Anatomy of a lynch mob

© 2014 by H.B. Koplowitz

Yes, it’s politically incorrect, and some will say racist, to compare the protesters in Ferguson, Missouri, to a lynch mob. It’s also highly ironic.

Since Aug. 9, when Officer Darren Wilson, 28, encountered Michael Brown, 18, and his friend, Dorian Johnson, 22, walking in the middle of a street in Ferguson, and shot Brown to death, there’s been more than a week of rallies, marches, fires, vandalism, looting, shooting, curfews, tear gas, stun grenades and rubber bullets. The first day of rioting caused the national media to descend on the predominantly black town of 20,000 in North St. Louis County, and at first they played a positive role, shedding needed light on race and law enforcement problems in Ferguson and elsewhere, including the disproportionate number of blacks who are stopped, frisked, arrested, imprisoned and killed by cops (and each other), and the frightening militarization of local police departments, aided and abetted by federal Homeland Security funds and draconian drug forfeiture laws.

No doubt, Ferguson police mishandled the officer-involved shooting from the get-go, withholding the identity of the officer and the preliminary autopsy results. And no doubt it would be more prudent for St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch to bring in a special prosecutor. But those who are convinced a white cop gunned down a black kid just because he was black are being disingenuous when they say they want answers. When Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson finally did identify the officer, he also released security camera video indicating Brown robbed a convenience store minutes before he was killed. For providing that information, Jackson was accused of character assassination. But if Brown really did rob a store and shove a clerk, didn’t he assassinate his own character?

Those who think Wilson murdered Brown because of his race aren’t much interested in the officer’s side of the story, either. “Josie,” who claimed to be a friend of a friend of the officer, called conservative radio talk show host Dana Loesch on Monday and said the officer’s version is that Brown slugged him, went for his gun and “bum rushed” him in a fury, causing Wilson to keep firing until Brown fell to the pavement. If true, that would mean the signature stance and chant of the protesters, “hands up, don’t shoot,” is a complete fabrication made up by Brown’s friend, Dorian Johnson. Or not. And that’s the point. It takes time to complete an investigation, bring charges, conduct a trial and convict or acquit. Sometimes things aren’t black and white. But nuances are lost on angry mobs.

The Ferguson uprising began with local residents righteously indignant about what they believed was a racist murder by a police officer who hadn’t been arrested. But as often happens during mass demonstrations, “opportunist” criminals and experienced provocateurs from such organizations as the ANSWER Coalition — two of whom, according to the group’s website, were among the seven people arrested Sunday night — have been infiltrating the crowds, trying to turn nonviolent protests into riots. When the police do respond to the looters, shooters, bottle throwers and fire starters, innocent bystanders caught in the tear gas get radicalized. The anger, danger, excitement and chaos become intoxicating, especially for those who were already intoxicated, and some in the media lose their objectivity.

The hundreds of journalists on the ground don’t seem to recognize they have become part of the story — they are further agitating the crowds by their presence. During a post-riot presser early Tuesday, a tired and frustrated Missouri Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson begged the media not to get in the way of the police or “glamorize” the bad guys. Along with self-proclaimed monitors and organizers, they have been dogging the cops like paparazzi, trying to get as close as they can for as long as they can without getting busted, and attracting restive crowds with their bright lights and stand-up interviews. To disperse the crowd early Tuesday, authorities tried a new tactic — they separated a protesting media from the rest of the protesters — and it seemed to work.

Meantime, much of the focus of the protests and media coverage has shifted from the officer-involved shooting to alleged police brutality and infringements of the right to assemble and express grievances. Instead of pointing out that in the interest of public safety, authorities have the right to regulate the time and place of public assemblies (unless they’re in front of abortion clinics), and urging the protesters to obey the police and go home after dark, the media framed the short-lived curfew as a provocation, which became a self-fulfilling prophecy. As for the so-called militaristic response by police, the officers from various communities throughout the St. Louis area, who haven’t had to deal with riots in decades, have shown remarkable restraint. When the media compare Ferguson to Iraq or Afghanistan, they are confusing smoke and tear gas with rockets and machine guns. According to Capt. Johnson, the riot police haven’t fired a shot. It’s not Gaza.

Brown’s family and supporters are understandably upset that the person they made into another Trayvon Martin may, like Martin, have had feet of clay. Although Wilson was a police officer and George Zimmerman was not, their cases are eerily similar. Zimmerman did not use Florida’s “stand your ground” exemption, but pleaded self-defense, the same as Wilson would probably do, if he is charged. And Zimmerman was found innocent by a jury. Race aside, if a Michael Brown murder case came down to the word of a police officer versus the victim’s friend/accomplice in a strong-arm robbery, who would most people tend to believe?

As the St. Louis Post-Dispatch noted in an editorial two days after Brown was killed, whatever led up to him getting shot, he didn’t get due process of law before receiving the death penalty, while the police officer who killed him is getting “plenty of it.” And whether what happened in Ferguson was a race-related OIS or something else, it does not negate all the other race and class problems that exist in America. But when the protesters in Ferguson say they want justice, and they want it now, they are again being disingenuous. What they want is the same kind of justice for Darren Wilson that Michael Brown got. Street justice.

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