I respect columnist Jonathan Capehart and more often than not agree with his opinion, but his opinion “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot Was Built On A Lie” is wrong-headed and reflects a sort of timid liberal buyer’s remorse in highly charged matters of race when backed into a corner. Capehart’s crawfishing was swiftly seized upon by conservative websites Hot Air, The Blaze and other right-wingers to discredit the legitimacy of the entire “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” protests.
Capehart’s gift to those who never have believed Black Lives Matter is wrapped in one graph:
The unarmed 18-year-old also became a potent symbol of the lack of trust between African Americans and law enforcement. Not just in Ferguson, but in the rest of the country. Lord knows there have been plenty of recent examples. And the militarized response to protesters by local police put an exclamation point on demonstrators’ concerns. But the other DOJ report, the one on the actual shooting of Michael Brown, shows him to be an inappropriate symbol.
Capehart is correct to get a fuller picture of what happened in Ferguson requires reading both Justice Department reports. Capehart is wrong that the legitimacy of the “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” phrase is dependent on whether Brown ever said it.
What does it matter if Michael Brown wasn’t a perfect victim? Does that mean Darren Wilson is blameless for his death? For Capehart, the Justice Department report on the shooting is enough for him to declare Brown to be in fact the oversized thug Wilson’s defenders described him as.
Whether or not Brown or John Crawford or Akai Gurley or Eric Garner or Oscar Grant or Amadou Diallo or Sean Bell or Tamir Rice or Tony Robinson were as pure as the driven snow is besides the point. That they were all unarmed Black men killed by the police is the point and neither the report nor Capehart’s change of heart changes that.
Wilson never went on trial for the killing of Brown and the Justice Department report does not place Michael Brown on trial nor does it convict him. Capehart’s hand-wringing does not exculpate Wilson from the eight bullets he put in Brown or that the notoriously racist Ferguson Police left his corpse lying uncovered in the street for four hours cooking in the summer heat, in full view for all to see.
The New Republic is skeptical of how the Justice Department’s report has been used as a de facto exoneration of Wilson and a conviction of Brown.
These conclusions carry no force of law. The separate report on the abuses by the Ferguson Police Department does—that one can lead to meaningful enforcement in federal court. But the decision not to prosecute Wilson, in technical terms, amounts to no more than an internal memorandum from junior prosecutors to Attorney General Eric Holder on whether charges were advisable. The end result was entirely discretionary.
But the report does not equal justice. It is largely advisory. It can’t be challenged anywhere. And it ultimately proves nothing about the Ferguson case or its larger meaning in an ongoing national movement. The Supreme Court or a trial court may never get to address Ferguson, but everything about it will continue to be, to borrow Justice Douglas’ words, “a shocking and revolting episode in law enforcement.” Because Ferguson stands for that and so much more, protesters have every right to keep on marching, with their hands up, for as long as there’s neither justice nor peace.
What happened to Mike Brown could have happened to any Black person at anytime and it doesn’t matter if your name is Ben Carson or Barack Obama and yes, you too Jonathan Capehart. Your degrees, your gig at the Washington Post, Your Pulitzer Prize, your fat bank account, your nice house, your gold AmEx, your Lexus, NONE of that shit trumps your Black skin. Capehart was once all in on the protests. What caused the reversal? Capehart was looking for justice when he should have kept the faith.
Hands Up, Don’t Shoot is bigger than any one victim and Brown was a victim. Movements are built upon martyrs, not saints. Hands Up, Don’t Shoot is not Mike Brown. Brown was a catalyst for a just cause. Just cause Capehart doesn’t get it is not a reason to put our hands down and let them shoot.