Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Ferguson’s Tragedy of Errors

 

FergusonI’ve not yet written anything about the situation in Ferguson, Missouri for the simple reason that I haven’t had to. On stories like this, that’s the singular luxury of not having to fill column inches or airtime — you simply don’t have to speak up until you have something to say. I’ve often thought that’s the poverty of 24-hour cable news — when the red lights comes on, you start talking, whether or not you have anything intelligent to say and whether or not you have a clue in hell as to the facts of the story you’re supposed to be covering (I’ve just described CNN’s business model).

As the situation presently stands, we still seem to have remarkably little information about the shooting of Michael Brown. It’s plausible that information yet to come out may either vindicate the outrage over the incident or demonstrate at least some measure of culpability on Brown’s behalf. Those who are leaning strongly towards one side or the other are probably telling us more about their ideological priors than about the case itself. Still, a few words deserve to be said about some of the events that have followed in the wake of the shooting.

— Ricochet was littered last week with posts decrying the militarization of law enforcement, a trend that’s been on display in Ferguson, but one that the libertarian right in particular has been calling attention to for years now. (This is only part of a broader trend of civic-police disconnect: I believe I’m on record as noting that, in America, the indiscriminate killing of family dogs is probably the most expedient route by which law enforcement can lose the public trust).

I’m broadly sympathetic to the militarization concerns, although one can imagine rare, limited scenarios — out-of-control riots, for example — where a different class of hardware might be needed. That said, Ferguson seems the worst of all possible worlds on this front — a place where the police ostracize the citizenry with martial aesthetics, yet stand down as looters go to town (presumably to avoid inflaming racial tension). How “America’s Last Days” is that?

— With respect to the looting, every member of the media or the local community who has uttered a word that is less than condemnatory is an accessory to cultural barbarism. No matter how legitimate you think the outrage over Brown’s death is, this is a giant, violent non sequitur.

There is nothing about Brown’s demise that gives license to his sympathists to go about stealing or destroying anyone’s property, let alone that of people who had nothing to do with the incident. Yet we’ve come to confer such exalted status on victimhood — especially when there’s a racial component — that it’s considered gauche among elites to refer to the looting as anything more than a perhaps intemperate method of seeking legitimate redress. Here’s an alternative diagnosis: every one of those looters should be sitting in a jail cell. And every store owner in Ferguson should be arming himself, especially given the fact that law enforcement’s willingness to … well, enforce the law … seems to run only as far as it imagines its public relations strategy will allow.

— As for that emphasis on PR, the phrase “a day late and a dollar short “comes to mind. Here’s a tip for Ferguson officials: if you don’t want the media to go to war with you, don’t be the one to initiate hostilities. The needless arrest of reporters and the repeated threats against those who are attempting to film events on the ground aren’t just counterproductive; they’re self-destructive. One of the reasons that the militarization issue sticks in people’s craws is that it lines up with a broader notion that modern police forces define their relationship with the broader public in adversarial terms. If you’re a public official doing public business, you can’t be threatening people for attempting to record it. If anything, more footage would have helped this situation. Much of the ambiguity around Brown’s death likely wouldn’t exist if Ferguson police had been using dashcams or body cameras.

— The cops have been taking a lot of heat for releasing a surveillance video that shows Brown (I’m not going to use the “allegedly” nonsense because his family has basically conceded that it’s him) stealing from a convenience store and assaulting a clerk shortly before the shooting. In keeping with their all-thumbs approach, law enforcement officials subsequently clarified that the officer who shot Brown wasn’t actually aware that he was a suspect in that robbery, leading to allegations that they were just trying to muddy the narrative. Then they doubled back and said the officer may have had his suspicions after all.

Regardless of whether law enforcement bolloxed this, the new talking point that the release of the video amounts to an attempt at “character assassination” (a phrase employed by, among others, the president of the NAACP) is ludicrous. Understandings of what constitutes character assassination may vary, but any definition so capacious as to include documentary evidence of criminal behavior surely stretch the term to its breaking point. That’s not character assassination. That’s character suicide.

 — A final thought: the intervention of Eric Holder’s Justice Department has been profoundly (and predictably) unhelpful. Thus far, the DOJ has launched an investigation into the shooting that involves the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Missouri; intervened in crowd control; and now, stunningly, even ordered a new autopsy (the third) on Brown’s body.

What justification there is for the feds to be running a process parallel to state and local officials is beyond me — besides Holder’s instinctive need to insert himself in the middle of any aspect of American life with racial undertones. Writing about Ferguson, the great Joseph Epstein recently noted in the Wall Street Journal that “One of the small but genuine accomplishments of President Obama has been to keep [Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton] from becoming associated with the White House.” He’s right about that— but I can’t help think their absence is more than compensated for by the presence of Holder, who, while less theatrical, is every bit as corrosive.

