execution by a cop seems ever more unlikely.
An anonymous witness who saw the entire incident from beginning to end told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that after an initial scuffle in the car, Officer Wilson didn’t shoot Brown until he turned back toward him. Brown kept coming toward Wilson despite orders to stop, and was 20–25 feet away when the last shots were fired. According to the witness, Brown did not raise his arms in the gesture of surrender that is the iconic symbol of the Ferguson protests. Although the witness believes Wilson didn’t have to kill Brown, his version is more complicated than the one taken as a given by the protesters.
The New York Times has reported that Darren Wilson told investigators that Brown pinned him in his vehicle and there was a struggle over his gun, and he feared for his life. FBI forensics show that the gun was indeed fired twice in the car, and Brown’s blood was on the gun and Officer Wilson’s uniform.
Sharpton and protesters maintain that all they want is justice. It may well be what justice demands in this case is no indictment of a cop who fired in self-defense. Although, sadly, that is unlikely to be a formula for peace.
— Rich Lowry is the editor of National Review. He can be reached via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. © 2014 King Features Syndicate