18-Year-Old Black Boys Must Be Perfect Or Their Killing By Police Is Justified…or Why #NoAngel Took Off Today (#Ferguson)

So…on the day that Ms. Leslie and Mr. Michael Sr. have to bury their son, the New York Times prints a profile of him that says that Michael Brown Jr. was “no angel”. (I’m not linking it. If you want to read it, you’ll have to go to the Times’ page yourself.)

According to the article, Mike Mike (as he was called by friends and family) had smoked some weed, drank alcohol, and listened to rap. And maybe shoplifted.

If the same were said about an 18-yr-old white boy, would the Times have used the words “no angel” to describe him?

Since when has being “no angel” been cause to be shot at least 6 times?

Why are young black people only worthy of sympathy if they have no blemish in their background?

Both the writer of the article and the Times’ Public Editor have said that the “no angel” word choice was a misguided one. But the damage is done. By using the words “no angel” in describing Mike Brown, the implication that African Americans must be perfect in order to receive compassion or empathy or sympathy is reinforced.

This is making my head, and heart, ache. I will stop here.



6 thoughts on “18-Year-Old Black Boys Must Be Perfect Or Their Killing By Police Is Justified…or Why #NoAngel Took Off Today (#Ferguson)

  1. Thank you for your posts. Your articulations help keep the hopelessness from dominating. When are we going to stop killing and harming our children my aching heart keeps crying.

  2. You’re a man at 18. Old enough to vote and serve. If your a man Mike’s size and “Paki Bashing” the 711 clerk you’re setting yourself up for some problems.

    • I was going to reply, but Steve Caldwell beat me to the punch.
      There is a lot of information about the video that I’m not sure has made it to the national media, so I might do a post on that in a couple of days.
      More later.

  3. Bill,

    First, many adolescents are still engaged in the process of growth and development even after the age of 18 (which is a pretty arbitrary boundary even though it has legal significance for voting and other matters). Adolescence continues into the the mid-20’s (which is why most auto insurance companies drop their rates when a driver reaches age 25). Saying “You’re a man at 18. Old enough to vote and serve.” is factually accurate but not a complete truth (truth being facts in a full and complete context).

    Second, the video released by the police department may not show what you think it shows. Here’s another take on this video:

    “Ferguson Cops Busted? New Video Seems to Show Brown Paying for Cigarillos (Video)”

    Here’s a quote from this article:

    Supposedly, the video shows Brown robbing the store, taking a box of cigars. However, the attorney for Ferguson Market says that it was not anyone from the store that called police to report a robbery. In fact, a customer called to report what he viewed as a robbery.

    How, then, did police get the tape? According to St. Louis News, the attorney said, “‘during the course of Ferguson’s investigation, the police department from Ferguson, came to the store and asked for to review the tape.” In other words, the tape was not viewed by police until after Michael Brown was dead in the street.

    In their fervent effort to cast Brown in a negative light, they missed that the video seems to show Brown paying for the Swisher Sweets.

    Third, Atlantic Monthly writer Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote an excellent response to the NY Times article about Michael Brown:

    “Michael Brown’s Unremarkable Humanity”

    Here’s the closing portion of his article:

    The “angelic” standard was not one created by the reporter. It was created by a society that cannot face itself, and thus must employ a dubious “morality” to hide its sins. It is reinforced by people who have embraced the notion of “twice as good” while avoiding the circumstances which gave that notion birth. Consider how easily living in a community “with rough patches” becomes part of a list of ostensible sins. Consider how easily “black-on-black crime” becomes not a marker of a shameful legacy of segregation but a moral failing.

    We’ve been through this before. We will almost certainly go through it again.

  4. Bill,

    You may want to walk back the comment that Michael Brown wasn’t an adolescent who was still growing and developing.

    While it’s true that he was 18 years old and he had the legal rights and responsibilities that accompany that age, that doesn’t eliminate what we know about brain development in adolescence which continues into one’s mid-20’s.

    Here’s an article from the Harvard Health Reports (courtesy of Harvard Medical School):

    “The adolescent brain: Beyond raging hormones”

    Here’s a quote from this article:

    It’s not a question of intellectual maturity. Most studies show that abstract reasoning, memory, and the formal capacity for planning are fully developed by age 15 or 16. If teenagers are asked hypothetical questions about risk and reward, they usually give the same answers as adults. But the emotional state in which they answer questionnaires is not necessarily the one in which they make important choices. In real life, adolescents, compared to adults, find it more difficult to interrupt an action under way (stop speeding); to think before acting (learn how deep the water is before you dive); and even to choose between safer and riskier alternatives. It is easy for them to say that they would not get into a car with a drunk driver, but more difficult to turn down the invitation in practice. Adolescents’ judgment can be overwhelmed by the urge for new experiences, thrill-seeking, and sexual and aggressive impulses. They sometimes seem driven to seek experiences that produce strong feelings and sensations.

    Resisting social pressure is also more difficult for teenagers. Much of their troubling behavior, from gang violence to reckless driving and drinking, occurs in groups and because of group pressure. In a psychological experiment, adolescents and adults took a driving simulation test that allowed them to win a reward by running a yellow light and stopping before they hit a wall. Adolescents, but not adults, were more likely to take extra chances when friends were watching.

    And that may explain why auto insurance rates go down significantly at age 25. This article also provides this information about adolescence not stopping at age 18 and continuing into one’s 20’s:

    Evidence is appearing that these differences have a definite basis in brain structure and functioning. Recent research has shown that human brain circuitry is not mature until the early 20s (some would add, “if ever”). Among the last connections to be fully established are the links between the prefrontal cortex, seat of judgment and problem-solving, and the emotional centers in the limbic system, especially the amygdala. These links are critical for emotional learning and high-level self-regulation.

    Given that information, you may want to re-read the article by Ta-Nehisi Coates in full that I cited earlier.

    Even if you don’t do that, you should read this paragraph about his experiences growing up and comparing them with Michael Brown’s experiences:

    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.

    It shouldn’t be too obvious here to connect these dots, but I have to ask this.

    If Ta-Nehisi Coates were shot at age 18, would you be condemning him based on some of his occasionally unruly adolescent behavior or asking what adult potential we had lost with his death?

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