What We Always Fail to Understand About Terrorism

Groups like ISIS and Al Qaeda know they cannot win by killing people. I really wish Americans and Westerners would get that. This isn't some hippy liberal theory I thought up. It's straight out of their playbook and they're quite open about their strategy. The only thing ISIS can hope to do is bait us into actions that make us look worse than them.

Islamic fundamentalist terrorists know there are a billion Muslims who don't subscribe to their interpretation of Islam, and who think their tactics are abhorrent. There are a billion Muslims who don't want any part of killing innocents, nor do they want to get killed themselves. They'd just like to live their lives in happiness, safety, and prosperity like every other person on the planet. Right now Muslims have the ability to dislike ISIS and the West separately for whatever reasons. If you think about it, that's pretty obvious. People hate extremists within their own culture, and are somewhat distrustful of other cultures. ISIS's only hope is to make the West lash out and become the extremists. If those billion Muslims fear a war mongering West hell bent on destroying Islam they'll have no choice but to side with Islamic extremists.

The irony of people immediately making this about Syrian refugees is astounding. We are buying into the falsehoods that these terrorist groups are pushing. They want us to see this attack in Paris and link it to the thousands of Syrian refugees even though those refugees are fleeing the same type of groups that committed these attacks. And we oblige instead of showing we know the difference between desperate people and terrorists.

Justice for the perpetrators, yes. Punishing all Muslims for this attack, no. It's not being compassionate (even though it is), it's doing what's best to keep America safe and win the battle.

11/14/2015 6:09:15 PM
Filed Under: Sci/Tech
Keywords: islam terrorism isis france paris+attacks
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The End of "They Hate us for our Freedom"

Soon after 9/11 Americans began asking why Al-Qaeda was fighting America. George W. Bush, in an address to a joint session of Congress soon after the attacks attempted to answer that very question

Americans are asking "Why do they hate us?"

They hate what they see right here in this chamber: a democratically elected government. Their leaders are self-appointed. They hate our freedoms: our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other.
And so "they hate us for our freedom" was born. It immediately struck many as a simplistic and self-serving, but given the nation’s mood we just had to live with it.

The correctness of that answer has consistently been chipped away at over the years. The US went to war in Iraq less than two years later. The justifications for the war proved false, tanking American credibility across the globe. There was legalized torture, by the US or through proxies. Even the war in Afghanistan dragged on, bringing down its popularity with it. Whether these actions were done with malice or good will, laziness or great care; whether they were right or wrong, they affected the way others viewed us.

This all brings me to something probably no one is even aware of. And I’m probably going to lose you at the next sentence. Right now Saudi Arabia is trying to put down a rebellion in Yemen. The very condensed summary is that Shia rebels are fighting the Sunni-led government, which has backing from a coalition of nations (including the genocidal Sudanese government) led by Saudi Arabia. Al Qaeda and ISIS are involved as well. Whether the rebels (the Houthis) are justified in their war I cannot say.

What I can say though is the Saudis are basically destroying Yemen. War has done what you would expect a bombing campaign to do to an already poor country - created a humanitarian crisis. The Saudi Arabian bombing of Yemeni ports and its blockade of the country has exacerbated the peril to civilians. You probably heard about the US bombing of a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Afghanistan. Well, the Saudis have done the same in Yemen. Two weddings have reportedly been bombed. Thousands of civilians have been killed.

One of the most distressing things to see is the destruction of ancient Yemeni artifacts.
The roster of antiquities damaged in the war in Yemen runs long. Missiles fired from the coalition's planes have obliterated a museum (where the fruits of an American-Yemeni archaeological dig were stored), historic caked-mud high-rise dwellings, 12th century citadels and minarets and other places whose importance to humanity's heritage has been recognised by the UN. The Great Dam of Marib, a feat of engineering that was undertaken 2,800 years ago, has been struck four times, most recently on August 18th. Antiquities experts fear for the oldest surviving fragment of the Koran, in a six-month war which has killed over 4,000 and injured 20,000.
What would you think of the country that was wiping out your heritage?

