By Bekah Paxton, Staff Writer
“I can’t believe that’s only the first time we’ve heard about an officer being attacked,” I recently overheard a classmate say, upon hearing the news that two police officers were shot this past Saturday in Ferguson, Mo.
His tone implied that it would be legitimate for the African American population of Ferguson to retaliate against the local law enforcement. This comment was utterly infuriating, as the speaker seemed to have been swept up by the media and assumed that the death of teenager Michael Brown and this most recent shooting were racially charged events. On the contrary, the general consensus across the media is that these recent shootings were unrelated to continuing protests after the death of Brown. This person essentially justified the shooting of the police officers as “what was coming” to them. He made the case a race issue, which is still very much in question.
In light of the continuing chain of events in Ferguson, Mo., Missouri, it has become increasingly clear that perhaps most people don’t truly understand what the facts on the case are and what is speculation. The relationship between an event and public sentimentality is common in a society where the media is free and open, and the events in Ferguson over the past couple of months are a perfect example.
The facts that we know about the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown are still limited. Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson confronted Brown and a friend on the street. There was some kind of altercation, either instigated by Wilson or Brown, where there was a struggle over Wilson’s weapon. The teen was unarmed at the time of the attack, but shots were fired and Brown had been hit multiple times and died.
A CNN article reported that the Ferguson police department revealed that Brown was a “primary suspect” in the robbery of a convenience store just before he was confronted by police and killed. Security footage revealed Brown violently harassing a store owner before leaving with approximately $50 worth of merchandise. Officer Darren Wilson had never been subject to any disciplinary action, due to racial injustices or other, according to the Ferguson police department.
The most significant fact of this case is that investigations are still ongoing. We don’t know why Officer Wilson felt the need to shoot at Brown, whether it was self-defense or racially charged motives as protestors seem to believe.
Though we label ourselves as a progressive nation, I’m not so sure that we have completely overcome racism. Racism is simply differentiation based on the color of one’s skin. By labeling an incident such as this as a racially charged murder simply because the shooter was white and the victim was black, we are not outside of that ‘racist’ category.
I’m not saying that the officer didn’t take race into question; however, it is unfair and dangerous to simply assume that the officer indeed targeted Michael Brown because he was black. After the incident, the media blew up in sympathy for Brown’s family. News stations did not accurately represent the absolute facts of the case and projected their own opinions on whether or not Officer Wilson was a racist. The protests surrounding Brown’s death were covered in a way that made him look like a helpless victim when in fact Brown may be guiltier of some of the police’s allegations than people would like to admit. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder went down to Missouri for the funeral, confirming that Brown was a sort of martyr for human rights, which may or may not be accurate.
We don’t know why Officer Wilson killed teenager Michael Brown, but the public has escalated the case into a black-versus-white scenario. The overly emotional reaction to the Ferguson incidents makes it more dangerous for both police officers and citizens under law enforcement. People get so swept up in the mob mentality fueled by these protests, losing and lose touch with the facts, that some may translate advocating for human rights into advocating for backlash against police officers. Police in turn develop rising suspicions about civilians who may seek to harm them, and may react more violently and superfluously to threats of unrest or violence.
The take-away from the ongoing Ferguson case is that we must strive to seek out the unwavering facts. American media is blessed with freedom, but cursed with so many strong opinions. We have to learn to see through the bias and the sentimentality and discover what is actually happening in our world. Sentimentality over a case like this only creates an impassioned mob mentality that, when left unchecked, causes destruction and danger for law enforcement and citizens.