A little less than a week before the one-year anniversary of Michael Brown Jr.’s fatal shooting (the unarmed Black teenager whose death at the hands of a White police officer sparked what has arguably become the largest Black liberation movement in decades), the New Yorker published a profile of the shooter that explores his life following Aug. 9, 2014 and what he thinks of the aftermath of what many believe to be a racially tinged incident.
The profile, which garnered criticism from Black Lives Matter activists and Twitter users who believe the piece was humanizing a man who killed an 18-year-old boy, aimed to highlight a vein between Darren Wilson’s often challenging upbring-ing, his eagerness to learn how to be the best cop, and the shooting that followed his encounter with Brown, though it wasn’t exactly clear how any one of these factors will exonerate Wilson in the court of public opinion (if sympathy is what the New Yorker expected).
What was clear is this: Wilson, whose very name propelled a movement in the Black community calling for justice, doesn’t think race has anything to do with, well, anything.
Interesting for someone who, while having been found not to violate Brown’s rights, was part of a system the Justice Department found to be racially biased. A DOJ report says the discrimination was perpet-uated due to the racial stereotypes held by Ferguson city officials. In one incident, officials distributed racist jokes on their city email accounts, including a jab at President Barack Obama and a joke suggesting abortion in the Black community would reduce crime.
But for Wilson, who spoke with the New Yorker’s Jake Halpern over the course of a few days in his “nondescript” St. Louis neighborhood, the Justice Department’s numbers about racial-biased traffic stops, arrests and treatment are “skewed.”
“Everyone is so quick to jump on race. It’s not a race issue,” Wilson told Halpern. There were two opposing views about policing, he said:
“There are people who feel that police have too much power, and they don’t like it. There are people who feel police don’t have enough power, and they don’t like it.”
But the lengthy profile has its contradictions. Wilson may not believe race has anything to do with policing, or Ferguson, or the way he reacted on Aug. 9, 2014, but he makes sure to highlight how uncomfortable he was during his first round of policing in a poverty-stricken neighborhood.
Halpern, who describes Wilson as a “six feet four” man who “weighs two hundred and fifteen pounds,” (a curious size for the man who described Brown as a demon who “looked like he was almost bulking up to run through the shots, like it was making him mad that I’m shooting at him”) writes extensively about Wilson’s background as a green cop who felt “intimidated” by Black people.
In 2009, Wilson got a job in Jennings, a town on Ferguson’s southeastern border, where ninety per cent of the residents are black and a quarter of the population lives below the poverty line. “I’d never been in an area where there was that much poverty,” Wilson said. Interacting with residents, he felt intimidated and unprepared.
But examining how fast he reacted to Brown during their 45-second encounter, many believe race and a lack of communication training had everything to do with the death of the unarmed teenager.
As Halpern points out, “a recent survey by the Police Executive Research Forum revealed that cadets usually receive fifty-eight hours of training in firearms, forty-nine in defensive tactics, ten in communication skills, and eight in de-escalation tactics.”
When asked if residents had a legitimate reason to cite racism, Wilson suggested that for many current residents, it’s used as a crutch.