What does this have to do with the United States though? .Well, the US has provided "arms, intelligence, and fuel" to the Saudis. On top of that, the United States has actively scuttled any attempt to investigate the Saudis for war crimes.

"They hate us for our freedom" is dead. It’s dead because there are plenty of reasons to contemplate "hating us", whether they are legitimate or not. That’s not to justify terrorism against Americans, Westerners, or Jews. And, let’s be real here, anyone who deliberately flies a plane into a building with the goal of killing tens of thousands of people didn’t need an errant US bomb to push him over the edge. Ego, fanaticism, and a lack of simple humanity were all that Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda needed

What these things do is turn opinion against America. They expose our stated goals - democracy, freedom, human rights - as empty rhetoric. They give pause to any of the billion peaceful Muslims when they contemplate speaking out against America’s enemies or speaking out for America’s goals. And yes, for a small percentage of Muslims, it’s a reason to join a group that actively tries to harm Americans. And so our enemies grow in strength.

And it shows. When democratic movements broke out across the Muslim world did we in the United States applaud or fear them? There was much more fear because we aren’t sure that put up to a vote America would win.

11/8/2015 6:45:49 PM
Filed Under: US Politics
Keywords: terrorism al+qaeda war+on+terror yemen saudi+arabia
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Politicizing Tragedy

I said this after Sandy Hook, and it bears repeating now after the recent shooting at a community college in Oregon and the shootings in Aurora, Colorado, the Washington Navy yard, and Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church among others

But I'm not saying we should wait to talk about this. Sure, things are going to come out years later, but now is the time to have a discussion about gun control. And again, this is from someone who is a "Second Amendment as the right to own a gun" supporter. Sorry if you feel that talking about it is "politicizing" it, but the shooting has political implications. We're not going to wait two weeks to talk about this because in two weeks Syria is going collapse or there's going to be an earthquake or some celebrity is going to do something. I wish it weren't that way, but that's our nation's attention span. We're talking about it now because it's on our minds and it's important. Let's do it with a basic understanding of the facts of the case, but let’s not let the opportunity pass, whether you support more or less gun control.
Every death or otherwise adverse event is the result of political decisions we made or did not make. Maybe that means we could have stopped this by confiscating guns or maybe it means we could have stopped it if everyone was forced to carry a gun. Maybe both of those options are too extreme, their cost too high, but that right there is a political decision. In terms of being a political decision doing nothing is on the same level as doing something.

I said on Twitter/Facebook I think the problem with the liberal response to gun violence is it always seems to amount to "We gotta do something!" without knowing what, why, or how. I think we could reduce gun violence but it would take massive gun confiscation that would lead to deeper mistrust of government, much less freedom, and a huge black market for guns bringing about an increase in crime. I support the 2nd Amendment, but every time a tragedy like this happens I think "Am I just completely wrong?" I'm perfectly willing to have these debates, even in the midst of tragedy. It happens now or it doesn't happen at all. And if that's the case then you've said we're not even going to talk about mass murder.

10/3/2015 6:36:57 PM
Filed Under: US Politics
Keywords: gun+control gun+violence
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Don Draper Sucks

A while back a friend on Facebook posted this:

Three of the first four responses confirmed a negative stereotype of men as fathers. Luckily the second response (from a guy), and the many that came in later (from men and women), added up to a resounding “fuck that” to the idea that bad, uninvolved parenting is a man thing. I don’t get angry when people think of men as poor parents. When I have the kids by myself and someone asks me if I’m “babysitting” I politely correct them with “parenting”. There are men out there who get defensive or angry about this stereotype. I get where that feeling comes from, but it just doesn’t bring me to anger. I just shake my head. If this is all you ask out of men, this is all you’re going to get. Is that what you want?