There are 30 comments.

  1. Probable Cause Inactive

    Regarding the federal investigation, from a political standpoint, it seems to be required these days. If I were a Republican president and Ferguson happened during my term, I would seriously consider launching the investigation just for the optics. I might even force myself to look directly into the camera and say, “if someone is hurting, then the federal government has got to act.”

    • #1
    • August 18, 2014, at 12:26 PM PST
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  2. KC Mulville Inactive

    Welcome to what Zuckerberg wrought.

    It’s a social media world. What matters is getting on camera. I wonder how many of the media, cops, and protesters paused for a few moments to do the Ice Bucket Challenge.

    • #2
    • August 18, 2014, at 12:31 PM PST
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  3. Rawls Inactive

    The police report says Officer Darren Wilson’s face was treated at the hospital for swelling. So there was an altercation.

    Even if the strong-arm robbery was unbeknownst to the officer that stopped Brown, it is relevant to the actual shooting because it informs the mindsets of Brown and Wilson as they came to interact.

    HYPOTHETICAL SCENARIO:

    – Brown likely thought the cop was responding to the robbery, and responded with force thinking that he was about to be (rightfully) arrested.

    – Wilson, having no idea about the crime, was likely highly surprised by Brown’s outsized response to being approached and told to walk on the sidewalk, and had no idea why he was acting with force, and responded to that force with his own force.

    • #3
    • August 18, 2014, at 12:50 PM PST
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  4. Ball Diamond Ball Inactive

    I agree about how nice it is not having to say something when not having something to say. And Gosh the locals hosed this up horribly. Holder and his gangsters are whipping this up, using the opportunities opened up by the menacing but hollow police antics.
    My views are evolving.
    Part of my pessimism on this is that it may just be another seam coming undone on our stressed national garment.

    • #4
    • August 18, 2014, at 12:51 PM PST
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  5. Troy Senik Contributor
    Troy Senik Post author

    Probable Cause:

    Regarding the federal investigation, from a political standpoint, it seems to be required these days. If I were a Republican president and Ferguson happened during my term, I would seriously consider launching the investigation just for the optics. I might even force myself to look directly into the camera and say, “if someone is hurting, then the federal government has got to act.”

     I see what you did there. For the record, I didn’t write that phrase (actually, I’m pretty sure no one did — though if I’m wrong I guarantee you it was Mike Gerson). Also for the record, I can’t think of a phrase more perpendicular to the way that I think about government. 

    • #5
    • August 18, 2014, at 12:57 PM PST
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  6. Troy Senik Contributor
    Troy Senik Post author

    Rawls:

    Even if the strong-arm robbery was unbeknownst to the officer that stopped Brown, it is relevant to the actual shooting because it informs the mindsets of Brown and Wilson as they came to interact.

     My reaction too. Context, alas, seems valuable only to the extent it buttresses the off-the-shelf narrative.

    • #6
    • August 18, 2014, at 1:00 PM PST
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  7. Troy Senik Contributor
    Troy Senik Post author

    Ball Diamond Ball:

    Part of my pessimism on this is that it may just be another seam coming undone on our stressed national garment.

     That’s an elegantly grim way of looking at it. It also strikes me as distressingly plausible.

    Anyone want to suggest how we mend it?

    • #7
    • August 18, 2014, at 1:02 PM PST
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  8. Rawls Inactive

    Troy Senik, Ed.:

    Ball Diamond Ball:

    Part of my pessimism on this is that it may just be another seam coming undone on our stressed national garment.

    That’s an elegantly grim way of looking at it. It also strikes me as distressingly plausible.

    Anyone want to suggest how we mend it?

    Dash cams. Badge cams. Diverse police forces.

    Luckily, in this case, it’s not rocket surgery.

    • #8
    • August 18, 2014, at 1:17 PM PST
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  9. Eugene Kriegsmann Member

    As stated above, my views on this situation are evolving. Initially, I was and have been very disturbed by the over militarization of the police departments nationwide. However, watching the rioting by mostly young Black men which really has nothing to do with original shooting and seems to be de rigor for any incident involving the perceived insult to the Black community these days. I have no problem with the protesters who chose to do so peacefully and appropriately.
    I really have a problem with the continual attempts by the media to cast the “victim” as a child. I taught in schools with large Black populations for more that 40 years. I can tell you that out of that context it is nearly impossible to determine the age of a young man anywhere from 16 to 25, particularly if they are large and aggressive. Calling a 19 year old a child is absurd. Perhaps, once the person has been immobilized or pacified it is much easier to determine his age and level of maturity. However, when that person is aggressively coming at you, you aren’t thinking child. 
    Let me continue below.

