Or something like that.
Yesterday the WaPo featured a wordy piece devoted to Darren Wilson’s dysfunctional family of origin, and the racial and other problems in the police force he used to work for, difficulties that seem to have had nothing whatsoever to do with him. As William Jacobson of Legal Insurrection says, it’s guilt by association.
Then, in a lengthy article published the very next day (today), the WaPo tells us what a great guy Michael Brown was.
From yesterday’s article:
…[E]veryone leaves a record, and Darren Dean Wilson is no exception.
People who know him describe him as someone who grew up in a home marked by multiple divorces and tangles with the law. His mother died when he was in high school. A friend said a career in law enforcement offered him structure in what had been a chaotic life.
What he found in Jennings, however, was a mainly white department mired in controversy and notorious for its fraught relationship with residents, especially the African American majority. It was not an ideal place to learn how to police. Officials say Wilson kept a clean record without any disciplinary action…
Wilson has had some recent personal turmoil: Last year, he petitioned the court seeking a divorce from his wife, Ashley Nicole Wilson, and they formally split in November, records show…
His parents divorced in 1989, when he was 2 or 3 years old…His mother then married Tyler Harris, and they lived in Elgin, Tex., for a time, records show. Tyler and Tonya Harris had a child named Jared.
The family later moved to the suburban Missouri town of St. Peters, where Wilson’s mother again got divorced and married a man named Dan Durso, records indicate.
Wilson attended St. Charles West High School, in a predominantly white, middle-class community west of the Missouri River. He played junior varsity hockey for the West Warriors but wasn’t a standout.
There were problems at home. In 2001, when Wilson was a freshman in high school, his mother pleaded guilty to forgery and stealing. She was sentenced to five years in prison, although records suggest the court agreed to let her serve her sentence on probation.
She died of natural causes in November 2002, when Wilson was 16, records show. His stepfather, Tyler Harris, took over as his limited guardian, which ended when the boy turned 18…
After going through the police academy, Wilson landed a job in 2009 as a rookie officer in Jennings, a small, struggling city of 14,000 where 89 percent of the residents were African American and poverty rates were high. At the time, the 45-employee police unit had one or two black members on the force, said Allan Stichnote, a white Jennings City Council member.
Racial tension was endemic in Jennings, said Rodney Epps, an African American city council member.
“You’re dealing with white cops, and they don’t know how to address black people,” Epps said. “The straw that broke the camel’s back, an officer shot at a female. She was stopped for a traffic violation. She had a child in the back [of the] car and was probably worried about getting locked up. And this officer chased her down Highway 70, past city limits, and took a shot at her. Just ridiculous.”…
Police faced a series of lawsuits for using unnecessary force [the article then goes on to describe this]…
The Jennings department also had a corruption problem. A joint federal and local investigation discovered that a lieutenant had been accepting federal funds for drunken-driving checks that never happened.
All the problems became too much for the city council to bear, and in March 2011 the council voted 6-to-1 to shut down the department…
The article goes on and on; you have to read the whole thing to get its full flavor. When it deals with the Ferguson incident itself, there is no mention of Brown’s robbery of the convenience store or his getting physical there or the fact that star witness Dorian Johnson was present at the robbery, has a previous record (including a history of lying to the police about an earlier alleged offense) and therefore had a strong motivation to lie in his tale of what happened when Brown was shot. WaPo reporters Carol D. Leonnig, Kimberly Kindy and Joel Achenbach merely describe Johnson’s version versus the police version as “competing narratives.”
In contrast, here are excerpts from today’s WaPo article on Brown, written by AP reporters Sharon Cohen, Jim Suhr, Alex Sanz, and Ryan J. Foley:
Family and friends recall a young man built like a lineman — 6-foot-3, nearly 300 pounds — with a gentle, joking manner. An aspiring rapper who dubbed himself “Big Mike.” A fan of computer games, Lil Wayne, Drake, the movie, “Grown Ups 2” and the TV show “Family Guy.” A kid who was good at fixing things. A struggling student who buckled down to finish his courses, don his green graduation gown with red sash and cross the stage in August to pick up his diploma…
Kennedy became acquainted with Brown while running a credit recovery program the young man was enrolled in that allowed him to catch up so he could graduate with his class. Brown, he says, could be led astray by kids who were bad influences but by spring, he became focused on getting his degree.
Kennedy also would bring in recording equipment Brown could use for rapping — he wanted to perform and learn a trade to help support himself. “His biggest goal was to be part of something,” the teacher adds. “He didn’t like not knowing where to fit in life. … He was kind-hearted, a little kid in a big body. He was intimidating looking, but I don’t think he ever was disrespectful to me.”
Brown loved music even as a young child. Ophelia Troupe, his art teacher for five years in elementary school, remembers a reserved, polite little boy — he’d always respond “yes ma’am” or “no ma’am.” He kept to himself but lit up when she’d play her son’s beats — which make up the backbone of hip-hop and rap songs — in class as a reward if the students behaved.
Unlike the piece on Wilson, the profile of Brown at least manages to mention the convenience store robbery. This is the way it describes it:
Slightly more than a week later, Brown was shot while walking down the street with a friend. Police have said a scuffle broke out with Officer Darren Wilson after he asked the two young men to move. Some witnesses have reported seeing Brown’s arms in the air — an act of surrender. An autopsy concluded he’d been shot at least six times.
Ferguson police identified Wilson at the same time they released a video of an alleged theft showing Brown snatch some cigars in a convenience store just minutes before he was killed. In the video, Brown is shown grabbing a clerk by the shirt and forcefully pushing him into a display rack.
Brown’s family angrily denounced that video as character assassination.
They’ve portrayed Brown as “a gentle giant,” who liked to post photos on his Facebook page of himself with young relatives, a kid who tried football his sophomore year but abandoned the idea before his first game, fearing he might hurt someone.
“He was funny, silly,” his father, Michael Brown Sr., recently said. “Any problems that were going on or any situation — there wasn’t nothing he couldn’t solve. He’d bring people together.”
Tim Sneed, a 23-year-old neighbor of Brown’s grandmother, says the young man was so low-key he seemed almost invisible. “When he came to my house you wouldn’t even notice he was there,” he says. “That’s how quiet he was.”
Brown had been staying at the apartment of his grandmother, Desuirea Harris, this summer. She said Brown was excited about his future.
“My grandson never even got into a fight,” she says. “He was just looking forward to getting on with his life. He was on his way.”
Brown was preparing to attend Vatterott College, where he planned to study to become a heating and air-conditioning technician.
I do not fault Brown’s grieving family for speaking well of him, although the description of a video as “character assassination” is a case of “who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes?”. I do fault the reporters for presenting such carefully-selected “narratives,’ digging up every bit of dirt possible on Wilson (and since they can hardly find any, on his family instead) and every bit of good possible on Brown.
No one seems to have looked into the marital (or any other) history of Brown’s family, or whether any relatives have arrest records. And rightly so, because it really doesn’t matter; what matters is Brown’s history.
But why, then, is the divorce of Wilson’s parents and their other history considered fair game, and not that of Brown’s parents or relatives? After all, Brown had a mother and stepfather, and a biological father whose name is Michael Brown Sr., so we can conclude that some sort of divorce/separation and upheaval occurred. But it’s virtually never mentioned, either in the AP article or in any other article I’ve been able to locate after doing some quick Googling. Nor is the history of any other family member of Brown discussed; all I could find of any relevance to family history was that the 18-year-old Brown was living with his grandmother for the summer, although we don’t really know why.
The contrast in the coverage is stark, and purposeful. “Competing narratives” indeed.