Let’s play a game of “what if”. In this round, let’s propose this scenario: “what if Michael Brown was white”. Debra Saunders, an opinion columnist at SFGate, stated such an idea before immediately contradicting herself:
So do I believe that Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson might not have confronted Michael Brown, 18, and his friend Dorian Johnson, 22, if they were white kids walking in the middle of the street on a hot Saturday around noon? Yes, I do. But I also find Wilson’s explanation credible. He testified that he approached the young men because he saw cars swerving around them. It’s his job to keep the community safe.
First, if two white men were walking down the middle of the road, police will confront them. As Saunders pointed out, hence her contradiction, Brown and Johnson’s actions were causing problems with traffic. Now if Michael Brown was white, would he still be alive today? Very likely, but not for the reasons you might be thinking.
I will say up front that if a white person did the same as Michael Brown, the outcome would’ve been the same. But I don’t believe that would’ve happened.
The fact that blacks are statistically far more likely than whites to be arrested, convicted and jailed for longer sentences also leads them to have a far lesser trust of authority, especially the police. Trust for police among blacks is much lower than among whites, and contacts by police with black individuals are more likely to be confrontational. Add into this the fact that encounters by white officers with black individuals are painted heavily with the “racist” brush, and it becomes a powder keg.
Michael Brown’s death was the lit fuse in Ferguson’s powder keg.
The first rule of police encounters is to remain calm and cool, and to recognize that if you escalate a simple encounter to a confrontation, you will almost always lose — at minimum it’ll be your freedom, even if just temporarily, or it could be your life.
The reason Michael Brown would still be alive if he were white is because he would very likely have, without fail, obeyed the officer’s command to move to the sidewalk if he were encountered walking down the middle of the street as Brown was — an act that is more dangerous than it is illegal, just like most traffic-related infractions. If he acted up against the officer, though, even to the point of losing his life, we would have readily attributed it to some kind of substance issue — strung up on some kind of drug — or a psychiatric concern, and not to any kind of ingrained distrust for police.
Brown did not have to die that day. If he had merely obeyed the officer’s command to move to the sidewalk, cooperated when asked about the cigarillos in his hands, then the outcome would’ve been quite different. Brown would still have been arrested on a theft charge, and even though the video shows evidence qualifying for a felony charge, the prosecution would probably have made it a misdemeanor with probation and restitution simply to get it out of the way.
But as the evidence demonstrates, Brown did not obey the officer. He attacked the officer. He gave the officer reason to fear for his life. That is why Brown died that day. It is not because he was black. It’s because he attacked the officer. In confrontations with police, you will likely lose. Whether it’s your freedom or your life, you will very likely lose.
This is why in cases where you believe an officer is overstepping their authority, the encounter with that officer is not the place to complain about the officer’s conduct. Obey the officer so you walk away, then file the complaint as soon as possible. If your phone has an audio recorder, start talking into it on your way to file the complaint. Departments take notice when complaints are filed, because they know if complaints are not being handled, the city or county government will ask why, as the citizens will demand answers.
But for God’s sake, do not aggressively confront the police. You will not win.