Ferguson and Political Symbolism

I am a black man. I am also a human being. I like to think of myself as a reasonable and humane human being. As such, I was deeply disturbed when I first learned of an incident involving the death of an unarmed teenager at the hands of a police officer. I was yet further disturbed upon hearing initial reports that the officer acted without apparent justification. Stories poured forth about a young black man who was a gentle giant, who could not possibly have done anything to warrant or provoke such an action from law enforcement. For the white officer, initially nameless, the implication was that this man was either a racist scoundrel with an itching trigger-finger or, at the very least, callously indifferent to the consequences of his unnecessary use of deadly force. The calls came immediately and insistently “What is the name of this monster who would so heartlessly snuff out the life of the gentle giant?” Darren Wilson. Darren Wilson was not just white, but a blank canvas against which a community could paint its historical grievances. Darren Wilson became a symbol, and Michael Brown, the gentle giant, was also a symbol.

I am not going to debate the facts or even give my interpretation of them. That would be easy. The point I want to make is broader. It is this: once the events of August 9, 2014 in Ferguson, MO took on transcendent significance, once the two chief actors became symbols—mere images to be invoked—the facts became irrelevant. The particulars became mere particulars—they could be shaped to suit the larger narrative into which they had been taken up. When a white cop shoots a black man in a black town with a white police force, the facts no longer matter—whatever truly happened that day in Ferguson is truly epiphenomenal. The players may change, there are countless insignificant variations of time and place, but the tragedy goes on…

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3 thoughts on “Ferguson and Political Symbolism

  1. This was a refreshing outlook and approach to the controversy – something most media outlets lack, in what appears to be yet another effort to spin the story for their own liking

  2. Nice piece. The victims in Ferguson are particulars in what is a bigger societal problem– something that is often overlooked when people search for “facts” in a case that many will never know the truth.

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