After the decision to not indict Officer Darren Wilson was released it seemed as if, as Ferguson went up in flames, the liberal and conservative media engaged in a standoff of their own. On one side, the supporters of Michael Brown, advocating for someone to be held accountable in what has evolved from a simple shooting into a remarkably complicated and nuanced case. On the other side, the supporters of Officer Darren Wilson have cited unfortunate circumstances but by-the-book actions as the cause of Brown’s death.
Following the shooting, the media amplified the event to one of historical proportions, an escalation that I was an active player in. As the events of August 9, 2014 became clearer, in a tragic mirroring of the Trayvon Martin case, the media’s decision to ignore facts in favor of elevating rhetoric was also more pronounced.
Perhaps, this urge to see the best in Brown and the worst in Wilson was spurred by a need to be vindicated for the Martin debacle. While Martin’s case was complicated and unclear, here was one that was, quite literally, in broad daylight. The phrase “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” was not just a statement, it was a poetic rallying cry that had a poignant message – it is never safe to be a black man in America.
As the case continued to unfurl, witnesses came forward and clouded the pristinely polished surface of a now not so clear-cut case. However, the media had taken its stance and no witness statement or evidence could possibly shift it. When a line is drawn, there are few on TV or in the news that are willing to admit that they may have done so hastily. Rather, each side dug their heels in and prepared for a fight.
Sadly, holding Martin and Brown so high may have contributed to their case’s eventual downfall. When a man is made a martyr, we expect him to live up to the code of such a role. Unable to explain their actions post-mortem, both boys were plucked from obscurity and transformed into icons. There are few icons that do not deal with an eventual, although not always catastrophic, trip in their narrative. We all have secrets that might contradict with the face that we try to share with the world.
The secrets of Martin and Brown and their roles in their deaths, while distinctly different, are undeniably linked. Young black men engage in a physical altercation and are killed in the process. Tragic? Yes. Necessary? Absolutely not. Deserving of martyrdom? I don’t know.
We have huge race problems in America that must be addressed, and it’s possible that Brown would have never been shot if he’d been born a different color. But I also don’t think that it’s fair to expect him, or any person, to be the face of a movement that they did not opt into. Having a face to put on an issue makes it easier to connect with and disseminate, so I understand the allure, but it also sets that movement up for extreme scrutiny that may overshadow the movement’s true purpose.
Let’s continue to advocate for stricter gun control, better cop training, more accountability with our police and military officers, and race equality, but let’s also leave Michael Brown out of it. While we fight for fairness, he should be allowed to rest in peace.