Controlling the narrative in Ferguson

Anonymous "Hands Up, Don't Shoot" protester in Ferguson, MO.

Anonymous “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” protester in Ferguson, MO.

The news coverage of Michael Brown‘s killing in Ferguson, MO is a classic example of conservatives trying to change the story. The facts are that Ferguson Police officer Darren Wilson shot the unarmed teenager Brown multiple times, seemingly execution style, and killed him. But the Ferguson Police, Fox News and other conservatives are trying to distract us from the facts with various narratives.

First it was that the protests in response to Brown’s killing (and Ferguson officials’ refusal even to name the officer who shot Brown) had turned into “looting” and “rioting” by “thugs.” Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson ran to Sean Hannity on Fox News to push this right wing narrative. In fact, the initial protests were peaceful, and it was the Ferguson Police, joined by several other police departments, that went on a rampage, using military equipment and tactics, firing teargas and rubber bullets, aiming rifles at peaceful protesters and reporters, etc. The Missouri Highway Patrol had to take over from the local law enforcement, but that effort increasingly looks like a P.R. stunt, or at least an ineffective effort, as the police brutality problem regarding the Ferguson protests persists even now.

The next story put out by Ferguson Police and Fox News was that Michael Brown himself was a “thug.” That’s when Ferguson police released a portion of the convenience store security camera video allegedly showing Brown engaged in criminal behavior. Then, four days after Brown’s shooting, Ferguson’s Mayor, James Knowles ran to right wing network Newsmax TV to further this victim-blaming narrative, engaging with host Steve Malzberg about whether Al Sharpton‘s presence in Ferguson would further inflame tensions.

The problem was that Darren Wilson wasn’t chasing Michael Brown over anything to do with the convenience store. Wilson stopped Brown for jaywalking. In the courts, the convenience store video likely would be labeled irrelevant and merely designed to prejudice the jury, and probably would have been prohibited from being entered into evidence. But Michael Brown wasn’t in court, he was walking while black in Ferguson. And this isn’t a courtroom, it’s the court of public opinion, where anything can be entered into the record, no matter how irrelevant and how prejudicial. Moreover, if this case gets to a courtroom, i.e., a trial of Darren Wilson, this videotape could taint the jury pool.

Ferguson Police Chief Jackson next went on a P.R. offensive for Darren Wilson, telling reporters that Wilson had faced no prior disciplinary action before killing Michael Brown. Jackson even used the cliche that has been said so often about people after they murder someone that it has become a joke: “He was a gentle, quiet man.” Again, Wilson’s clean record, if that is the case, has no bearing on his actions against Michael Brown on August 9. It’s all just a classic conservative effort to keep feeding their narrative in this case, something liberals need to master.

So don’t allow your opinions or discussions to be swayed by the conservatives’ shiny objects. They’ll try to drag you into the weeds about the convenience store video and about bad bad Michael Brown and good Darren Wilson and Al Sharpton and riots and looting and thugs. This is the same playbook that George Zimmerman, Fox News and other right wingers used in the Trayvon Martin shooting. Don’t get bogged down responding to Republican talking points and questions about the store video. This is about the execution-style killing of a young black man by a police officer for walking while black, and wildly excessive, military-style police tactics after the fact. Keep the focus on Darren Wilson’s actions. Where is Wilson now? Why was he allowed to skip town? Wasn’t he placed on administrative leave and forced to turn in his gun and his badge, as well as be required to stay in town for questioning, which is common after a police officer shoots anyone? Let’s call for a nationwide manhunt to bring Darren Wilson to justice.

Finally, remember that even George Zimmerman wasn’t arrested and charged when he shot Trayvon Martin. It took six weeks of activism and public outcry for that to happen. Let’s keep the pressure up, and keep your focus where it belongs in this case.

Photo by Shawn Semmler, used under Creative Commons license.

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