The Pope, Putin, and I

There’s a video flitting about these days in which a certain Sheriff David Clarke rails against outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder for, according to the sheriff, throwing gasoline on the flames in Ferguson, Missouri, and questioning Holder’s accusations of racial profiling among police officers. Sheriff Clarke is a well-spoken man, tall, well dressed, and imposing. He is also a man of color. This last fact, more than any other, apparently gives his criticisms more credibility than a white speaker whom we might glibly label as racist.

I don’t think Sheriff Clarke is racist, but he could be. Look, if a straight person publicly defends gay marriage, we don’t think much of it anymore; but if the Pope says it’s okay (and if anyone should be a tough sell, isn’t it the Pope?) then we accept it as much more meaningful and significant because hey, he’s the Pope. In a sense Sheriff Clarke is taking the same approach when he admonishes Eric Holder, Al Sharpton, and other men of color for fanning the flames in Ferguson. He claims that these people, and other Missouri politicians, have thrown law-enforcement officials under the bus in a self-serving attempt to curry favor with the black community.

Full disclosure: I’m a white guy living in central Connecticut—what I know about the black community of Ferguson, Missouri, could fit in a thimble—maybe even a thimble from a dollhouse. But I do think that on August 9, 2014, Michael Brown committed a crime. I do think that Darren Wilson used bad judgment from the outset. I do think the confrontation was avoidable on both sides. And having said all that, I believe that if Michael Brown had not been a man of color, he would be alive.

Because of that belief alone—one which many people share—the flames did not need fanning.

Now if Sheriff Clarke wants to avoid that issue (an issue that that history and statistics support in disturbing detail) then that’s his prerogative. But as for his being a man of color and therefore having the right to speak about the events in Ferguson, that’s no more logical than Vladimir Putin speaking for me because we’re both white. So maybe before we canonize Sheriff David Clarke—as most of the right-wingers have already done—we should remember that this is the same reasonable law-enforcement official who suggested in a series of radio advertisements last year that we all arm ourselves for self-defense purposes.

Most galling of all, Sheriff Clarke accuses Eric Holder of playing politics, but the last time I looked, sheriffs are elected. Now I could be wrong, but I think being elected is part of the political process, and making statements to curry favor is all wrapped up in that. I don’t blame him for it, but he should be intelligent enough to recognize the fact and open-minded enough to admit it.

When those five members of the St. Louis Rams staged a little mini-protest before Sunday’s game, there was outrage—more outrage than some people felt over the killing of Michael Brown. There were calls for boycotts, and one Rams fan claimed he was switching his allegiance to the Kansas City Chiefs. (Now there’s a human being whose sense of values has not been skewed in any way. Maybe that fan could save his outrage for the outrageous?)

Sheriff David Clarke called the shooting of Michael Brown an unfortunate occurrence. Only someone truly removed from the reality of life in that town could put the murder of a young man in such timid language, then criticize the people who rose up against it. Apparently Sheriff Clarke knows civic unrest and he knows gasoline, but he doesn’t quite grasp the relationship between them.

Addendum: All of the above—old news. A grand jury has decided that Daniel Pantaleo, the New York City policeman who applied a choke-hold to Eric Garner, will not have to stand trial. Eric Garner died. Officer Pantaleo is sorry it happened. On we go.

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