Michael Brown was a very large young man, 6’4″ and 292 (sometimes reported as 300) pounds. He used his size aggressively to rob a convenience store and shove aside a store clerk just ten minutes before his fatal encounter with a police officer. Brown’s height and weight are obviously relevant to the police officer’s claim of self-defense, which we assume will eventually be forthcoming.
Yet these basic physical facts are too hot for the New York Times to handle. In a column by Kyle Massey, an assistant news editor, the Times says that it regrets describing Brown as “burly” and will no longer do so. Why? Because the word “burly” is “racially charged.” That’s news to me; I have sometimes described my son as burly, although he weighs more than 100 pounds less than Brown. Evidently I will have to stop, even though the Merriam-Webster dictionary merely defines “burly” as “strongly and heavily built.”
So how will the Times describe Brown from now on? Svelte? Diminutive? I don’t suppose so. The paper’s real problem is that it doesn’t want readers to know that Brown was such a big guy. They just want to keep saying that he was “unarmed,” as though that precludes any necessity for self-defense. 6’4″ and 292 pounds clouds that narrative just a bit. So from now on, the Times will draw a discreet veil over the stature of the burly Mr. Brown.