    • #9
    • August 18, 2014, at 1:24 PM PST
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  10. Eugene Kriegsmann Member

    My first teaching assignment was in a school in Bedford-Styvesant in 1967. Our building was adjacent to one of the newly decentralized schools which seemed to spawn riots on a daily basis. When the student left their building they would come into our building, an elementary school.
    During my first year I saw a young man in halls. He obviously did not belong in our building. I walked out of my classroom and confronted him at a distance of about 15 feet. I asked him to leave the building in a quiet and polite manner. His response was to pull out a switchbladed knife and pop it open. I reached into my classroom door and grabbed a chair, stating as I did, Okay, let’s go for it. He put the knife away, said, “Okay, man, you’re cool.” and left the building.
    Afterwards, I thought to myself, what would the headline have been if I injured him defending myself? Teacher beats up 16 year old. 
    He was sixteen, I would guess. I was 23. He was two to three inches taller than me, and quite a bit heavier. That is the real world cops and teachers face.

    • #10
    • August 18, 2014, at 1:33 PM PST
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  11. Wylee Coyote Member

    Troy Senik, Ed.:If anything, more footage would have helped this situation. Much of the ambiguity around Brown’s death likely wouldn’t exist if Ferguson police had been using dashcams or body cameras.

    I have seen this point bandied about a lot in the past week. And while I agree with the overall point, a word of caution: people see these cameras as argument-ending panaceas, and they are not.

    I was recently in the testing program for a number of wearable camera systems my department is looking at. I generally liked having them, and I’m eager to get one issued (the bureaucrats are currently hashing out which system to buy). But they are not without their issues.

    For one, their battery life and storage capacity is not unlimited (one model drained itself completely about halfway through the shift), and they tend to cut out at inopportune moments. The video quality is often poor, particularly in low light (when the majority of officer-involved shootings occur). The audio is similarly limited. When reviewing my footage, anything I said was generally pretty clear, but what others said less so, particularly if they were chemically impaired or agitated.

    -contd-

    • #11
    • August 18, 2014, at 1:57 PM PST
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  12. Wylee Coyote Member

    -contd-
    Something clipped to the uniform of an officer that is running or fighting is not going to give you the nice clear video you see at the GoPro site. They bounce, they wobble, and in close up fights the field of view is too tight to see anything. Filmmakers invented the Steadicam for a reason.

    Shoulder-mounted cameras wouldn’t anchor properly and would dip forward or back where they couldn’t see anything. Chest mounted cameras might be blocked when an officer is aiming his sidearm. Headband mounted cameras can get knocked off fairly easily.

    In situations where the precise thing someone said, or the precise second someone saw something become crucially important, these videos may hurt as much as help. Along with muddled, inconclusive witness statements and inconclusive autopsies, we can now add muddled, inconclusive video footage. It’s just going to become one more thing for people to litigate with their preconceived narratives.

    • #12
    • August 18, 2014, at 1:58 PM PST
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  13. Wylee Coyote Member

    Also, the oft-expressed libertarian fantasy about body cameras that are ALWAYS ON is just that. In addition to the battery issues noted above, there are privacy concerns with these things that are just beginning to be explored. No problems walking around in public, but what happens when an officer responds inside someone’s home? Or has to search a suspect’s clothing? Or goes to an injured party call in a women’s locker room? What about correctional settings? What if an officer gets a personal phone call from his wife while on duty? What happens if the person the officer is speaking with requests to have the camera turned off? (It happens). The answers to these questions aren’t clear-cut. But it seems like a lot of people advocate cameras without even considering them.

    • #13
    • August 18, 2014, at 1:59 PM PST
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  14. Troy Senik Contributor
    Troy Senik Post author

    All good points, Wylee, and very much worth thinking about. May I make a suggestion? Turn that into a Member Feed post so that we can explore those issues on their own. I suspect there’s a lot there.

    • #14
    • August 18, 2014, at 2:03 PM PST
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  15. Wylee Coyote Member

    Troy Senik, Ed.:

    All good points, Wylee, and very much worth thinking about. May I make a suggestion? Turn that into a Member Feed post so that we can explore those issues on their own. I suspect there’s a lot there.

     OK.

    • #15
    • August 18, 2014, at 2:30 PM PST
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  16. Boge Inactive

    I read a great phrase coined somewhere to describe the opposite of “character assassination”… where the victim is erroneously touted as a “good boy”, “gentle giant”, etc.

