Victim Blaming

The Ugly Smearing of Michael Brown

Even before Ferguson police accused the unarmed teenager shot by Officer Darren Wilson of robbery, the fringiest elements of the American right rushed to depict Brown as a thug.


In the days since the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown, there has been some good reporting on the ground in Ferguson, Missouri—and a heavy dose of unsubstantiated allegations against the unarmed teenager.

Brown’s August 9 killing sparked days of tense demonstrations in the town, with police firing tear gas and rubber bullets at protesters, stores looted, at least one business set on fire. On Thursday, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon removed local police from the protests, and the Missouri Highway Patrol took control in the St. Louis suburb. Then, Friday, police finally released the name of the officer who shot Brown, Darren Wilson, along with a report indicating that Brown and his friend Dorian Johnson were suspects in a convenience-store robbery shortly before the shooting. (Johnson’s lawyer confirmed to MSNBC that Brown had taken cigars from the store.)

But long before the robbery allegations, online outlets were attempting to paint Brown as a common thug. (You may recall a similar backlash to the Trayvon Martin case.) Matt Drudge’s eponymous “Report” led with this photo of Brown on Thursday:

The website of Pat Dollard—the genocide-encouraging conservative filmmaker and former cocaine-snorting Hollywood agent—published a story under the headline “EXPOSED: Michael Brown Was A Member Of The Ultraviolent ‘Bloods’ Street Gang.” There is no evidence to back up that allegation, and Brown had no criminal record; Dollard’s site merely posted a few photos of Brown doing things with his hands. Still, the pictures naturally made the rounds in the darker corners of conservative Twitter and social media, and far-right bloggers like Jim Hoft needed little convincing to run with them.

This should go without saying, but vaguely intimidating photos of you do not give the police carte blanche to gun you down, and we no longer live in a country where it is OK to sentence black men to death for the crime of petty theft.

Brown’s family made just that point in a statement Friday: “There is nothing based on the facts that have been placed before us that can justify the execution style murder of their child by this police officer as he held his hands up, which is the universal sign of surrender.”

Thankfully, the ugly gang smears against Brown have been relegated mostly to the noisy but fringiest elements of the American right. On mainstream conservative news outlets such as Fox News, you can treat yourself to more thoughtful commentary on the situation in Missouri, including this Ferguson segment suggesting that rather than blame the police, the black community should look at its own “moral decay.”