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Stanley Crouch: Ferguson brings forth facts and opinions

The loss of professional control in demanding situations is quite visible in Ferguson, Mo., just outside St. Louis, an infamous source for heat and cliches about the lack of understanding between whites and blacks, or the inability to start a conversation about race, or the murderous war on black young men, carried out by citizens and police.

None of that is quite true, but heat waves continue to gather. Nowhere in Ferguson’s part of the Midwest can the loss of professional control be better seen than in one police officer so dangerously on the point of hysteria that he had to be stopped from pointing a weapon at protesters as he talked a blue streak. Those protesters had been in the streets for nearly nine nights, usually orderly, sometimes not, but not near rioting or looting. The protesters were complaining in the flesh about the killing of Michael Brown. Brown was huge, 18 years old and unarmed when he fell dead from six police bullets, two in the head. Brown may have, as a tape shot in a local mini market shows, taken a $48 box of cigars, and pushed a store employee around before exiting with his friend, who gave what may have been an eyewitness story of the big fellow’s death to the cable media.

If the stories are taken seriously from available video evidence, it makes Brown not exactly the angel friends and relatives would have us believe. At his worst, he seems just another prankish, irresponsible, overgrown teenage American male, ready to throw his considerable weight around. The threatening young man apparently committed a petty crime and walked away, so confident that all was well that he was next seen strolling with a friend in the middle of a street before lethal danger arrived. An officer approached the two in a police vehicle, cursed at them, grappled with the bigger of the buddies and ended up killing one of the assumed suspects. Did Brown “deserve” it?

Masses of nonviolent protest groups were clearly rattled by Brown’s killing and were, themselves, victimized by a small number of opportunists — those ready to loot and riot as soon as there was enough cover for them to bring off their real intentions. Their concerns were not focused on Michael Brown. While many of the people protesting nightly in the streets were ready to go onscreen with their points of view, looters and destroyers of property were not; they wanted to do their vile “work” and not be held responsible.

There was the usual attack-dog stance toward the demonstrators from conservative media, perhaps most interestingly arriving from Bill O’Reilly, who is always trying to become nicknamed “Wild Bill” for the amount of steaming rage he puts out with apparent overcooked disdain. This rage is not always misleading, because he does make some important observations that are not quite regular for the right wing. His observation that 18 black people were murdered in Chicago on the same weekend that Michael Brown fell, supposedly not a fact pushed by “the liberal media,” is far from the unvarnished truth. That bloody weekend was not missed by any media; what O’Reilly found so terrible was that little attention was given to all of those murders because the Brown death was given center stage, primarily because of the sustained mass gathering in Ferguson, with people demanding that Brown’s killer be arrested, tried and convicted. Those gatherings went on for nine nights of tension, chanting, tear gas and arrests — though the majority of protests remained short of chaos or opportunism.

When O’Reilly chose to focus his rays of enmity on Al Sharpton and MSNBC, Wild Bill did not give the reverend proper acknowledgment for having discouraged violent and looting opportunists trying to mingle and hide among honest people sincerely feeling collectively wounded by the hostile demise of Brown. O’Reilly stated his disgust for those so disrespecting the Brown family members that they were using his death as a cover for their own lawbreaking, as if he was the only or first one bothered by those fakes —Sharpton had said so from the beginning. As he had in every questionable killing or shooting of black youth, the reverend was never encouraging violence, remaining a true follower of Martin Luther King Jr.

Attacking Sharpton as no more than a race hustler is far from the slogan “fair and balanced,” which O’Reilly claims can be seen in his journalism, so heated but so fair, never more and never less. Well now, ours is not a time in which one can lead an attack on the lack of professionalism by the law-enforcement employees of this nation and expect less than right-wing rhetorical beatings. No amount of protests will convince law enforcement to strike for a week or two or even three or four. If that happened, the bodies would be stacked up, and everyone would know what it feels like to suffer in the Middle East, where radical Islam has little to do with Muslims at large.

Sharpton and O’Reilly can continue to fire hot rhetoric at each other, but neither represents the kinds of forces that beheaded James Foley and wants us all to know how they feel about serious reporting. Americans do not always want to hear or see the truth, but hard-won facts do more than allow lethal muck into the rooms we hold most valuable. Disagreement is far different from dismemberment.

Stanley Crouch can be reached by email at