Wednesday, November 26, 2014

ABC's Stephanopoulos's extended interview with Darren Wilson

Late Tuesday night, at 12:35 AM Wednesday, November 26, 2014, ABC Nightline aired the complete interview of police officer Darren Wilson by George Stephanopoulos. The entire video last 45 minutes, and ABC News gave the episode the title “Decision in Ferguson.”  The full link is here.    Many partial embeds are available on YouTube.  I’ll also give the Wikipedia link here

The details that officer Wilson relate are shocking.  He, although armed, seems to have been trapped in his own cruiser by an unarmed young man with the build of a pro football lineman.  It seems that Brown finally started to retreat but then returned, even as shots were hitting him. 

It’s true that eyewitness accounts from the community contradict what Wilson says, but forensics apparently support what Wilson says. 

Yet, it seems unbelievable, at first, that an unarmed man would attack an armed uniform police officer, even in his cruiser, this way. 

Other indignant voices in Ferguson’s African-American community seem to maintain that he is lying.  They often, as in a barber shop interview (almost as in the film franchise “”Barber Shop”) indicate a belief that the mostly white police department behaves as part of a corrupt power structure, like that of past generations.  They also think that it is a convenient coincidence that the grand jury, randomly chosen (although the process usually is not as random as it needs to be because of the length of the term) had nine of twelve white members.

Wilson’s testimony is graphic in its precise detail.  But to judge its credibility, I can only pause to review a few possible confrontations in my own life, for comparison.

One time, as I walked near the Capitol in Washington, I saw a couple of Capitol Police officers, and one had a revolver that appeared loose.  A street attacker could have taken it from him from behind.  I simply crossed the street and got away from this as quickly as possible.

Twice, for example, I’ve been in situations where I feared carjacking, once locally and once in Ohio.  In the local situation, the perpetrator appeared stoned on drugs and unable to carry out his threat.  In both occasions, I sped away quickly and nothing happened.  Facebook founded Mark Zuckerberg reports a similar incident in California just after he had moved there to start his company, and he likewise drove away instantly.  In all these cases, simply retreating worked.  I know that some on the “right wing” will say we were lucky and should have been able to defend ourselves.  But often retreat works.  In another occasion a few years ago, at some distance I inadvertently saw an older man make what looked like an inappropriate advance on an athletic teenage boy.  The teenager ignored it and simply walked away.  In my own observation, retreat usually happens.   

In Ferguson, the whole tragic encounter took just 90 seconds.  Wilson says he followed procedure to the letter.  It seems that backup forces took longer than expected to arrive.  Brown could not have escaped arrest if backup had arrived sooner.  Wilson says he agrees with the idea of police wearing cameras. In this case, it seems like it is very difficult to prove hard facts.  It is amazing how difficult this is.

Michael Brown’s behavior that Saturday sounds unbelievable.  He reportedly was going to college and had not been in trouble, does not report mental illness or drug issues.  Then why was he shoplifting?  And why was he, a “good kid”, suddenly behaving in such a belligerent manner? This sounds like a question for Dr. Phil. 

Possibly there had been some informal plan among some residents of the community to ask one of the more physically compelling members to be willing to confront police, given a belief that they were themselves being targeted.  This sounds sinister and gang-like, but maybe this was happening.  I am not a big believer in affirmative action, but why had not normal human resources practices resulted in more African American police officers on the force as a matter of routine?
The violence in the Ferguson community, however, has probably harmed more African-American business owners than anyone else.  It makes no sense to talk about victims; they bore the losses and pay for the crimes of others.  AC360 addressed the issue of lost businesses here
Huffington Post has an important article about other recent police shootings, link here.  ( I see no mention there of Darrien Hunt in Utah.) Ebony has an interview with Pharrell Williams who does ask about Michael Brown's "bullyish" and out-of-character behavior, which it seems no one is looking at. 

Note that former prosecutor Nancy Grace said on HLN that "it doesn't add up" and that (like me or Zuckerberg) Wilson should have driven out of the way if he feared for his life, link here. 
The angry (from the crowds) rhetoric seems not to be about facts and logic, but about enemies, taking sides, loyalties, and conflict, even “class warfare” as Noam Chomsky would portray it. It’s a sort of thinking not so different from radical behavior in other parts of the world, including religiously based. Even if Darren Wilson has a clean conscience and is telling the complete truth (and I'm inclined to believe him), he will still pay personally the consequences for sharing in a "group wrong" of a pattern of racial injustice from the past.  It is a trend I cannot afford to be caught up by, or it ends my life.  

I realize that the attention to the ABC report may seem one-sided.  If some party presents a detailed report with the opposing view, I would watch it and review it. 
Pictures: demonstrations in Washington DC, Nov. 25, near Mt. Vernon Square 

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