Someday a student will read about the middle of this decade, wondering who its heroes were. The names Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and Freddie Gray will be cited as persons behind a catalyst of violence and murder that marked an epidemic of hatred directed at the institution of policing and individual police officers. The student will note that a few laws were changed and more training was required. The student will also note, if they are astute, that the number of officer involved shootings did not significantly decline since they were rare to begin with.
The student will read about black neighborhoods scorched by riots. Small businesses destroyed. Tax dollars strained to rebuild and neighborhoods abandoned. He will ask why those labeled as demanding justice brought ruin to their own community. He will see Brown described as a gentle giant and not as a man fleeing a strong armed robbery and proven to have attacked Officer Wilson, Garner as just trying to make a living selling cigarettes and not his organized crime affiliation and criminal history, and Gray, with a long rap sheet for narcotics and in possession of a switch blade when taken into custody, as having had “scrapes with the law”. The strain to make these habitual criminals into heroes will not be obvious to him.
He will read that journalists and commentators place these men in the same category as those who marched with MLK, and the victims of vicious lynchings of KKK terror. He will read that the violence was necessary for reform, and that the cry of black lives matter was as noble as the call of I have a dream. He will read that calling these men thugs was the worst kind of racism. Only in the smallest of footnotes will he read about the professional agitators and criminal gangs that joined local masked rioters to hurt and destroy.
He will read that the police were the greatest enemy of black citizens. He will probably not read that while cities burned over these men, bodies of black citizens murdered by black killers every year would stack as high as the Empire State Building. Those black lives didn't quite matter as much. He will not know what resources sucked into the repair caused by rioters would not be available to address the legacy of poverty in black neighborhoods where families of color worked hard and desperately to overcome institutionalized racism from cradle to grave. No, the focus was on that police contact. Was it poor prenatal care? Fatherless families? Third rate educational opportunities? No, it was that cop. The easy answer.
If the student of history desire truth he will find it. And he will wish we had found it in the moment.
But we did not.