Mad Men, one of the greatest shows in TV history, ended recently. I loved the character of Don Draper, but he sure was a shitty father. Maybe that image of an uninvolved, uncaring dad had more relevance back then, but I don’t see it in my circles and I can’t understand why fathers would subscribe to it now. I know dozens of dads who are nothing like that. I've been wanting to write a post like this for a while, but when I started today it didn't even seem relevant because I just don't know any shitty dads. I’m not saying they are always equal partners or perfect fathers. I’m an involved father but my wife stays at home with the kids so it can only be equal when I’m around. All the dads I know put in significant effort with their kids, even if they can’t match their spouse’s. If I knew someone who didn’t see themselves as an equal partner in parenting I would think much less of them and maybe even not consider them a friend.

I’m tempted to say that if you are a terrible dad you should just get up and get out of your kid’s life. By terrible I don’t mean “you always miss his soccer games”. My dad missed a lot of soccer games (he coached a lot of them too) and I don’t hold that against him because he was bringing in income for us. I’m talking about guys who don’t give a shit about their kids. If that’s you then yes, maybe you ought to just get the hell out. But you know what, your kid still loves you and needs you despite you being a shitty person. Despite your disregard for your responsibility as a parent the kid would probably be better off with you around. So stop. Just be a good father.

If the problem is it doesn’t feel “manly” to parent, then I have good news. Taking care of the weak is the most manly thing you can do in the history of the universe. Sure, when I see dads at swim class splashing around with their 2 year old in the water it does not look tough. Men look better in suits or dirtied work clothes than they do in striped swim trunks. But who cares? Admittedly I’m not a person who thinks about being perceived as manly. I don’t care about cars, I never got into fights as a kid, and I’d rather pay someone for home improvements and read a book with my time. So you can rest assured I'm not trying to stroke my ego when I say being a protector is the essence of “manhood” as defined by traditional gender roles. There's really no reason left for men not to put in the effort at parenting.

6/21/2015 6:01:47 PM
Filed Under: Personal
Keywords: parenting
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Bravery Comes in Many Forms, Many Degrees

Calling a person brave for coming out as transgender in a society that routinely harasses and ridicules them simply for who they are does not actually mean you are calling members of the armed services pussies.

I was actually heartened that it took a few days from when Caitlyn Jenner announced her name change to when I saw someone make a comparison between her - yes, her, deal with it - and Chris Kyle. From the moment I heard the news I knew people were going to use members of the armed services to denigrate the importance of what was happening.

For the most part I haven't paid attention to the Caitlyn Jenner story, but it's hard to miss it and it is an important story. Transgender people get harassed just for who they are. They face discrimination that is illegal when practiced against other races, sexes, religions, and ethnicities. Remember, this is their biological make up, not a cry for attention. All of this leads to transgender people attempting suicide at obscenely high rates. Seeing a person on the national stage speak up and own their identity could literally save a life. Is it the most important story on the planet? No. Does it shed light on people who are suffering? Yes.

There's nothing about this that denigrates members of the armed services. Our soldiers constantly get the highest imaginable praise in our society. They receive official recognition from the most powerful people in the country. Parades are thrown for them. They’re honored at sporting events and get their names on highways and city squares. People buy drinks, give up their seats on airplanes, or just randomly go up to them and say thanks. All of that is just to name a few of the ways we acknowledge them. And rightly so. Taking a second to note someone else's bravery in a non-life threatening situation does not change our appreciation for what our military does. Saying someone is a hero to others despite never having fired a gun also does not do this. Haven’t you had a teacher change your life? Haven’t you had someone inspire you? I hope to be a hero to my kids without having to snipe insurgents from my rooftop.

A common way to deflect attention from a subject you don't want to talk about - or you can't handle rationally - is to try to claim some sort of misplaced concern for something you claim is of lesser importance. Often this takes the form of a charge of hypocrisy. Whatever the charge, the key to this tactic is never addressing the issue at hand.

Guess what? There's always something more important. You don't have to talk about only the most important thing or the most heroic person. There are myriad struggles in this world. The predictable callous response to this one shows a disturbing lack of empathy running through our society.

