Saturday, August 16, 2014

Malice and Mindlessness in Missouri


Today is Sept. 10. A lot has happened since I posted a rant August 16 about the furor over the shooting of a black teen by a white cop in Ferguson, Missouri. But one thing hasn’t changed in more than three weeks since then: the dishonesty and cynicism of partisans on both sides who seek to aggravate and exploit the situation.

One example is a widely-circulated photo purporting to show serious injuries inflicted on Police Officer Darren Wilson by Michael Brown before Wilson shot him. It was soon exposed as disinformation; the man in the photo was not Wilson but a race car driver, already deceased:

It hasn’t been determined, as far as I can tell, just who was responsible for circulating this disinformation, but I think it was probably done in support of a Fox News story posted Aug. 20 by Hollie McKay. I don’t know whether McKay was duped by somebody in the police department trying to spin the story, or just by some troll trying to pour fuel on the fire. But as of Sept. 10, she hadn’t taken down her original story, only the comments. Does that mean she still stands by it?

Another example of deliberate disinformation was a racist rant, supposedly by the wife of Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson. Jackson himself has a lot to answer for; it was his release of a video showing Brown’s strong-arm theft of cigars from a convenience store, with its implied message that Brown deserved to be killed, that touched off major riots by black people in town – rather than the shooting itself. But the alleged rant was actually by some woman in St. Petersburg, Florida, with no connection to Jackson or Ferguson.

Not only that, but David Emery at About News observed: “ writer Aaron Sharockman traced the original tweet attributing the quote to the police chief's wife to a Twitter account associated with the hacktivist group Anonymous.” That’s right, a group that purports to fight for truth and justice was smearing Jackson’s wife, obviously in hopes that people would harass her – and maybe stage further riots.

Incidentally, I checked today, and Anonymous still hadn’t retracted an earlier assertion that the cop who shot Brown was Bryan Willman rather than Darren Wilson. One black activist who accepted that story posted that there was a communications specialist by that name with the St. Ann police department, and I see he hasn’t taken down his post – for all I know, Willman is still being harassed. A conservative campaign to defend Willman in the Brown case still has a Facebook page, but the conservative focus now is, naturally, to defend Wilson, but after collecting hundreds of thousands of dollars, that effort turned out to face legal and other embarrassments:

You all know that the White House made a show of force at Brown’s funeral, and that Attorney General Eric Holder has launched an investigation of the Ferguson police – which may be expanded to other police departments in St. Louis County. Like, there aren’t any other police departments in the whole country that have problems with race? New York, for example? But it’s Ferguson that has made the national headlines, and with the Democrats facing trouble in mid-term elections, the party wants to exploit that to get out the black vote – as the liberal New York Times reported quite bluntly:

You can be sure the Republicans, Fox News and right wing bloggers will be working just as hard get out the conservative white vote – and even limit the black vote. But the lines have been drawn in Ferguson itself: tempers are so high that, regardless of the facts of the case, anything short of a murder conviction and a long prison term for Darren Wilson will be seen as a miscarriage of justice by blacks – and anything short of his total exoneration likewise seen as a miscarriage of justice by whites. As Ferguson goes, so goes the nation, and few seem to dare challenge those who spread distrust and division for political gain:

Below is my original rant, posted August 16:

You all know what happened Friday [Aug. 15]. Ferguson, Missouri Police Chief Thomas Jackson made a big thing about releasing a video of Michael Brown, the young black man later killed by an officer he identified as Darren Wilson, pulling a strong-arm robbery at a convenience store. Within hours, angry young blacks were looting and vandalizing that very store:

Things had been peaceful since Missouri Governor Jay Nixon had the Highway Patrol take over security in the town, and appointed a black officer, Capt. Ron Johnson, to supervise the operation. When Chief Jackson released the video, he implied that Wilson had been on the lookout for Brown and his friend Darian Johnson, rather than picking them out at random. Jackson later admitted that Wilson hadn’t been aware that Brown was a robbery suspect, but by then the damage had been done: people believed that he had released the video only to give the impression that Brown was a hardened criminal who deserved to be killed. It turns out that the Justice Department had feared just that, warning Jackson that it would “roil the community further:”

Jackson claimed that he released the video only in response to pressure by the media, but that can’t be credited. Few if any of the press people even knew about the robbery, let alone its connection with Brown. I strongly suspect that the real reason was pure spite – that Jackson was pissed off about the Highway Patrol taking over “his” town. But the spitefulness wasn’t limited to Jackson and the white establishment. I Googled a bit, and came across a website that shows an instance of the radical black reaction: Look for the comment by Matt S. Bashaw:

Bashaw: “Wow cool a black cop marching with the crowd. He's just like guy from BP that comes on tv and kisses everybody's ass whenever they dump a million or gallons of oil somewhere. Fucking Uncle Tom and they're buying it.”

Chances are there is more vitriol like that spread by the social media, or just word-of-mouth. One thing I’ve noticed is that some of the rioters were wearing black ski masks – just like the kind of cops who smash their way into homes and apartments (sometimes the wrong ones) looking for drugs… or even the “soldiers” of Hamas and other radical Islamist groups.

One thing about the world of the Internet is that people take anything that appears on it for gospel – at least, if it ties in with a gospel they already believe. When Anonymous, which revels in exploiting any news of violence that is perpetrated or excused by the authorities only in hopes of instigating further violence, falsely identified Bryan P. Willman as the shooter, people on both sides took the bait. Below is a post by a black man who figured he’d located that Willman, a communications supervisor for the police department in St. Ann, a 13 to 15-minute drive from Ferguson. Right, this Willman would suddenly hop in his car and drive to another town just to shoot somebody there? DDot Omen’s post was still there late Saturday afternoon, long after the Anonymous story had been discredited. 

But guess what. A conservative named Robert Rich also took Anonymous’ word for it that Willman was the man. Like Omen, he posted the picture supplied by Anonymous – only to promote a Facebook page intended to rally fellow conservatives to Willman’s defense. Rich had the wrong man, but he was absolutely certain what had gone down. And like Omen, he hadn’t made any update or correction as of Saturday afternoon:

As of 4:12 p.m. Saturday afternoon, the Facebook site had attracted 378 likes. You’d think there wouldn’t be even that many stupid people. But our times have encouraged a trend that seems to unite too many self-professed conservatives and liberals, and advocates of any number of causes: a deadly combination of malice and mindlessness.