A year after Darren Wilson shot Michael Brown dead in Ferguson, Missouri, we can celebrate that this hideous incident has sparked the first genuine debate about black America’s relationship with the police.
However, there is a certain irony as well, in that our initial take on Ferguson has proven to be a myth.
Edison did not invent the lightbulb, Marie Antoinette never said “Let them eat cake,” Nero did not fiddle while Rome burned — and Darren Wilson did not shoot Mike Brown in the back with his hands up, and Brown did reach into Wilson’s car and try to take his gun. No reasonable person, even with the deepest concern about the cops and black America, can deny the findings of the Department of Justice’s report on the incident.
Yet a great many people don’t want to let the myth go. “Mike Brown,” as an utterance and as a meme, has become a totem for the role of racism in post-Civil Rights American life, and that totemic status requires a basic assumption that the main lesson of what happened between Wilson and Brown was that an innocent boy ran up against a white cop’s racist animus.