The disjointed, gap-laden manner in which Ferguson, Mo. Police Chief Thomas Jackson revealed the name of the police officer who shot 18-year-old Michael Brown to death – all the while alleging that Brown had robbed a convenience store a short time before their encounter – should convince any thinking person that that community’s White power structure is engaged in a cover-up.
Jackson’s behavior only increased the already-voluminous questions about the actions of the officer, Darren Wilson, in his confrontation with Brown on August 9, and about the rough-house, violent conduct of the police under Jackson’s command during the following week.
Indeed, one could start by asking why Jackson would release those two pieces of highly sensitive information, which, of course, he had in his possession all week, without first consulting with Gov. Jay Nixon and Capt. Ron Johnson, the state Highway Patrol leader whom Nixon had brought in to end the violence—from freelance looters and police. Why not do that and then, release the information at a news conference with Gov. Nixon and Capt. Johnson at his side?
Here’s one answer: Because Jackson and city officials are still “crafting” the “right” story of what happened that ended with Wilson shooting Michael Brown “multiple times.” So, he’s branded Michael Brown a criminal – ‘red meat’ to those who’ll grasp at anything to exonerate Wilson and the police of wrongdoing.
Michael Brown’s death is joined with the recent police killings of Eric Garner, of New York City; and Ezell Ford, of Los Angeles, and a long, tragic list because it exemplifies a particular societal phenomenon: unarmed Black civilians who were not apparently engaged in any wrongdoing killed during a sudden confrontation with White police officers.
Ironically, one perspective on why these tragedies recur again and again can be gained from considering what happened to Raymond Wilford, a Black Seattle resident, on the same day of Michael Brown’s death, Saturday, August 9, as he walked to meet a friend at Seattle’s Westlake Mall.
According to news reports, as Wilford approached the mall where a peaceful pro-Palestinian rally was underway, he was suddenly accosted by a White man who was shirtless, and, witnesses later said, had been harassing the demonstrators with racist slurs. Much of the brief confrontation between Wilford and the man was captured in pictures and a video taken by a photographer who had been covering the demonstration.
Wilford, taken aback, raised his fists as if prepared to defend himself against the man whom he said was saying “a bunch of racial stuff” to him and had also raised his hands as if to fight. But neither man threw any punches.
That’s when the White mall security guard appeared and, according to Wilford and several witnesses, completely ignored the shirtless White man who was yelling and actually walking toward him, and sprayed Wilford with pepper spray. In the video, witnesses can be heard yelling to the security cop, “You maced the wrong guy!”
The video also shows the security guard grabbing Wilford, now disabled by the pepper spray, by the arm and pulling him into the mall, the both of them followed by witnesses shouting that Wilford had done nothing wrong. A Seattle police officer, who had arrived late to the confrontation, told the witnesses not to interfere. Meanwhile, the shirtless White man just walked away. He still hasn’t been identified.
Wilford told the Seattle Times that in the mall, he was given baby shampoo to wash his face, then after 25 minutes, released at the order of a Seattle police officer. Wilford, a father of two, said the security guard apologized to him before he was released, but that he’s considering filing a complaint.
The injury Raymond Wilford suffered was “minor.” That’s precisely why it underscores the potential threat from White men wearing badges of some sort of “authority” Black Americans – especially Black males – face every day.
If that Seattle mall security guard had had a gun, would Raymond Wilford’s name now be on the long list of unarmed Black men, women and children killed by “Whites with badges” in questionable circumstances? Broadening the focus of our questioning, does the desire to “control” Black people – or the fear of Black people – that drove the security guard to such rash and wrong action also infect some number of police officers in localities all across America? Is that fundamentally why Michael Brown, and Eric Garner, and Ezell Ford were killed?
For me, the answers to those questions and a series of other questions they provoke are on tragic display in the video of Raymond Wilford’s unjustified arrest, which he survived, and in the video of Eric Garner’s unjustified arrest, which he did not.
Lee A. Daniels is a longtime journalist based in New York City. His latest book is Last Chance: The Political Threat to Black America.