Are Black Men Human Beings?

I ask that provocative question because, in the days and weeks following the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri — as in the days and weeks following George Zimmerman’s fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin, and the days and weeks following the murders of any number of black men by formally or informally constituted authorities — imperfection seems to be the fundamental reason they were killed. And as we all know, human beings are not perfect.

The New York Times, two days ago:

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.

There’s more. “As a boy, [he] was a handful. When his parents put up a security gate, he would try to climb it.”

Also, he was accused of stealing an IPod when he was in ninth grade — although his mother *was* able to prove, with a receipt, that the IPod was his.

However, he went to three different high schools before he graduated.

And there’s this:

He did not have a criminal record as an adult, and his family said he never got in trouble with the law as a juvenile, either.

“You may see him on a picture with some friends that may have been in a gang,” Ms. McSpadden said. “He wasn’t in a gang. He just knew how to adapt to his surroundings. Michael was so cool that he could just get along with anybody.”

Mr. Brown showed a rebellious streak. One time, his mother gave him her A.T.M. card so he could buy shoes, said Mr. Brown’s friend Brandon Lewis. Mr. Brown bought himself a PlayStation console. His mother made him give the system to his brother.

And it doesn’t end there. He talked back to his parents. His mother had to enlist the help of “family and friends, including a retired juvenile officer, to help mentor her son.”

But Michael was ungrateful:

Mr. Brown occasionally hinted at frustration with his family. Last August, he posted a message on Facebook that it was wrong “how yo own family dont wanna see you do good.” And just a week before he was shot dead, he commented that some of his friends treated him better than “my own family.”

As you can see, the boy also didn’t know how to use proper grammar and spelling.

He also got into a fight! And people were scared of him:

A contemporary they knew from the neighborhood was upset with Mr. Brown because of something Mr. Brown had said to the young man’s girlfriend. So one day the fellow, who was much smaller than Mr. Brown, took a swing at him. Mr. Brown backed up and pushed him back in the face.

“I don’t think Mike ever threw a real punch,” said Mr. Lewis, 19.

The young man’s father confronted Mr. Brown, Mr. Lewis recalled, asking him why he put his hands on his son. Mr. Brown’s father got involved, Mr. Lewis said, and they settled the dispute and went their separate ways. Mr. Brown rarely got into physical confrontations, Mr. Lewis said, because he was so big that nobody really wanted to test him. Mr. Brown tended to use his size to scare away potential trouble, Mr. Lewis said.

“He’ll swell up like, ‘I’m mad,’ and you’ll back off,” he said.

Oh heck, there are so many reasons Michael Brown was no angel that it’s no wonder police officer Darren Wilson was in such fear for his life that he had no choice but to kill him.

Let’s review:

1. He shoplifted a box of cigars.
2. He walked in the middle of the street.
3. He lived in a sketchy neighborhood.
4. He experimented with drugs and alcohol. He smoked marijuana.
5. He rapped, and his rap songs were sometimes vulgar.
6. He had “at *least* one scuffle with a neighbor.”
7. He was “a handful” as a child.
(A) He tried to climb over a
security gate his parents
put up.
(B) He wrote on the wall.
8. He was accused of stealing an IPod. He managed to wriggle out of this one because his mother had a receipt.
9. He had friends who were gang members.
10. He was rebellious. He talked back to his mother. He complained about his family on Facebook.
11. He didn’t get good grades in school.

I’m not black, and I’m not even a man, but I’m guilty of some of the sins listed above.

Ta-Nehisi Coates writes about Michael Brown’s “unremarkable humanity”:

These details certainly paint a portrait of a young man who failed to be angelic. That is because no person is angelic—least of all teenagers—and there is very little in this piece that distinguishes Brown from any other kid his age.

And if Michael Brown was not angelic, I was practically demonic. I had my first drink when I was 11. I once brawled in the cafeteria after getting hit in the head with a steel trash can. In my junior year I failed five out of seven classes. By the time I graduated from high school, I had been arrested for assaulting a teacher and been kicked out of school (twice.) And yet no one who knew me thought I had the least bit of thug in me. That is because I also read a lot of books, loved my Commodore 64, and ghostwrote love notes for my friends. In other words, I was a human being. A large number of American teenagers live exactly like Michael Brown. Very few of them are shot in the head and left to bake on the pavement.


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