So the police chief of Ferguson holds his news conference to reveal the name of the out-of-control cop who shot and killed unarmed Michael Brown, and it went like this:
"Look over there! Mike Brown and his friend Dorian Johnson strong-armed a convenience store employee and stole cigars!"
And strong-arm theft is not nice. However it sure as hell is not grounds for the freaking death penalty.
According to MSNBC, Johnson's attorney says that Johnson has been open with authorities about what he and Mike Brown did:
In an interview with msnbc shortly after the report was released, Johnson’s lawyer confirmed that Brown had taken cigars from the store.And I am certain that the rightwingers who support any police action against black folks will jump on this. "See there? Michael Brown bullied a clerk and stole cigars!"
“We see that there’s tape, that they claim they got a tape that shows there was some sort of strong-armed robbery,” said Freeman Bosley, Johnson’s attorney. “We need to see that tape, my client did tell us and told the FBI that they went into the store. He told FBI that he did take cigarillos, he told that to the DOJ and the St. Louis County Police.”
Which was wrong. BUT that is not grounds for executing him in the street.
This story strikes a deep chord with me. Back in the 1970s, I taught at a predominantly-black business college in downtown Birmingham, Alabama. One of my students, Dallas Parker Jr., was a Vietnam Vet, a sweet and shy human being, and a junkie who was struggling to keep it together.
One night, Dallas and a buddy broke into an appliance warehouse to steal stuff to sell. They were unarmed. The police shot Dallas in the back as he was running away from the scene. They killed him--for breaking into an appliance warehouse. They killed him for trying to steal toasters or radios.
When I heard the news in the teacher's lounge the following morning, I couldn't help it; I cried for Dallas. I was outraged. The response of the dean? "Well, he shouldn't have been where he was."
My response to her, "But the penalty for theft is not death, is it?"
She held to her terribly wrong opinion, but I've always been glad that I spoke up. Of course, I would be a helluva lot gladder if Dallas Parker Jr. had been able to kick his habit, live, finish school and let his light shine....
It is extremely important that any justification for the policeman's murder of Michael Brown be countered with this: the penalty for stealing is not death.
Cops are not supposed to hit the street and apprehend and punish suspects. They are supposed to bring them in and let the legal system take it from there. Cops are not supposed to be judges, juries, and certainly not executioners.
Why did that cop kill Mike Brown? Probably because he was frustrated that he could not physically apprehend him. Big Mike was too much for him. It all boils down to stupid machismo. He had to "win" the confrontation. He couldn't do it physically, so he used his gun. For the "win." Yeah, he really showed Mike Brown who's boss.
This goes beyond bad policing. That cop's decision to shoot and kill an unarmed guy he couldn't physically apprehend is part of a pernicious idea that has permeated American society in my lifetime: The idea that a gun is a go-to "equalizer" is one that has been pounded into our consciousness through countless movies--and of course the NRA's propaganda.
The shooting of Michael Brown is indefensible. It does not matter that, according to his friend's attorney, he strong-armed a convenience clerk and stole cigars. The penalty for theft is not death.
Nor should a civilized society want it to be.