September 4, 2014

FORKEN | Ferguson and the Conservative Media

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By JAKE FORKEN

Earlier this past month, unarmed African-American teenager Michael Brown was shot dead in the streets of Ferguson, Missouri. The following weeks erupted with Ferguson citizens filling the streets, protesting the death of Brown at the gun of a white police officer. While the initial shooting and subsequent protests unmistakably presented an issue with race relations in Ferguson, the hypocritical reaction from traditionally conservative media outlets exemplifies a larger domestic issue with race.

On August 9, officer Darren Wilson stopped Brown, along with his friend Dorian Johnson, as they were walking in the street. Unbeknownst to Wilson, Brown had allegedly committed a shoplifting crime a few minutes prior to his being stopped. What transpired next is the cause of controversy.

According to Wilson, Brown or Johnson pushed him back into his police vehicle, grappling for his firearm, resulting in one shot being fired into the cabin. Brown then began to run down the street, at which point Wilson fired multiple shots at the fleeing teenagers, killing Brown.

Dorian Johnson and other eyewitnesses offer a different narrative. Johnson claims that the officer told the two to “get the f*** on the sidewalk,” and, when they refused, told Brown, “I’m gonna shoot you.” At this point, Brown was hit by a single bullet and was able to flee down the street amid continuous fire from Wilson. After being hit a second time, Brown fell to his knees about 35 feet from the police vehicle. Multiple witnesses state this is when Brown raised his hands in the air and yelled, “I don’t have a gun, stop shooting.” The shots didn’t stop and Michael Brown died on the street.

The official autopsy suggests the shots were not fired at close range, as no gunpowder was present on Brown’s body. In an authenticated recording of the shooting, six shots can be heard being fired, followed by a brief pause and then four more shots.

Last week, Bill O’Reilly stated on his Fox News television program that he returned from his vacation early, as he was, “furious about how the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown is being reported and how various people are reacting to it.” O’Reilly goes on to claim that although a federal investigation had been opened in regards to the shooting, rioting and looting still continued, as “these people don’t want peace.”

The incident in Ferguson speaks to a greater problem regarding the implicitly discriminatory remarks spewed by much of the conservative media. When Fox News covered the Cliven Bundy standoff earlier this year — which resulted when federal government officials who were legally attempting to collect grazing fees 20 years past due — were met with a militia of armed protesters, Sean Hannity called Bundy a “hero” and his armed supporters were “patriots.”

This “hero” publicly stated he didn’t recognize the authority of the United States government and questioned, “are they (African-Americans) better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy?”

The “patriots” at this protest include former Arizona sheriff Richard Mack, who told Fox News, “We were actually strategizing to put all the women up at the front. If they’re going to start killing people, I’m sorry, but to show the world how ruthless these people are, women needed to be the first ones shot. I’m sorry, that sounds horrible. I would have put my own wife or daughters there.” Other “patriots” include married couple Jerad and Amanda Miller, who months after spending time at Cliven Bundy’s ranch, killed two police officers and a bystander in Las Vegas.

These are the people reigning in an out of control federal government. These are the people that want justice. Not the protestors in Ferguson. Those are the rioters. They are the looters.

Never mind that multiple witnesses, including Washington Post columnist Wesley Lowery, reported that Ferguson citizens were the ones protecting community storefronts from looters as the police watched on. Never mind that the police didn’t only arrest two journalists and spray tear gas at an Al Jazeera America team, but also fired canisters of tear gas, along with rubber bullets, into the streets of Ferguson. Never mind that the Ferguson Police Department has a history of racial profiling — in 2009, Ferguson police arrested the wrong man and then violently beat him when he asked for a sleeping mat. They then proceeded to charge that man with property damage because he bled on their uniforms.

Ferguson protestors were met with violence simply for being on the street past midnight. Imagine if the citizens of Ferguson armed themselves, as those supporting Cliven Bundy did, before they stood in front of the militarized police force. Would they have been heralded as heroes and patriots?

It’s time conservative media realizes that pointing a firearm at a federal official isn’t acceptable because you’re white and protesting the shooting of an unarmed teenager by a police officer isn’t wrong because you’re black.

Jake Forken is a junior in the College of Human Ecology. He may be reached at jrf285@cornell.edu. My Forken Opinion appears alternate Fridays this semester.