6/4/2015 12:53:16 PM
Filed Under: US Politics
Keywords: transgender caitlyn+jenner chris+kyle
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Ballghazi, because why not

As a Buffalo Bills fan I'm all for punishing the New England Patriots - fines, forfeited draft picks, vacated wins, suspensions, the razing of Gillette Stadium - but I can't believe the level of attention and outrage "Ballghazi" (better than "Deflategate") has gotten. I was talking about it last night without knowing the NFL had already handed out its penalty - $1 million fine, 4 game suspension for Brady, and the loss of a first and fourth round draft pick. The severity of the penalty simultaneously blew me away and brought me immense joy. In a classic Bills fan move I'm trying to decide if Rex Ryan will go 14-2 or 15-1 in his inaugural season.

It strikes me that the Patriots' own arrogance in this situation and in other cheating scandals is what is getting them the bulk of their punishment. It's pretty obvious that everyone spied on other teams back in the day, and everyone probably "adjusts" their footballs, but the Patriots flaunted it so the league had to act. It reminds me of Michael Pineda's pine tar incident last year. Pineda was obviously using pine tar in a game against the Red Sox in Yankee Stadium. The Red Sox ignored it because their pitchers probably do the same (you can find some images and/or video on the internet attempting to document it). The next week in Fenway Park Pineda very obviously did it again. Red Sox manager John Farrell was forced to call him on it when it was clear there was an unwritten understanding around the league that everyone does it. If the Patriots weren't so obvious and arrogant about it they would have gotten away with it.

Don't get me wrong, this is cheating so it deserves some sort of punishment. What gets me about it is the punishment is so arbitrary. The NFL has been doing this for a few years now. A scandal hits, calls for punishment arise, and Roger Goodell lawlessly decrees one. It's bad for the NFL as a product because it means the league will have more (arbitrary) power over the players, and will be likely to abuse it for their own gain (suspending players who speak out against the league, invalidating large contracts, etc). The players are the ones who put their bodies on the line, and they are the ones who deserve to be protected.

On a final note, there are two things about the rule that are perplexing to begin with. For one, why does the NFL allow teams to manage their own footballs? As a friend pointed out the other night, in every other sport the officials manage the ball. Second, why is this a rule? So it helps the offense to take air out of the ball...who cares? The NFL has spent years modifying rules to make it easier for quarterbacks to throw touchdowns. Who cares if they deflate footballs? Let them take all the air out and wing it around like a frisbee if it makes scoring easier. Put jet fuel in it and shoot it like a missile. Who cares?

5/13/2015 2:04:30 AM
Filed Under: Sports
Keywords: nfl new+england+patriots football
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Careless Judgment

Daniel Larison* calls out Libyan War supporters for the mess the country has become. My position on the Libyan War was ... complicated. I was at first very much opposed to air strikes in Libya, noting the hollow call for a humanitarian intervention. I then waffled a little on my opposition and started to optimistic about the intervention. The more I read about it, the more I realized there was a chance we could be watching the beginning of a genocide, at which point I reluctantly supported the war, despite knowing a lot of the bad things I opposed could very well happen. Basically this is where I left it:

On moral and legal grounds I think we were justified in the initial phase of this war. Obama has staked the United States and NATO to a limited role in this conflict. I don't completely believe this, but that's what he said. In his speech he somewhat tips his hand about trying to get rid of Gaddafi. He clearly wants it and it's possible that he will break his promise and commit to that action. I don't support that. Maybe I'm naive to think we can protect the civilians without committing to a greater war. We are, in fact, already at war. If that ends up happening, I will say that I did not support that, but I will also have to face that fact that support for a limited defense of human rights may have made it easier to wage a broader war for regime change.
Obviously everything I didn’t support happened and I was naive to think it had a chance of not happening. So now's a good time to look back at the decision to support the war.

A comparison can be made between proponents of war in Iraq and Libya. Ignore the respective justifications for war - WMD, Al Qaeda, innocent Iraqis in Iraq, innocent Libyans in Libya - and both sides essentially made the same mistake - they didn't account for the aftermath. I'm completely guilty of this, having seen the objective of stopping an imminent massacre accomplished I lost interest. That's very easy for an American. It's very easy for Americans to say accomplishing the initial objective was worth the devastation after because we don't have to live it. We can say it was the right choice because things are "better", but of course it's not our decision to make. It's not our lives that will be destroyed.

