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I have a fairly high tolerance when it comes to grieving parents: It may be a cliché, but it’s likely true that none of us can understand the anguish and sorrow of losing one’s child without having gone through it. However, I have a very low tolerance for those who enable parents to present thugs and thieves as victims and martyrs. Whatever one’s other feelings about police shootings and #BlackLivesMatter, justice and decency should have demanded that Lezley McSpadden — the mother of Michael Brown, pictured below in the blue dress — not be featured on a stage of victims at the DNC. But as you can see, she was.
To recap briefly, Ms. McSpadden’s son shoplifted at a convenience store and assaulted one of its clerks who attempted to intervene; we know this because it was captured on the surveillance tape. Less than fifteen minutes later, Officer Darren Wilson — responding to another call — yelled at Brown and his accomplice to get off the median line; shortly thereafter, Brown punched Wilson in the face, attempted to wrestle away his handgun, and charged Wilson before the latter shot him dead. If you don’t believe me, check out the report from the Obama Administration’s Justice Department. For a summary, you might check out this piece from Reason, a publication hardly known for being overly deferential toward police.
In the days and weeks that followed, Brown’s accomplice spread the false rumor that Brown had been surrendering to Wilson when he was killed. This and other calumnies contributed to the riots that engulfed the town of Ferguson, heated racial tensions across the country, and played no small role in the eventual murders of police officers this month in Dallas and Baton Rouge. McSpadden’s husband made his own contributions to the violence, urging fellow protesters to “Burn that mother [expletive] down! Burn this [expletive] down! Burn this [expletive] down! Burn this [expletive] down!“
And this person was given a place on the stage at the convention of one of our two major political parties for the purpose of calling attention to injustice.
I am not surprised that Hillary Clinton would have her on stage. I am amazed — if not surprised — that the other mothers* would besmirch their own reputations, as well as the memories of their dead children, by doing so.
* I could make the argument that the same should apply to Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon Martin’s mother. We do not know precisely what precipitated the scuffle that left him dead, but we do know that it left George Zimmerman with gashes in the back of his head, which had been slammed repeatedly onto the pavement. On the other hand, Zimmerman’s behavior these last few years has been so disgusting and dishonorable that I think his initial accounts of what happened — which I largely accepted — deserve some skepticism. I would not share a stage with her, but I would not condemn others for it in the way I do those who shared one with McSpadden.