Darren Wilson, the police officer that shot Michael Brown recently gave an interview to The New Yorker magazine. It was meant to be a detailed, in depth article about who Darren Wilson is and how his race, occupation and the way he carried out his duties as a cop has affected the larger macro environment of the Greater St. Louis area. Specifically, in Ferguson, Missouri where Mike Brown was shot and killed in broad daylight for stealing a few cigarillos and allegedly threatening the life of a police officer, even though he was unarmed.
Jake Halpern, the writer for this piece, attempted (without much success) to understand Darren Wilson as a person not just as cop. Where was he from? What was his upbringing like? Did he experience poverty, instability and gang violence etc.? To try to paint a picture of a person behind the cop who shot an unarmed black kid.
After reading the whole article carefully, I was unsure as what the ‘goal’ of this article was, was it to make Darren Wilson appear more human, more likable (if that’s ever possible), or to portray him as even worse than he appears now? It was an article that was done in Wilson’s home, so Jake Halpern was obviously invited to do this interview. The article does not state if his attorney was present during this article, but from the answers he gave, the attorney most likely was.
During his days as a police officer, Darren Wilson came across as very eager to learn to how to do proper and good policing as confirmed by his training officer Mike McCarthy, he readily admitted his shortcomings and was willing to rectify them through rigorous training and practice, but aside from this quality, he was otherwise unremarkable. Wilson comes across as monosyllabic, emotionally detached, unable to empathize with people he policed and watched over and a very much ‘follow the protocol’ type where thinking on his feet and outside of the box isn’t his strong suit. Heck, I’ll say it, he isn’t that smart, he’s not book smart nor is he streetsmart, not what a good cop makes. The kind of cop that could easily become trigger happy if he doesn’t know what else to do.
His childhood was rough, his mother was a thief who stole money by stealing the identity of others and writing bad checks. It got so bad that Wilson had to open a fake bank account as a decoy and keep his real earnings in separate account in which his mom doesn’t know about. Despite being in trouble with the law many times, she never went to jail. She died mysteriously in 2002 (some suspected by suicide), she was on her last legs with the law and if she committed one more theft she’d be headed to jail. Wilson was still only in high school. He graduated from high school made his way to St. Louis area and begun working in construction jobs. He had no plans to go to college, then the recession hit and property markets crashed, he was out of work as construction jobs evaporated. In 2008 he decided to apply to Eastern Missouri Police Academy, thinking that being a cop is a recession proof job. He got in, passed the requirements and was assigned a post. Just like that.
Jake Halpern also reported that in the Greater St. Louis area, there were a perfect storm of circumstances: the police departments were awash with poorly trained, substandard cops, where some cops were paid as little as $10 an hour. Wilson’s TO Mike McCarthy said ‘you get what you pay for’. Many cops did not know that the charges they were arresting the suspect for will not hold up under any probable cause scrutiny, they were just arresting suspicious looking people left and right and if they weren’t doing that, they were writing traffic tickets. Cops who didn’t write enough traffic tickets were reprimanded by the police departments. Their training consisted of, arrest then ask questions later, shoot first then ask questions later. Many were not trained to assess danger and whether to escalate, call for backup or discharge their own weapons.
In order to raise revenue for the city, police officers write a lot of tickets to residents, many of whom were unemployed, surviving on government benefits or homeless. If they didn’t pay the ticket on time, more fines and fees were added until it got sent to collections. If you didn’t pay it before you renew your driver’s license or car registration, your license and registration renewal will be held up until those fines are paid. And if you are pulled over for having an expired license or registration, that’s another ticket. So it’s a never ending cycle that is punishing the poor and mostly black residents of St. Louis and Ferguson areas. All of this is happening before a single white cop lays a hand on a black suspect.
When Mike Brown was murdered and the whole city of St. Louis and its nearby suburbs erupted, and when the riots continued weeks later, it became clear that it’s not just about Mike Brown being killed in broad daylight by a white cop and then his body lay there in the scorching sun for four hours before the coroner’s office sent someone over, but the city’s residents was in revolt of what amounts to decades of institutionalized racism and exploitation of the poor (mostly black) residents of St. Louis and they were fed up. Mike Brown’s death was a lightening rod for all the injustice the residents of Ferguson and Greater St. Louis area endured.
Darren Wilson instead of using this opportunity to redeem himself, he dug in deeper, he was only doing his job, he was executing his training and Mike Brown died as a result. He often referred to Mike Brown’s size as a source of his fear but Darren himself is six feet four and weighs 215 lbs, hardly someone with a small stature, but he referred to Mike Brown’s face like a ‘demon’ determined to kill him so he protected himself by shooting him.
Though Wilson was twice cleared of any wrongdoing by separate investigations, the public will never forgive him. Wilson is the face of what is wrong with the police today: White, racist, trigger happy, reactionary, unsympathetic, unable to empathize with delinquent suspects in high poverty high crime areas and all they do is arrest and write traffic tickets. The Justice Department, after a thorough investigation of the Ferguson police department, found that institutionalized racism was rampant and that the department itself is ‘racist’ and if need be they will dismantle the whole department. It was a damning indictment of institutionalized racism in a police department and the report didn’t mince words or try to put a positive spin on it:
The Justice Department also released a broader assessment of the police and the courts in Ferguson, and it was scathing. The town, it concluded, was characterized by deep-seated racism. Local authorities targeted black residents, arresting them disproportionately and fining them excessively. Together, the two reports frustrated attempts to arrive at a clean moral conclusion. Wilson had violated no protocol in his deadly interaction with Brown, yet he was part of a corrupt and racist system.