Can you extract the reasons for going to war from the repercussions? I don't think you can. If what you are trying to accomplish is ostensibly a moral good then how can you? How can you say we want to make the world better by destroying WMDs or defeating Al Qaeda or stopping a genocide but then leave pain and suffering in your wake?

As I've said in the past about Iraq War supporters, it's a cop out to say - when the situation turns bad - that your support was in error because you failed to see how badly the aftermath would be handled. Handling the aftermath has to be part of the decision. (Iraq War supporters have the added burden of being dead wrong about the two biggest justifications for war, but that's not my point.) If you didn't think about it, and didn't make it a large part of your decision, then you've made a mistake in judgement just like if you believed some politician's claim about WMD programs.

It's still hard for me to admit the net effect of the war I supported was negative. I'm not certain that's the case. I'm not certain things wouldn't be just as bad. But I have to admit that I made the same mistake so many others have made in the past when supporting a war. More damning, I was just as careless with my support for war - just as careless about the lives of people thousands of miles away - as others were.

* Daniel Larison, writing at the American Conservative (I know!) is very good. If you're interested in the state of the country now, Larison links to a long article on the Lybian Civil War. It's actually a fairly complicated situation - so much so that a look at the Wikipedia entry is helpful.

2/23/2015 11:15:17 PM
Filed Under: World
Keywords: iraq+war iraq libya libyan+war war
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Torture - Not A Report - Will Harm America

The Senate Intelligence Committee finally released a report on the CIA’s interrogation policies during the “War on Terror”. It always amazed me how quickly American exceptionalism disappeared from war supporters’ vocabulary when confronted with evidence of war crimes committed by Americans. All that talk about Saddam’s torture chambers and human rights just went away. Many attempted to justify it. Some people just accepted it and moved on. Others decided to reclassify it. Others just ignored it.

A while ago I started writing a response to an artical on the debate about releasing the report. I never finished it, but I want to go back to the article because it touches a lot arguments that are easily rebutted.

Security concerns are complicating the release of a controversial report on “enhanced interrogations techniques,” with officials fearing the document could inflame the Arab Street and put Americans in danger.
Notice that torture supporters are acknowledging that torture is counterproductive and puts Americans at risk.
Two of the Republicans on the Senate Intelligence Committee cited security concerns when voting against the declassification of the report.
War opponents were often ridiculed for pointing out that the Iraq War would anger the world, possibly leading people to support our enemies, dropping our standing in the world, and making it harder for us to win the war of ideas against extremist Islam. Now this same argument is being used by the other side. Acting against our stated values hurts our position in the world. Being overly violent defending our interests hurts our position in the world.

Let’s be clear about something. It’s not the declassification of a report that will cause anger, it’s the criminal activity. The United States committed war crimes and no one is facing a penalty. That angers me and it was done ostensibly to protect me. Stop blaming the Senate Intelligence Committe or Chelsea Manning or Edward Snowden for exposing crimes by members of our government. It is the criminals who deserve the blame and scorn.
Former Bush and CIA officials say the classified program was legal and provided critical information that helped thwart attacks and capture al Qaeda leaders.

Senate Democrats say their investigation found that the harsh interrogation methods did not succeed in extracting useful intelligence.
There is plenty of evidence that torture does not help intelligence gathering. Plenty of people think otherwise. My opinion is consistent with the former. We can’t evaluate it in this case unless we know the details. We shouldn’t take the word of “former Bush and CIA officials” nor “Senate Democrats”. The Senate report is not the final word on the efficacy of torture, but it broadens our understanding of what was done and therefore improves the state of the debate.

In fact, because it brings us closer to implementing better policy, it literally makes us a stronger country. Governments that are held accountable for their policies (e.g. democracies) are historically better governments than those that aren't. The only way to hold governments accountable is public oversight. Whatever our enemies will gain from this report in the form of propaganda we will gain more so in the form of information on how best to protect our country.

Obama banned the interrogation techniques via executive order after taking office, and Attorney General Eric Holder said there would not be a criminal investigation into the program.

