A Montana Reaction to Ferguson
There is something comforting for those of us who benefit from our white privilege in pointing out obvious racism, like the Whitefish “anti-racist” battle Cowgirl covered a few days ago. What I thought a bit curious was the first comment, from James Conner, who argues for a more tolerant approach to white supremacy:
Richard Spencer’s views are reprehensible. He’s also a law abiding resident of Whitefish. Trying to run him out of town because he holds unpopular beliefs is an act of intolerance, not love.
The situation is approaching a point where some will think it wise to erect on the city limits a sign saying “Welcome to Whitefish — but only if you’re a liberal.”
Before getting to Conner’s views on Ferguson, I’d like readers to give some thought to what constitutes a law abiding person of any municipality. To achieve this status, does that mean one never jaywalks? How about running a red light, or speeding? There are a lot of laws on the books. At some point, even the most diligent citizen will find himself/herself in non-compliance of some law.
I bring up petty offenses because the chain of events that led to Michael Brown being shot dead in the street by officer Wilson was a petty offense. Whether or not Wilson addressed the two black youth walking in the street in a civil, professional manner is still contested. But James Conner is satisfied with the decision by the jury, comprised of 9 white people and 3 black people, as evidenced by this post, titled Ferguson: so far, no injuries or deaths, just vandalism:
President Obama called for calm. So did Attorney General Holder. The people protesting the grand jury’s decision not to indict Darren Wilson paid the President and his chief law enforcement and civil rights officer no heed. They took to the streets with their matchbooks and hatchets, breaking windows, setting fires, not just in Ferguson, MO, but around the country. So far, no one has been injured or killed, but that luck probably won’t hold.
There was always the possibility that the facts of the shooting in Ferguson would support the policeman’s version of the events. That seems to be the case. Reports in the New York Times and elsewhere suggest that Brown, a powerful young man who stood 6-foot-four and weighed almost 300 pounds, had just robbed a convenience store, roughing up the clerk, then swaggered down the middle of the street, where, confronted by Wilson and told to move to the side of the road, he slugged Wilson through the police car’s open window. Wilson, fearing great injury to himself, shot Brown in the hand. A few tens of seconds later, Brown, apparently amok, charged Wilson, who shot Brown dead.
I doubt the fact that Brown was black and Wilson white had anything to do with how the incident went down; that Brown said to himself, “I’m gonna punch-out that honky pig,” or that Wilson said to himself, “Gonna kill me a nigger; self-defense.” Brown’s color didn’t matter. He was a huge person, belligerent and enraged, who stupidly provoked a life and death confrontation with a man with a gun. No one should be surprised at the outcome.
Now I don’t think James Conner is an obvious racist, but this three paragraph reaction to the rage being expressed over the non-indictment of Wilson reeks of white privilege and perpetuates a willful, ignorant denial of the racial aspects of this shooting.
Conner is echoing the depiction of Brown by Officer Wilson, who described feeling like a 5 year old holding on to Hulk Hogan when he grabbed Brown’s arm. James Conner describes “a powerful young man who stood 6-foot-four and weighed almost 300 pounds” because it’s that mortal fear of Brown’s physical presence, combined with the allegation (disputed) that Brown “charged, apparently amok”, that ultimately convinced the jury not to indict.
Not mentioned by Conner is that the other party in this fatal altercation, Officer Wilson, is also 6-foot-four, and was inside a sturdy police car with his gun when whatever physical altercation initially took place.
I can’t for the life of me understand how Conner can say he doubts the fact that Brown was black and Wilson was white had anything to do with how the incident went down. Wilson’s own words literally demonizes Brown, bestowing super-human strength on this 18 year old to bulk up after being shot to charge like some crazed animal.
These are Wilson’s own words:
“He looked up at me and had the most aggressive face,” Wilson testified. “The only way I can describe it, it looks like a demon, that’s how angry he looked.”
James Conner is usually capable of reasoned analysis, but his response to what’s happening in Ferguson and across the nation is truly reprehensible.
Bob McCulloch, the prosecutor who chose to give his disastrous press conference Monday night, provided a perfect example of exactly what not to do if one doesn’t want to exacerbate an already volatile, racially charged situation. Maybe there would have been property damage anyway, but McCulloch’s prosecutorial defense of Wilson, and his calling into question certain witness accounts of what happened, guaranteed it.
Racism isn’t just the obvious white supremacist stuff. It’s also the privilege of a white guy in Montana saying Michael Brown being black had nothing to do with how this incident went down.