Was Mike Brown an unarmed, innocent man, killed by an evil racist cop?
Or was he a vicious, dangerous criminal who had to be taken out by the police officer he attacked?
Words are power, as people like to say, but I keep reading about Michael Brown and Eric Garner and the many, many other black people who have come into contact with the police and died as a result, and it’s impressed on me again and again: it’s all about the story. Everyone is trying to control the story.
Narrative tells the world what it was, what it is, what it should be, and what it can be. The ability to spin narrative is the closest thing to a true superpower that exists, especially when the narrative is someone else’s story.
So… now we have duelling narratives. Which one should you throw your weight behind? For me, the answer is actually very simple.
It’s about whether these people – men and women of color – deserved to die. Whether it was inevitable that they die.
The police spin a narrative of fearful officers facing dangerous, desperate individuals; regretful split second decisions; if only this, if only that. Best judgment of the situation at hand. Thought he had a gun. Thugs vs. cops. The story theme veers between ‘deserved to die’, and ‘unfortunate but necessary’.
The protestors spin a narrative of ordinary, imperfect people going about their lives and being targeted by trigger-happy racists with guns. Judgment heavily influenced by bias. Cops are dangerous to black people. Didn’t deserve to die.
I keep falling on the side of the protestors, for one simple reason: the first narrative means dehumanization. I cannot deal with that. I can’t support it. The very instant a narrative involves this thread of dehumanization, of less than, of reducing a person to a thing, is the instant that I am out and I am not coming back. For better or worse, even the greatest monsters among us are human, and to take a life – no one, no one, should do that lightly. Dehumanization makes killing easy. Such a thing is evil, unrelentingly, unrepentantly evil.
It breaks my heart that these pundits on the news – these people, who shape the story as it is told by their viewers – use words that turn Michael Brown and Eric Garner into things, into less-than. Unworthy. “Not like us”. Not fully human.
Gods, let us scream this if nothing else – THEY HAVE A NAME. THEY WERE MEN. THEY LIVED AS WE DO. THEY WERE HUMAN. And in each case their lives were ended because someone thought they were not.
Weep for that loss, and for what it says about all of us.