    They called it “character saintification”

    Setting unrealistic expectations can often backfire…

    • #16
    • August 18, 2014, at 2:31 PM PST
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  17. Probable Cause Inactive

    Troy Senik, Ed.:

    Probable Cause:

    I might even force myself to look directly into the camera and say, “if someone is hurting, then the federal government has got to act.”

    I see what you did there. For the record, I didn’t write that phrase (actually, I’m pretty sure no one did — though if I’m wrong I guarantee you it was Mike Gerson). Also for the record, I can’t think of a phrase more perpendicular to the way that I think about government.

    ???

    Troy, you’re confusing me with someone who actually knows stuff. I was just thinking of what the most recent Republican president said after a different disaster. I have no idea who wrote it. My comment is intended with no sarcasm — I think people today expect their president to meddle in everything.

    I just now checked your bio. I kid you not — I didn’t realize you were a speechwriter for President Bush. For crying out loud, is everyone here a presidential speechwriter?

    • #17
    • August 18, 2014, at 2:43 PM PST
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  18. Troy Senik Contributor
    Troy Senik Post author

    Probable Cause:

    Troy Senik, Ed.:

    Probable Cause:

    I might even force myself to look directly into the camera and say, “if someone is hurting, then the federal government has got to act.”

    I see what you did there. For the record, I didn’t write that phrase (actually, I’m pretty sure no one did — though if I’m wrong I guarantee you it was Mike Gerson). Also for the record, I can’t think of a phrase more perpendicular to the way that I think about government.

    ???

    Troy, you’re confusing me with someone who actually knows stuff. I was just thinking of what the most recent Republican president said after a different disaster. I have no idea who wrote it. My comment is intended with no sarcasm — I think people today expect their president to meddle in everything.

    I just now checked your bio. I kid you not — I didn’t realize you were a speechwriter for President Bush. For crying out loud, is everyone here a presidential speechwriter?

     You shouldn’t have copped to it. I liked it better when I thought you were taking a shot ;)

    FWIW, your original point is spot on. Most of our political problems today are, at heart, civic problems — and one of the biggest is the fact that most Americans seem to think we should regard the presidency in quasi-monarchical terms.

    • #18
    • August 18, 2014, at 2:47 PM PST
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  19. Ball Diamond Ball Inactive

    Troy Senik, Ed.:

    Ball Diamond Ball:

    Part of my pessimism on this is that it may just be another seam coming undone on our stressed national garment.

    That’s an elegantly grim way of looking at it. It also strikes me as distressingly plausible.

    Anyone want to suggest how we mend it?

    Moar KraZy GLuE

    At least in this case, the bluff of military competence was called and folded quickly, with predictable results. You don’t wave a weapon you aren’t ready to use.
    I don’t want to single out the police, as it takes two to tango, but this went south fast and hard.
    One of the worst problems we face today is the stoking being done by the administration. To paraphrase Lincoln, the country cannot go on like this. I do not think that the country will fail, but it will cease to be like it is, and I think it will not be a smooth process.
    I think that patience, gradualism, and weakness in the GOP are contributing factors. It enables and encourages the progressives to take more and more.

    Whoops, there’s the KraZy.

    • #19
    • August 18, 2014, at 3:00 PM PST
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  20. Totus Porcus Inactive

    Who wants to bet whether Holder’s trip to Ferguson will make things better or worse? Ferguson has become a miserable cauldron of opportunism for individuals and groups whose interest lies in making the situation worse rather than better: for the press that loves a spectacle, for the “community organizers” and rabble rousers flocking there like hookers to Fleet Week, for a couple of extraordinarily disgraceful lawyers doing their best to rub the race angle raw, and for the “never let a good crisis go to waste” crowd led by our President. I don’t see a good ending.

    • #20
    • August 18, 2014, at 3:13 PM PST
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  21. Tom Meyer, Common Citizen Contributor

    Wylee Coyote:

    Troy Senik, Ed.:

    All good points, Wylee, and very much worth thinking about. May I make a suggestion? Turn that into a Member Feed post so that we can explore those issues on their own. I suspect there’s a lot there.

    OK.

     Done.

    • #21
    • August 18, 2014, at 3:47 PM PST
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  22. Concretevol Thatcher

    Troy Senik, Ed.:

    Ball Diamond Ball:

    Part of my pessimism on this is that it may just be another seam coming undone on our stressed national garment.

    That’s an elegantly grim way of looking at it. It also strikes me as distressingly plausible.

    Anyone want to suggest how we mend it?

     Obviously Troy we need Obama to call on us to have a national discussion on race, led of course by the brave Eric Holder….

