Michael Brown’s Funeral [Updated]

Michael Brown was buried today. The New York Times reports on his funeral in St. Louis:

They came by the thousands to pay their respects. Among them were the parents and extended family — some 500 strong — of Michael Brown, the unarmed…

They keep saying that, as if it had some great significance.

…black teenager…

This entire pageant has to do with Brown’s race. Within the last few days, a white youth in Utah was shot by a black policeman. No pageant. Why, exactly, are so many people determined to find symbolic significance in Michael Brown’s tragic death?

…who was shot and killed more than two weeks ago by a Ferguson police officer.

It is likely that the officer acted properly in self-defense. Does that matter? Seemingly not.

But the crowd of mourners also included the Rev. Jesse Jackson; the film director Spike Lee; T. D. Jakes, the bishop of The Potter’s House, an African-American megachurch; several members of Congress; representatives from the White House; and two children of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

So it was a celebrity funeral. None of the black gunshot victims killed in Chicago in recent weeks have received celebrity funerals. Why not?

The Times describes the funeral itself as “deeply religious.” That’s good. And much of what was said was appropriate and heartfelt. Yet a political air hung over the proceedings. The last speaker was Al Sharpton:

“This is about fairness, and America is going to have to come to terms with there’s something wrong, that we have money to give military equipment to police forces but we don’t have money for training and money for public education and money to train our children,” Mr. Sharpton said.

But why is this about fairness? If Michael Brown, 6’4″ and 300 pounds, who had robbed (not shoplifted from, as news accounts like to put it) a convenience store just ten minutes earlier, charged Officer Darren Wilson and Wilson defended himself by shooting him, it is certainly a sad story, but how is it about fairness?

Moreover, military equipment had nothing to do with the incident. Wilson used his standard-issue handgun, probably a Glock 9 mm. And the idea that public education and government training programs lack money is laughable; nor, in any event, do such issues have anything to do with Brown’s death. The brief encounter between Brown and Officer Wilson and its tragic outcome are being made to bear a heavy symbolic weight. Pretty much the entire liberal agenda can somehow be shoehorned in.

A mythological version of the Wilson-Brown encounter that is unsupported by the physical evidence, and is almost certainly false, has taken hold among those who view Brown as a martyr:

In an overflow room where mourners watched the service on television across the street from the church, Mr. Sharpton’s remarks riled up the crowd. Some men left the overflow room to the street and began loudly chanting “hands up, don’t shoot.” …

Before the service on Monday, one man sold T-shirts outside the church with the slogan “Hands up, don’t shoot,” while another handed out leaflets for a candidate for a city political position.

The Times recognizes that the facts of the Brown case are far from clear, and that his own aggression may have prompted the fatal encounter with Darren Wilson:

Mr. Brown, who had just graduated from high school, was shot to death on Aug. 9 after a confrontation with an officer, Darren Wilson, along a curving street in Ferguson, a mostly black city where the police force is mostly white. The police described the confrontation as a physical altercation between the two men that left Officer Wilson with a swollen face; others have deemed it a case of needless police aggression and racial profiling. State and federal investigations are underway.

For Brown’s friends and family, his death is a disaster and a tragedy, regardless of how his confrontation with Wilson unfolded. Their grief is genuine and heartfelt. But how about Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson and Spike Lee? How about the three White House aides who attended, or the “several” Congressmen? Their motives are more equivocal, to put it politely. What makes Brown’s death a political event? Or, put another way, of what is it symbolic? For some, it seems that sowing racial division is an end in itself, regardless of the facts.

UPDATE: For more, see Byron York in the Washington Examiner. Byron focuses on the middle portion of Sharpton’s eulogy, which has been controversial in some quarters:

After a demand for broad reforms in American policing, Sharpton changed course to address his black listeners directly. “We’ve got to be straight up in our community, too,” he said. “We have to be outraged at a 9-year-old girl killed in Chicago. We have got to be outraged by our disrespect for each other, our disregard for each other, our killing and shooting and running around gun-toting each other, so that they’re justified in trying to come at us because some of us act like the definition of blackness is how low you can go.”

“Blackness has never been about being a gangster or a thug,” Sharpton continued. “Blackness was, no matter how low we was pushed down, we rose up anyhow.”

Sharpton went on to describe blacks working to overcome discrimination, to build black colleges, to establish black churches, to succeed in life. “We never surrendered,” Sharpton said. “We never gave up. And now we get to the 21st century, we get to where we’ve got some positions of power. And you decide it ain’t black no more to be successful. Now, you want to be a n—– and call your woman a ‘ho.’ You’ve lost where you’re coming from.”

The cameras cut to director Spike Lee, on his feet applauding enthusiastically. So were Martin Luther King III, radio host Tom Joyner, and, judging by video coverage, pretty much everyone else in the church. They kept applauding when Sharpton accused some blacks of having “ghetto pity parties.” And they applauded more when Sharpton finally declared: “We’ve got to clean up our community so we can clean up the United States of America!”

Critics complain that this part of Sharpton’s eulogy had nothing to do with the circumstances of Brown’s death. I think that is rather obviously wrong. As for why Sharpton chose to include this theme in his eulogy, see the rest of Byron’s piece.

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