But calls for criminal prosecutions could flare up on the left once the interrogations report is released.
Banning the techniques was a step up from the Bush administration authorizing it, but by not prosecuting those responsible Obama essentially legitimized it. Torture was, in fact, illegal at the time. Simply saying “we won’t do it again” is not a valid response to a crime. There aren’t going to be any prosecutions, but the report would be a smashing success if it lead to some. People calling it "political" are ignoring the problem.
The dispute marked a low point in the relationship between the agency and the Intelligence panel.
Good! Congress should be asking tough, uncomfortable questions. They don’t need to be friends with the CIA.
“The agency is ferociously angry at those who have tried to depict their efforts as immoral and unpatriotic,” Gerecht said. “It believes it conducted itself lawfully and got approval from the executive branch and Congress, and Democrats in Congress are trying to change the rules.”
It doesn't matter if it got it from the executive branch or congress, it's illegal. The rules have always been “no torture”.
Gerecht [an advocate for these torture techniques] said the CIA has nothing to fear from the summary being made public.

“If you can’t stand discussing something in the light of day, then you probably shouldn’t be doing it in the first place,” he said.
On this at least a torture advocate is correct.

12/10/2014 2:10:27 AM
Filed Under: US Politics
Keywords: torture bush cia
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No, White Folks Wouldn't React This Way

I've seen a lot of statements similar to this one above, portraying black people as unusually destructive by asking if white people would do the same. I'm going to assume "act like this" means "riot" and not "protest", though I'm sure there are plenty of people who think no protests are warranted. The obvious answer is no. No, white people would not respond this way because they would view the killing of a young white man as an isolated incident. Given their experiences and the general lack of evidence that white Americans are unfairly targeted by law enforcement, they would probably think it was justified. It would not strike them that this is part of a pattern.

Black people on the other hand do see this as a pattern. This thinking comes from their own experiences and the statistics constantly back it up. It is clear to them that African Americans get stopped by the police more often in cases when they are guitly of no crime. It is clear to them that African Americans get killed unjustifiably by law enforcement at alarming rates.

Now you might say that maybe black people are predisposed to rioting whereas white people are not. White people though have found plenty of reasons to riot over the years. Just this fall white people rioted celebrating a World Series victory. Let's not forget the riot at a pumpkin festival festival in New Hampshire around the same time (I mean, pumpkins, right?). Sometimes white people riot to stop an election recount they don't want to happen or even to protest the firing of a child rapist enabling football coach. This is just to point out that this is a fair comparison. White people aren't predisposed to not rioting.

If you're asking a question like this you really need to take a minute and attempt to view the situation from a different perspective. As a white person it is hard to see things from a black person's perspective to begin with. Most people would rather ignore or misrepresent the African American perspective than take the time to understand it.

It is the impression of many African Americans that black lives aren't valued as much as white ones. This case did nothing to dissuade them of that.

Look at some of the events that took place in Ferguson. A black man is killed by police. The police officer's name is not immediately released. Typical procedure was ignored at the scene. A peaceful protest is met with riot police. The case is sent to a grand jury where the prosecution does not attempt to indict, but rather leaves it up to the grand jury to decide. This is usually not how prosecutors attempt to indict:

In an unusual step, Mr. McCulloch had said he would present all known witnesses and evidence and instead of recommending an indictment, as is usually the case, let the jurors decide for themselves what if any charges to bring.

The officer’s testimony, delivered without the cross-examination of a trial in the earliest phase of the three-month inquiry, was the only direct account of the fatal encounter. It appeared to form the spine of a narrative that unfolded before the jurors over three months, buttressed, the prosecutors said, by the most credible witnesses, forensic evidence and three autopsies.

But the gentle questioning of Officer Wilson revealed in the transcripts, and the sharp challenges prosecutors made to witnesses whose accounts seemed to contradict his narrative, have led some to question whether the process was as objective as Mr. McCulloch claims.
On top of that, the officer's testimony is, frankly, not believable.

