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I certainly understand why so many people are upset about certain aspects of John Eligon’s article on Mike Brown in the Times, specifically the use of the phrase “no angel” and, well, basically all of this:

Michael Brown, 18, due to be buried on Monday, was no angel, with public records and interviews with friends and family revealing both problems and promise in his young life. Shortly before his encounter with Officer Wilson, the police say he was caught on a security camera stealing a box of cigars, pushing the clerk of a convenience store into a display case. He lived in a community that had rough patches, and he dabbled in drugs and alcohol. He had taken to rapping in recent months, producing lyrics that were by turns contemplative and vulgar. He got into at least one scuffle with a neighbor.

And initially I was upset about it as well. Because, honestly, what does any of this have to do with this young man’s murder at the hands of the police of Ferguson, Missouri?

Absolutely nothing.

And yet, I think there’s been a good deal of over-reaction to this article, understandable, perhaps, in such a highly-charged atmosphere. Because, really, the article is a comprehensive profile of Brown, not some hit job on Fox News. And if you’re going to write an honest profile of who this young man was, you can’t leave out some parts of who he was, or what he did, just because they don’t make him out to be a saint.

And, further, just because he wasn’t a saint doesn’t mean what happened to him was just — and wasn’t murder. What the police did was wrong no matter who the victim was. The victim just happened to be Mike Brown.

For more on this, for a thoughtful response to the reaction to Eligon’s article, I highly recommend this post by Steve M. at No More Mister Nice Blog, which includes the following:

“No angel,” as has been endlessly pointed out online, is a phrase the Times has used to describe Whitey Bulger and Al Capone; however, it’s also a phrase used to describe Angelica Pickles from Rugrats and Cherubin from The Marriage of Figaro. It’s a flexible phrase; if we white readers think it damns a young black man, it’s because we think a young black man must be morally flawless to be worthy of respect (whereas a young white man should be cut more slack) — or we believe that other whites believe this.
And I suppose plenty of whites do believe this. But it doesn’t mean that an portrait of Brown has to be written for the racist lowest common denominator. In the immediate aftermath of his death, it was said that he shouldn’t have to be a perfect person to be someone whose shooting outrages us. Now, apparently, he does have to be perfect.

But of course no one is. Let us all mourn Mike Brown’s passing, let us all abhor his killing, let us all demand justice, but let us all also strive for the truth, no matter how troubling, no matter how much it may challenge the comforting narratives we construct to explain, and explain away, the challenges of the human condition.

Mike Brown was not perfect. That just makes him more human, more real, and I respect him more for that, for knowing something of what his life was like, the good as well as the less good.

Cross-posted from The Reaction

MICHAEL STICKINGS, Assistant Editor
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Copyright 2014 The Moderate Voice
  • sheknows

    I don’t really think that” white people expect blacks to be morally a saint to be worthy of respect”. I think white people, including the police stereotype black people.
    Mitt Romney’s comment summed up the way white society often views blacks…as lazy takers looking to scam the system. They see blacks portrayed on tv as thugs, and if not the thugs, then the police or attorneys or doctors who deal with the black thugs.
    The media view of the minority world involves nothing but black and Hispanic drug lords, 14 yr old gang members and unmarried teens running around with one or two babies.
    I KNOW there are other areas of successful, productive black and Hispanic portrayals out there..but they are not “entertaining” enough. The few token black shows of successful people doing great things ( other than sports) is well,…are there any on any network besides BET?

  • rudi

    and he dabbled in drugs and alcohol.
    This describes around 90% of teenagers. These two teen girls turned out OK.
    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1200953/Bush-twins-Jenna-Barbara-Secret-Service-nightmare-claims-US-book-dishes-dirt-First-Families.html
    http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/story?id=121607

    It could be a chilly weekend at Camp David.

    After being cited by Texas police for underage drinking Thursday, President Bush’s 19-year-old twin daughters are heading to the presidential retreat in Maryland for what could be an awkward weekend with their family.

    Texas police issued citations on misdemeanor charges to the first daughters on Thursday for a night out at an Austin restaurant earlier this week.

    Jenna, who less than a month ago pleaded “no contest” to possession of alcohol charges, was cited for showing another person’s identification to buy drinks. Barbara, along with a 20-year-old friend who was with them, was cited for possession of alcohol. The Austin Police Department said today a hearing had been scheduled for June 12.

    Can’t find if the Bush twins ever “dabbled in rap.”

  • rudi

    These two angels may also have criminal records. Is it safe to drive in Dallas “driving while a Bush twin?”

  • rudi

    Another Bush girl has an actual mugshot. Is Noelle Bush an Angel or a Thug?
    Smiley face

  • dduck

    “The man, Dillon Delbert Taylor, was shot twice outside a 7-Eleven after an Aug. 11 confrontation with officers. His supporters say he was unarmed and complain that the episode has received little news media attention……….”
    http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/28/us/seeking-answers-in-utah-shooting.html?_r=0 (Page A18, today.)
    I guess the press, Holder and even Sharpton can’t be in two places at the same time.

  • yoopermoose

    I looked at the link dd. I don’t see that SLC became a war zone due to the protests, or that police shot rubber bullets at the protesters, or used tear gas, or used sniper rifles. Other than that, of course, it is exactly the same as Ferguson.

  • dduck

    None of that happened did it. Why?

  • dduck
  • JSpencer

    he shouldn’t have to be a perfect person to be someone whose shooting outrages us

    Thank-you.

  • Chickenfarmer

    Kristof’s article cited above by dduck raises some good points. However when Kristof cites a difference of .015 seconds in shooting an armed black verses an armed white I hardly think that is evidence of racism. Seems like he was trying too hard to prove his point. There are much better indicators of racism than this minuscule variation in a laboratory experiment.

  • dduck

    “Are Police Bigoted?
    Race and Police Shootings: Are Blacks Targeted More?”
    http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/31/sunday-review/race-and-police-shootings-are-blacks-targeted-more.html