26 Nov 2014

Ferguson riots: the story, but not the whole story

Last night demonstrators filled the streets of more than a hundred American cities to protest against the grand jury ruling that a white policeman who shot and killed an unarmed black teenager in Ferguson, Missouri, need not face criminal charges.

The protests elsewhere were bigger, but less intense than what happened in Ferguson on Monday night – when there was rioting, looting and fury at the decision.

Flip the channels on America’s multiplex of cable news and you could watch the Ferguson pizza franchise go up in flames; then see the white policeman himself, Darren Wilson, deliver his version of the killing of Michael Brown; then see the lawyer for Michael Brown’s family say even a first year law student could have done a better job of cross-examining Darren Wilson than the county prosecutor did.

The ratings of rolling news channels, like Fox and CNN, have blossomed at the continuous titillation of the protests.  Outside the police station on Tuesday night journalists, camera people and photographers outnumbered protestors about three to one (disclaimer:  we were there too).

And so was prominent activist, Deray McKesson, talking about a new age of protest for a new generation.  About an electronic age where movements begin with tweets and vines, and deliver systemic change that rejects the idea that it is okay, even normal, for a white policeman to shoot and kill a black teenager.

Protesters flip over a Ferguson police car in Ferguson

Darren Wilson, in his first network TV interview, doesn’t talk about his shooting Michael Brown as normal.  But it was necessary, in his account.

The officer, who is still on paid leave, wears a chambray blue shirt, and speaks of a clear conscience.  Of a policeman doing his job.  Trying to survive.  And memorably, describing his confrontation with Michael Brown as a five-year-old faced with Hulk Hogan.

There is so much to write and say about what is happening in Ferguson.  It is tempting to describe tectonic plates shifting.  But we can’t know.

Let’s just say that running after a mob of energised, adrenalised protestors to flip a police car and smash the windows of city hall tonight delivers pictures that will tell one story.  But it won’t be the whole truth.

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