The past is never dead, and it’s not even past, as William Faulkner said, but it IS safe. It’s always amusing to watch people pushing the same political ideology that opposed a long-past political or social movement and disdained those who took part in it — as, oh say, conservatives did during the civil rights movement — sanctifying that movement in order to dismiss and trivialize the same injustices being perpetrated in the present day.
Forty years ago William Buckley, Jr., founder of the National Review, had no kind words for civil rights protesters, and absolutely no problem with Jim Crow or white supremacy.
Today, Rich Lowry has nothing but respect and admiration for the long-ago cause of fighting racial segregation. He praises the peaceful protesters and the volunteers who came South to register voters. He shakes his head at the police brutality.
But his attitude toward the violent police attacks against peaceful protesters in Ferguson, Missouri, and his response to the outrage over the fatal shooting of an unarmed black teenager, is just as dismissive of the broader racial injustices behind the conflict in Ferguson as Buckley’s was to the vast racial injustices blacks and whites were struggling against in the Mississippi and Alabama and Georgia of the 1950s and 1960s.
Writing in 1957, Buckley insisted that whites in the South were “entitled to take such measures as are necessary to prevail, politically and culturally, where they do not prevail numerically,” because the white race was “for the time being, the advanced race.”
And as William Hogeland points out, Buckley, too, tried to sanitize his attitude toward the civil rights movement while it was happening:
In 2004, asked whether he’d ever taken a position he now regretted, he said “Yes. I once believed we could evolve our way up from Jim Crow. I was wrong: federal intervention was necessary.”
Neatly done. Where in ’57 he’d asserted a right even of a minority of whites to impose racial segregation by literally any means necessary, including breaking federal law, in ’04 Buckley expressed regret for having supposedly believed only that segregation would wither away without federal intervention. Stupid the man was not. He gets credited today both with honesty about his past and with having, in his own way, “evolved up.” Modern conservatives, more importantly, get to ignore the realities of their movement’s origins.
And so we get Rich Lowry, editor of National Review, exhorting “the mob” in Ferguson to be more like the good protesters of yore:
The chant “no justice, no peace” is an apt rallying cry for Ferguson, Missouri, where protesters don’t truly want justice and there has been no peace.
What justice demands in the case of the shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown by Officer Darren Wilson in disputed circumstances is a full and fair deliberative process that goes wherever the evidence leads. But is anyone marching so that Wilson can go free if the facts don’t support charging him?
No, the demand is for him to be arrested immediately and to be prosecuted no matter what. MSNBC anchor Chris Hayes, relaying the mood in Ferguson, has said that the security problem there isn’t solvable absent an indictment of Wilson. As if a grand jury should be beholden to looters.
All of this is noxious. Just because there is a mob on the streets, as well as on the Internet and TV, braying for a rush to judgment doesn’t mean we need mob justice.
Ferguson is angry and grieving, and the rallies, meetings and prayer vigils during daytime hours are natural and commendable. The confrontations with the police, the rock throwing and gunshots, the looting and Molotov cocktails are not. They are self-indulgent, self-destructive, and (given the fate of a few businesses set on fire) literally self-immolating.
For more than a week now, there has been an effort to shift moral responsibility for this mayhem from the protesters to the police. There is no doubt that the police have acted ham-handedly and even appallingly at times (there is never any justification for pointing weapons at peaceful protesters), but at the end of the day, they are attempting to restore order to a town in desperate need of it.
To their credit, the overwhelming majority of the protesters are peaceful, and many of them have tried to restrain a lawless fringe. But one of the reasons we have police is to control such a fringe, and if it includes people who throw rocks or shoot at them, the police aren’t going to look like a friendly neighborhood beat cop from a Norman Rockwell painting.
You get the feeling that the enormous emotional investment in Ferguson from the left—from Eric Holder to MSNBC on down—reflects a nostalgia for the truly heroic phase of the civil rights movement.
They (most of them, at least) can never be Freedom Riders, but they can write blog posts complaining that the police gear in Ferguson looks scary.
They can never register voters in the Jim Crow South, but they can tweet dramatic pictures of tear-gas canisters going off.
They can never march over the Edmund Pettus Bridge circa 1965, but they can do some cable hits.
Ferguson is all they’ve got, so it must be spun up into a national crisis—our Gaza, our apartheid—to increase the moral drama.
I could go on from here to next Sunday about the insensitivity and the lack of understanding, but at the end of the day, in Rich Lowry’s cute phrasing, what it comes down to is that Lowry believes that “a full and fair deliberative process that goes where the evidence leads” is possible for black men who get shot or choked to death by the police, and most black people don’t. Rich Lowry assumes a justice system that, at least for the most part, seeks truth and provides justice, for all — just as the Pledge of Allegiance says. He believes that “Even if Officer Wilson executed Michael Brown in cold blood, he would be one murderously bad cop, not an indictment of the entire American system of justice.” I’m sure most African Americans don’t think all or even most cops are “murderously bad, ” but I don’t think they believe he’s just a lone bad apple, either.
