The dilemma of false narratives

While poring over the numerous stories about the Ferguson riot and its aftermath, one AP story stuck out in particular: “For Some, Location of Brown’s Hands Irrelevant“:

Protester Taylor Gruenloh, a 32-year-old white man from nearby Florissant, said that while he believes there’s truth to claims that Brown had his hands raised when shot, the lack of proof makes little difference to protesters who have found it to be a unifying force.

“Even if you don’t find that it’s true, it’s a valid rallying cry,” he said. “It’s just a metaphor.”

… Architect Evan Chakroff was among the protesters this week in Seattle. He said the “Hands Up” gesture is far from a literal representation of the circumstances of Brown’s death.

“My sense is that it’s totally symbolic and a way of representing powerlessness” in the face of inequality and militarized police, he said.

Several demonstrators said focusing on the exact circumstances of Brown’s shooting misses the point of the slogan.

So here is an interesting cultural lesson – facts and circumstances are irrelevant, as long as an incident raises cultural awareness or endorses the proper narratives.

Of course none of this should come as a surprise to anyone who has been paying attention during the last twenty years. Time and again, we have been presented with examples of oppression by the power structure that have turned out to be completely false:

  • Innocent “motorist” Rodney King was pulled over and savagely beaten by racist white cops; except that King was a convicted felon who fled police during a routine traffic stop, then led them on a 100 mph chase through Los Angeles, then aggressively charged police officers after he had been stopped.
  • Army Ranger Jesse Macbeth witnessed, and unwittingly participated in, numerous war atrocities in Iraq; except that MacBeth was never an Army Ranger and never served in Iraq. He was dismissed from the US Army as unfit after only a month and a half of basic training.
  • Single young black mother Crystal Mangum, reduced to the humiliation of stripping in order to make ends meet, was taunted, assaulted, and raped by a gang of wealthy, privileged white Duke University athletes; except that Mangum was a liar with a troubled past who fabricated the entire incident and is currently serving a prison sentence for second degree murder.
  • Trayvon Martin, an innocent young black man carrying only a can of Arizona tea and a bag of Skittles, was stalked and gunned down in cold blood by George Zimmerman, who was subsequently cleared by the police in a blatant example of racism; except that Martin confronted Zimmerman, knocked him to the ground, and was dealing Zimmerman an intense ‘ground and pound’ beatdown when Zimmerman shot him in self defense.
  • Dayna Morales, a lesbian waitress, was denied a tip by a bigoted Christian family who also insult her in a handwritten note left on their meal receipt; except that the family came forward and provided another copy of the receipt showing that they did tip her. Morales also lied about her military service (she had actually been dishonorably discharged from the Marine Corps) and lied to coworkers at another restaurant, claiming that she had brain cancer.

Yet anyone who initially approached these stories with skepticism or a desire to learn more before making a judgement was immediately dismissed as a racist or a bigot or a warmonger.

While some of these individuals (MacBeth, Mangum, Morales) had their credibility damaged beyond repair and eventually faded from the public view, others remained (and still remain) visible symbols of injustice. Michael Brown is just the latest addition to this list.

What troubles me the most about this trend is the fact that it obscures real issues in favor of manufactured ones. Young black males living in predominately black neighborhoods are far more likely to be murdered than white males the same age, and they are far more likely to be murdered by other young black males, not the police. This is disturbing to everyone including white Americans, but accusing police (as imperfect as they sometimes are) of being uniformed racist murderers will not solve the problem.

Poor blacks, and now Latinos, are far more likely to be arrested and offered sentencing bargains in exchange for a guilty plea than whites who commit the same petty crimes. Blacks and Latinos are also far more likely to be pulled over and searched by police officers (‘driving while black’). These are real systemic injustices that need to be addressed, and that whites on the whole would like to see corrected. But this will never happen as long as largely fabricated incidents are used by the chattering class to “prove” that all whites are racists and that the American justice system inherently oppresses everyone who isn’t white.

So what is the take-away from all of this? Certainly conservatives are not allowed the same degree of leeway with facts when they argue in favor of specific policy initiatives or in defense of specific individuals. The gang of fact-checkers and the hoard of “crowd sourcers” that completely dissected the past life and government emails of Sarah Palin is enough to validate the observation that conservatives will never be granted the right to establish cultural myths and poetic truths. That is reserved only for leftist intellectuals and keepers of the culture.

And maybe that’s the way it should be. Someone, after all, has to stand up for truth and accuracy. And without either, it is difficult to demand accountability from others.

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