To point to Wilson’s general lack of emotional depth or sensitivity, when asked by Jake Halpern if he’s read the report by Department of Justice:
“I don’t have any desire, I’m not going to keep living in the past about what Ferguson did. It’s out of my control.”
When asked if he felt that residents of North County (where Ferguson is located) is using past racist incidents as an excuse to riot, Wilson answered ‘I think so.’ So, again, racially and emotionally insensitive.
After that, he further elaborated, the most words he spoke consecutively:
“I am really simple in the way that I look at life,” Wilson said. “What happened to my great-grandfather is not happening to me. I can’t base my actions off what happened to him.” Wilson said that police officers didn’t have the luxury of dwelling on the past. “We can’t fix in thirty minutes what happened thirty years ago,” he said. “We have to fix what’s happening now. That’s my job as a police officer. I’m not going to delve into people’s life-long history and figure out why they’re feeling a certain way, in a certain moment.” He added, “I’m not a psychologist.”
How charming, isn’t he full of insight? (Sarcasm)
When asked if he felt Ferguson is the way it is is due to lack of jobs, his response?
“There’s a lack of jobs everywhere,” he replied, brusquely. “But there’s also lack of initiative to get a job. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.” He acknowledged that the jobs available in Ferguson often paid poorly, but added, “That’s how I started. You’ve got to start somewhere.”
He fails to recognize that he is white and probably owns a vehicle that is properly registered and a license that is current and he doesn’t have a bunch of unpaid tickets as long as his arm. Any crappy jobs that are left over in Ferguson would probably go to a white person with no college education rather than a black person with work experience. His total lack of awareness of who and what he is talking about despite living in the area since he was a teen speaks to his appalling lack of emotional intelligence, empathy and arrogance. Though never explicitly stated, Wilson’s point of view is, ‘look, I came from a poor background too, my mother was a criminal, and I managed to stay on the straight and narrow and make a life for myself so why can’t you?’ It’s also worthy to note that though his mother was a perpetual criminal and inveterate thief, she was never jailed, she was given chance after chance to reform herself, had she been black, Darren Wilson wouldn’t have had a mother growing up. If his mother were black, she’d be locked up.
The fact that Wilson could not see himself in the delinquent youths who ran amok in the streets of Ferguson and how easily that could have been him speaks to his feelings of superiority. Wilson also referred to another family of habitual offenders, a group of teenagers that ran wild in the streets, their mother was a single mother and was blind, these kids were criminals, they dealt drugs, stole, broke into cars, a real menace to their neighbors, hence the cops were always called, Wilson described them to be as people who didn’t come from a good home with good values and the cherry on top was this: “They’re so wrapped up in a different culture than—what I’m trying to say is, the right culture, the better one to pick from.” Let me help him clarify, if they chose the ‘white’ culture of law abiding citizenship and if their mother could keep a man around the house longer than 10 minutes, this wouldn’t be happening.
Jake Halpern sniffed out the racially coded language and pressed Wilson for clarification:
Wilson struggled to respond. He said that he meant “pre-gang culture, where you are just running in the streets—not worried about working in the morning, just worried about your immediate gratification.” He added, “It is the same younger culture that is everywhere in the inner cities.”
When Jake Halpern asked Wilson if ever thought about Mike Brown’s parents and what they are going through, his answer is charming as usual:
“You do realize that his parents are suing me?” he said. “So I have to think about him.” He went on, “Do I think about who he was as a person? Not really, because it doesn’t matter at this point. Do I think he had the best upbringing? No. Not at all.” His tone was striking, given Wilson’s own turbulent childhood.
He went on to elaborate that besides the 45 seconds interaction which ‘he (Mike Brown) tried to shoot me’, he hasn’t really thought about him as a person since.
After reading this interview, which I felt was fair and presented all sides evenly, due to Wilson’s emotional and personality deficiencies, he couldn’t even come across as a remotely decent human being. He’s just thinking about himself, his own safety, the safety of his wife and children (fair enough on this point) and what’s going to happen with the civil lawsuit that Mike Brown’s parents filed against him. Is he going to lose everything?
Darren Wilson’s freedom is extremely restricted, which he imposed on himself and his family for their own safety, the few times they do go out and the few places they do go are according to Wilson, “with like-minded individuals,” he said. “You know. Where it’s not a mixing pot.” Basically a place where all the other scared white cops congregate, not mixing with the black and brown folks.
Lastly, to enrage the readers further, the home that Darren Wilson, his wife and their children are living in now is in a quiet suburb of St. Louis, paid for in cash by the people who donated to the Wilson family on a GoFundMe page. This is the final nail of injustice in Mike Brown’s coffin.