If you’ve been watching cable TV news over the past week or so, as I have, you know the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Mo., is the center of the known universe. That’s because of the initial “narrative” that was presented to cable news viewers after an alleged “racist” white policeman shot an unarmed black teenager to death on the streets of Ferguson.
The facts are, about 10 days ago a 27-year-old white police officer Darren Wilson shot 18-year-old Michael Brown, an African-American, to death during a confrontation near downtown Ferguson.
However, after the shooting there was a total rush to judgment on cable TV. Left-wing MSNBC commentators, including race baiter Al Sharpton (Who else?), described Brown as a “gentle giant” who was shot while minding his own business as he walked down the street in broad daylight. Right-wing Fox News presented the other side of the story as former Los Angeles police detective Mark Fuhrman, who was exposed as a racist during the crazy O.J. Simpson murder trial in the mid-1990s, defended Officer Wilson’s decision to open fire on young Mr. Brown.
The problem with cable news is it’s an insatiable 24-hour operation that requires a steady diet of images, the bloodier and more violent the better. The good (and bad) citizens of Ferguson and beyond provided the networks with plenty of colorful footage by focusing on the looting and rioting that followed the unfortunate incident between Brown and Wilson. Cable journalists (I use the term loosely) gave looters and rioters plenty of time to explain they were merely expressing their “legitimate” grievances by carrying away as many flat-screen TVs as they could handle.
Enter Missouri State Police Capt. Ron Johnson, a proud African-American resident of Ferguson who was appointed as incident commander in order to calm the roiled racial waters and bring the two sides together. Johnson walked the streets talking to anyone and everyone but as he walked the looters and rioters continued to assault the police and steal anything that wasn’t nailed down. A frustrated Johnson denounced them and arrested some of their ringleaders.
The “gentle giant” side of the Brown/Wilson saga dominated the news until police released a surveillance video showing Brown grabbing a handful of cigars and shoving a convenience store clerk out of the way as he headed out into the middle of the street. Officer Wilson, who was on patrol, stopped the two young black men, and that’s when the “facts” become murky.
According to the Brown family and their supporters, Officer Wilson got out of his car and shot Brown as he was running away. A subsequent autopsy by famous Medical Examiner Michael Baden showed that Brown wasn’t shot in the back. In Wilson’s version of the story, however, Brown assaulted him in his patrol car and started to run away before turning around and “bull-rushing” the officer, who opened fire. Six bullets hit Brown, who died on the spot.
Well, it’s a tragic story any way you look at it but it’s not more important than what’s going on in Iraq, where bloodthirsty Islamic militants beheaded an American journalist, or in Chicago (President Obama’s hometown), where 11 people were shot to death last week.
That’s black-on-black crime, however, which is mostly ignored by cable TV “journalists.”
What’s needed in the Brown/Wilson case is a calm, objective and thorough investigation of the real facts in order to determine whether Officer Wilson should face homicide charges. Although Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon called for a “vigorous prosecution,” I think a vigorous investigation should come first. In other words, ignore the Ferguson talk and let justice take its course.
Guy W. Farmer is the Appeal’s senior political columnist.