The point is that 40-plus years ago, when William Buckley was opining about white people’s right to “prevail” against people “less advanced” than they, there were two systems of justice, one for blacks and one for everyone else, and in 2014 — not just in Ferguson, Missouri, but throughout this country, there still are. But Lowry doesn’t appear to have any insight into this reality — despite his lavish praise for Freedom Riders.
Kathleen McKinley, who is white and conservative, does:
Both sides lined up pretty much as expected over the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson. Social media is full of people on both sides making presumptions, and believing what they want to believe.
But it’s the white folks that don’t understand what this is all about. You see, Ferguson wasn’t about Michael Brown specifically, just like the outrage over Trayvon Martin’s death wasn’t about Trayvon Martin specifically. Let me put it as simply as I can for you.
I have three sons ages 17-27. I am a worry wart. I worry about everything every time they walk out the door, but the one thing I have never had to worry about is that they would be shot by a policeman, or even another teenager. If my sons were black, I would.
That’s it. Black moms across America have that pinprick of fear in the back of their hearts every time their sons leave the house. Every. Time. Because even if you’re black and live in a upper income area, and your son is a star basketball player and makes good grades, you know the cop doesn’t know that. The cop only knows what he deals with every day.
I know what many of you thinking. You are thinking, “Your sons probably don’t rob stores of cigars or beat up on a neighborhood watchman.” Well, I’ve been on this earth long enough to know that almost all boys between the ages of 14-21 do stupid things.
My boys just don’t get shot for doing them.
Rich Lowry and others at National Review and at other online conservative watering holes love to go on about a ‘rush to judgment’ and the need for ‘a full and fair examination of the facts’ — but it’s always clear that ‘a full and fair examination of the facts’ is code for ‘The police/security guard/neighborhood watch volunteer is innocent, and the only reason the officer hasn’t already been exonerated is because the mob won’t give the system a chance to work.’
Of course, the last thing conservatives want is for the system to work in a fair and impartial way. That’s clear from the way they’ve been writing and reporting about Michael Brown. Despite an initial promising start (albeit more out of concern about the militarized response to the post-shooting protests than to the shooting itself), the right’s commentary soon descended to the same memes it used against Trayvon Martin: smearing with irrelevant information, portraying him as a thug (the convenience store robbery story, which is irrelevant to the shooting since Darren Wilson, the officer who shot Brown, didn’t know about the robbery when he encountered him), and in general pushing a narrative in which being imperfect is used to explain being killed — but only if you’re black. ‘Turns out he was no angel’ – as if not being an angel is reason to fatally shoot someone.
There’s one more thing, particular to this case. After he was killed, Michael Brown’s dead body was allowed to lie on the street, in the broiling August heat, FOR FOUR HOURS.
Just after noon on Saturday, Aug. 9, Michael Brown was shot dead by a police officer on Canfield Drive.
For about four hours, in the unrelenting summer sun, his body remained where he fell.
Neighbors were horrified by the gruesome scene: Mr. Brown, 18, face down in the middle of the street, blood streaming from his head. They ushered their children into rooms that faced away from Canfield Drive. They called friends and local news stations to tell them what had happened. They posted on Twitter and Facebook and recorded shaky cellphone videos that would soon make their way to the national news.
Mr. Brown probably could not have been revived, and the time that his body lay in the street may ultimately have no bearing on the investigations into whether the shooting was justified. But local officials say that the image of Mr. Brown’s corpse in the open set the scene for what would become a combustible worldwide story of police tactics and race in America, and left some of the officials asking why.
The delay helped fuel the outrage,” said Patricia Bynes, a committeewoman in Ferguson. “It was very disrespectful to the community and the people who live there. It also sent the message from law enforcement that ‘we can do this to you any day, any time, in broad daylight, and there’s nothing you can do about it.’ ”
Sometime around 4 p.m., Mr. Brown’s body, covered in a blue tarp and loaded into a dark vehicle, was transported to the morgue in Berkeley, Mo., about six miles from Canfield Drive, a roughly 15-minute drive.
Mr. Brown’s body was checked into the morgue at 4:37 p.m., more than four and a half hours after he was shot.
Mr. Brown and a friend, Dorian Johnson, were walking down Canfield Drive at 12:01 p.m. when Officer Darren Wilson of the Ferguson Police Department encountered them. Moments later, Mr. Brown was dead, shot at least six times by Officer Wilson.
To my knowledge, not one of the right-wing bloggers who have had so much to say about “the mob’s unfairness to Darren Wilson, or about criminal behavior, looting, and rioting, have said word one about the fact that the corpse of an 18-year-old kid who would have been on his way to college a few days later if he had been allowed to keep his life was allowed to remain, spilled blood clearly visible despite the attempt to cover him, for hours and hours and hours and hours. Not one word that this happened — much less any recognition of the disrespect, the contempt even, this communicated. Much less any hint of understanding of how such callousness might contribute to the anger level of Ferguson residents, or their unwillingness to believe in the professionalism of the police and the probability of a just fact-finding process.