By now you have undoubtedly heard how The New York Times is getting a lot of backlash for calling Michael Brown “no angel.” Specifically they wrote
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.
A couple days ago, Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote about just how typical Brown’s behavior was. In fact, he wrote, “if Michael Brown was not angelic, I was practically demonic.” And he goes on to list how much more than shoplifting, drugs, alcohol, and (gasp) rap music there was in his teenage years.
It occurs to me that this might be an exercise for all of us. Half of the adults in this country have smoked pot. The vast majority of teens have tried alcohol, and a fairly significant percentage binge drink on a regular. And whoa, vulgar music and scuffles. Well who has ever been involved with those?
By the time I was 18 years old, I had:
- Been drinking for 6 years (quite a bit)
- Regularly raided mine and my friend’s parent’s medicine chests for drugs
- Smoked pot
- Did acid and ecstasy
- Ran away…a lot
- Quit school
- Went back to school
- Got suspended (a lot)
- Got kicked out of school
- Got kicked out of my house
- Got caught shoplifting
- Stole liquor from a bar after a little illegal entry (after convincing my friends the cameras were fake)
- Rode in numerous stolen vehicles. (Did you know old Camaros could be started with a screwdriver?)
- Listened to some really disturbing music (I Saw Your Mommy and Your Mommy is Dead..anyone?)
- And so much more…
Do you know what happened when I got caught shoplifting in Rite Aid? I didn’t get shot. They called my parents and banned me from the store. Do you know what happened when my friend and I appropriated her mom’s car and got into an accident without either of us having a drivers license? I didn’t get shot. The cop brought us back to her parent’s house. Do you know what happened on the many occasions cops caught me and my friends with booze and weed? I didn’t get shot. They confiscated it for themselves.
I never even got arrested. Not once.
Don’t think I am saying that cops have changed. Seems like almost everyone I knew had some sort of record. Many of my friends ended up face down on a roadside with a cop’s knee in their back over a speeding ticket. I didn’t go through that because I as a girl and white and lived in a middle class suburban house with “good” parents. Despite being “no angel” I have been allowed to grow up, been given the benefit of the doubt, been assumed to be redeemable.
It is the people that obey all the rules and, most especially, the people who get their jollies from enforcing them, that we need to be worried about. I never killed anybody. And neither did Michael Brown. But here I am. And he is dead. For nothing.
But maybe what the NYT meant by “no angel” was that he wasn’t a little blonde girl like the one in that picture.