Does Black Culture Need to Be Reformed?
It was just after eight o’clock on a November night when Robert McCulloch, the prosecuting attorney for St. Louis County, announced that a grand jury would not be returning an indictment in the police killing of Michael Brown, who was eighteen, unarmed, and African-American. About an hour later and eight hundred miles away, President Obama delivered a short and sober speech designed to function as an anti-inflammatory. He praised police officers while urging them to “show care and restraint” when confronting protesters. He said that “communities of color” had “real issues” with law enforcement, but reminded disappointed Missourians that Brown’s mother and father had asked for peace. “Michael Brown’s parents have lost more than anyone,” he said. “We should be honoring their wishes.”
Even as he mentioned Brown’s parents, Obama was careful not to invoke Brown himself, who had become a polarizing figure. To the protesters who chanted, “Hands up! Don’t shoot!,” Brown was a symbol of the young African-American man as victim—the chant referred to the claim that Brown was surrendering, with his hands up, when he was killed. Critics of the protest movement were more likely to bring up the video, taken in the fifteen minutes before Brown’s death, that appeared to show him stealing cigarillos from a convenience store and then shoving and intimidating the worker who tried to stop him—the victim was also, it seemed, a perpetrator.