And now put these events in the broader context of a justice system that treats black Americans more harshly than white Americans. This is important because, as an isolated incident, it's easier to explain away things as coincidences. None of this proves Darren Wilson is guilty of anything, but it does go a long way towards showing why people rioted in Ferguson and protested across the country.

11/26/2014 6:03:19 PM
Filed Under: US Politics
Keywords: ferguson michael+brown darren+wilson race crime
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Michael Brown Was No Angel

Before Michael Brown was killed by officer Darren Wilson he stole cigars - Swisher Sweets to be exact - from a convenience store. All over the internet this fact, among other things, has been used to justify his death. The truth of the matter is that only the events of his confrontation with Darren Wilson can justify his death.

In the month after Brown’s death there appeared a piece in The New York Times detailing Michael Brown’s final weeks. A single paragraph in that piece garnered a lot of attention around the internet, mostly because of its description of Brown as "no angel"

Michael Brown, 18, due to be buried on Monday, was no angel, with public records and interviews with friends and family revealing both problems and promise in his young life. Shortly before his encounter with Officer Wilson, the police say he was caught on a security camera stealing a box of cigars, pushing the clerk of a convenience store into a display case. He lived in a community that had rough patches, and he dabbled in drugs and alcohol. He had taken to rapping in recent months, producing lyrics that were by turns contemplative and vulgar. He got into at least one scuffle with a neighbor.
It was then that something hit me about Michael Brown’s “problems and promise”, specifically the attempts to smear Brown for “stealing a box of cigars”.

As a teenager, I stole cigars.

Several of my friend and I started smoking at 16 and, because we couldn’t buy them ourselves, we sometimes stole them out of the local Foodland when we couldn’t find someone to buy for us. I think it was usually 2 or 3 of us. One would buy something at the counter. One would look out. One would snatch some out of display case in the middle of the store. This was before cigarettes were exclusively stored behind counters. It was usually something disgusting like GPCs because they were the easiest to get to. Sometimes we’d get better brands and we even got some Swisher Sweets. I think this happened a handful of times.

My friend, doing it on his own once, even got caught at the counter. The cashier asked him to put the cigarettes back so she wouldn’t have to call the police. If caught I doubt he or I would have “[pushed] the clerk of a convenience store into a display case” only for the reason that it wouldn’t matter if we got away - everyone in town knew our dads.

If I was gunned down would the fact that I stole cigarettes be used to justify my death?

While we’re at it, what about the rest of Michael Brown’s less than angelic life. Brown “dabbled in drugs and alcohol”. “Dabbled” is the best way to describe my sparing use of marijuana, but it doesn’t come close to how I used tobacco and alcohol. Though I was never a pack a day smoker I always had a pack on me. As to alcohol, Friday nights were often spent trying to get someone to buy me and my friends beer.

Brown “had taken to rapping in recent months, producing lyrics that were by turns contemplative and vulgar.” Thankfully I never subjected the world to a song, but I certainly listened to vulgar music. Nirvana talked about heroin, Green Day about masturbation, and Rage Against the Machine about tearing down the entire establishment. Marylin Mason was part of the warm up tape I made for varsity basketball senior year.

Who didn’t get into at least “one scuffle with a neighbor”, or with a friend or family member?

I picked on weaker kids, tried to have sex with every girl in high school, and argued with my parents. Taken out of context I was a monster. Certainly given all my transgressions my death would have been easily justified in the eyes of many.

But of course I was also the valedictorian of my high school, a three sport athlete, a respectful kid, and generally well liked by adults in my community. Would those facts (or the fact that I’m white) have flipped the switch and turned a police officer into a murderer?

Sometimes I wonder if the people who are tarring Michael Brown remember what high school was like. I remember always trying to make people think I was less smart than I was, had less money than I did, and was tougher than I was.

It hit me profoundly when I heard people using Michael Brown’s teenage life as justification for his death. I’m almost certain the facts he is being tarnished with would be chalked up to youthful indiscretions if they were talking about someone like me.

10/13/2014 6:47:22 PM
Filed Under: US Politics
Keywords: michael+brown race
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