    • #22
    • August 18, 2014, at 4:28 PM PST
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  23. Lash LaRoche Inactive

    I have little sympathy for people whose first reaction to any injustice (whether real or perceived) is to riot, loot, and burn.

    • #23
    • August 18, 2014, at 5:42 PM PST
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  24. Ralphie Member

    Mike LaRoche:

    I have little sympathy for people whose first reaction to any injustice (whether real or perceived) is to riot, loot, and burn.

     Me too. I am reminded of Edward Banfield’s chapter “Rioting Mainly for Fun and Profit” from his book “The Unheavenly Cities”. I just re read that chapter. It’s mainly opportunistic, and constant news is a catalyst in its duration and dramatics.

    • #24
    • August 18, 2014, at 5:48 PM PST
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  25. WI Con Member

    Troy, I was of the mind that there wasn’t one sympathetic or redeeming party in this whole thing. Think the WH & DNC aren’t polling the effectiveness of using this to get their people to the polls this year? To get people to donate?

    I think the police that were replaced by the State Police may have stood down to let us all see how that ‘kinder, gentler’ approach worked – not at all. I kind of hope the Ferguson PD states that they had a hard drive crash and all the internal communications related to this event have been lost.

    Your post was the best thing about this whole sorry, stupid episode.

    • #25
    • August 18, 2014, at 5:56 PM PST
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  26. Brian McMenomy Inactive

    Troy Senik, Ed.:

    Ball Diamond Ball:

    Part of my pessimism on this is that it may just be another seam coming undone on our stressed national garment.

    That’s an elegantly grim way of looking at it. It also strikes me as distressingly plausible.

    Anyone want to suggest how we mend it?

     This probably should be a separate post, but yours is THE important question. As Steve Wynn talked about with Mr. Robinson concerning his business, so it is with the nation; if you don’t get the culture right, you can have all the cops in the world & it won’t make a bit of difference. In all the bleating about not wanting to re (or re-re) fight the culture wars, we’ve lost sight of why the culture is important. We have always disagreed about right & wrong, but we used to confess that right & wrong do objectively exist. As a culture, we no longer believe that; now it’s “50 Shades of Grey”. It’s going to take the long, hard slog of changing the culture, not through the ballot box or the chanted slogan, but by the everyday action of relationships, iron sharpening iron.

    • #26
    • August 18, 2014, at 6:00 PM PST
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  27. MACHO GRANDE' (aka - Chri… Coolidge

    So the “nation’s top lawman” is heading to Ferguson? To do what, exactly? Make the police wear Klan hoods so he can point at them and say “I told you so?”.

    I have a friend in the DoJ, a lawyer, and unsurprisingly Holder is largely disliked by the lawyers. Why? Because he’s not one. He’s a political appointee who doesn’t enforce the laws.

    Holder heading to Ferguson is grandstanding and narcissism, and it will help some candidates politically. That’s all it is. Note that holder will not be going to Chicago to investigate any murders that have happened there in the past few weeks. Nope. Not going to bother.

    Why? Because those deaths are politically unimportant to him.

    These are the people we put into the highest and most powerful posts in our gov’t. I’m beginning to better appreciate the mockery we receive from people in other countries.

    • #27
    • August 18, 2014, at 6:25 PM PST
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  28. The Mugwump Inactive

    People who have little or no vested interest in their own communities have nothing to lose by rioting and looting. There is no larger principle at work here for many of these “protesters” other than a chance to smash and grab – short term gain at no expense to themselves. If you want to talk about the nation’s social fabric, then this is what the welfare state has wrought. Conservatives understand that the value of property, or (as a corollary) the respect we show for the property of others, does not reside in the mere possession of said property, but rather in the effort it took to earn or build it. The leftist declaration that “you didn’t build that” is a license for the have-nots to simply take what they want. This entire sordid mess was started when someone took a box of cigars he could not, or would not, otherwise pay for. The adjectives thereafter simply pile up of their own accord: base, stupid, primitive, thoughtless, and ultimately tragic. This is how the welfare state will end.

    • #28
    • August 18, 2014, at 7:09 PM PST
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  29. Capt. Spaulding Member

    Why is it? Two presidential elections have occurred in which voters hoped that a black president would herald an advance in race relations. Instead they have deteriorated. Unbelievable.

    • #29
    • August 18, 2014, at 8:12 PM PST
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  30. kylez Member

    I really have a problem with the continual attempts by the media to cast the “victim” as a child.

    Sort of their attitude about blacks in general, they can’t seem to help it.

    • #30
    • August 18, 2014, at 9:52 PM PST
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