How the myth of Ferguson changed America for the better

One senses that for many people, to truly face squarely that what happened in Ferguson was not what we were initially told would be to let go of some kind of opportunity. That opportunity would seem to be, judging from columns like Charles Blow’s this week and the New Yorker piece on Darren Wilson, that changing how cops relate to black men will require white America to internalize a lesson about how racism infects how black people are perceived, and also determines black people’s life chances structurally, as it is often put. In this light, people seem to almost need, or even want, Wilson to serve as the bad white person and Brown to serve as the good black one.

However, if the idea is to teach white America this lesson, historians may be perplexed in 100 years that we were so focused on the Ferguson case when Tamir Rice and John Crawford were simply shot dead in cold blood, and Walter Scott and Sam Dubose were shot dead for trying to flee from arrest for petty misdemeanors.

More to the point, there is an issue of pragmatics we must face. White America is, quite simply, not going to internalize a lesson about racism from the story of a boy who had just stolen from a convenience store who then refused an officer’s order and later tried to take his gun. Some may suppose that the very complexity of this case makes it a better lesson than the simpler ones, in possibly teaching whites that black lives must be valued even amidst imperfect behavior. (A common criticism of those who question Brown’s behavior is “So you have to have a perfect victim?”)