The problem with Michael Brown

Opinion by Ian Knight
April 28, 2016, 11:59 p.m.

In the weeks immediately following the shooting of Michael Brown, when not all the facts had come in, it may not have been wise to assume a preexisting narrative, but it was certainly excusable; people are emotional, especially regarding a subject as triggering and politically significant as that of police brutality against black people. What is not excusable, however, is an ignorant refusal to alter a narrative in the face of evidence to the contrary.

The shooting death of Michael Brown in August of 2014 remains prominent in the American collective consciousness. Treated as a spark of injustice against black people, the outcry that poured forth rightfully demanded investigation into Darren Wilson and why he believed he had to shoot an unarmed black teenager dead. Therefore, the Department of Justice conducted a federal investigation into the shooting that concluded in March of 2015, at which point a report was released on the matter. The results found therein are astoundingly inconsistent with the commonly believed notion that Michael Brown was a victim of police brutality. Yet the disproved notion continues, unadulterated, to spread throughout the collective consciousness as fact.

How can this be? How can it still be acceptable for people to directly compare Michael Brown to substantiated cases of injustice against black people such as Eric Garner and Walter Scott? Any sane individual would say that this is an instance of cognitive dissonance on a massive scale. In such cases, the reason for a piece of misinformation’s persistent  refusal to be corrected is, in all likelihood, a simple result of its innumerable repetitions through instruments of social media. It is an especially prominent factor when the repetition is made by a person of huge social influence. I’m referring, of course, to the comparison of Michael Brown to Trayvon Martin and Eric Garner that was made by Beyoncé in her recent short film Lemonade.

An act such as Beyoncé’s serves to propagate a narrative that has been shown to be false. This will ultimately only do damage to the campaign for black liberation that her film seems to represent, by delaying the death of a dangerously incorrect mythology that trivializes the factor of truth in working to end the oppression of black people. Given the astronomical level of influence Beyoncé commands with regard to the general public, and particularly young people, it is extremely irresponsible for her and her collaborators on the film to knowingly promote misinformation, especially concerning a topic of such importance. State-sponsored violence against black people is not a light matter, and therefore tackling such a serious problem requires the use of examples that are credible, and unfortunately the case of Michael Brown does not meet that criterion. Furthermore, restating this fiction in the film format should not result in popular approval. The public should be more intellectually rigorous than to be lazily coerced into ignoring the facts surrounding Michael Brown’s death. This means accepting evidence and pointing out injustice where it actually exists, a task that Beyoncé has flouted in order to latch onto the regressive popularity of the false narrative surrounding Michael Brown.

Of course, denying the former story regarding Michael Brown is understandably not the central concern of black liberation movements right now, as it is not necessarily in their best interest to admit that they were wrong about something. Nor do I ask these movements to make it their central focus, as that would obviously be distracting and misaligned with the true intention of such movements. For example, the same report released by the Department of Justice also found evidence of massive institutionalized racism within the Ferguson Police Department that results in the routine violation of the constitutional rights of black people in the area. This perfectly demonstrates the need to talk about racism in Ferguson, but it does not necessitate association with the illegitimate case of Michael Brown. Moreover, I think it is worth admitting, when it comes up, that the original interpretation of the shooting death of Michael Brown was incorrect and spurred by emotion rather than evidence.

This admission does not detract from the credibility of Black Lives Matter or any other activist movement; it is only an acknowledgement of the intense and sustained attention that is demanded by such matters. When such acknowledgements are able to be made without denying the integrity of the movement, the room for doubt or mistrust evaporates. Furthermore, it is especially important that people like Beyoncé, who task themselves with representing black liberation, do not propagate misinformation simply because it is popular to do so. Rather, they should aspire to serve as sources of credible information.


Contact Ian Knight at [email protected].

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