On Monday, The New Yorker published a profile of Darren Wilson, the white police officer who shot and killed 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. The profile marks the first time Wilson has spoken at length about his life, his history as a police officer, and his views on the movement that has erupted from the incident involving Brown. And some of Wilson's quotes suggest confusing and somewhat troubling views about race.
Wilson learned how to interact with locals with the help of Mike McCarthy, who had been a cop for 10 years. McCarthy said police officers resist discussing race for fear of being ostracized, but that acknowledging historic racism is key to addressing the issue, and that both officers and the communities they work within need to communicate. Wilson disagreed. He said that racism was only an issue for the "elders" of North County, but that young black people don't have any claim to those racism. He said he thinks young people in North County use the legacy of racism as an excuse, and that police officers are going to address a situation in the best way possible — regardless of factors such as systemic racism:
People who experienced that, and were mistreated, have a legitimate claim. Other people don’t. ... I am really simple in the way that I look at life. What happened to my great-grandfather is not happening to me. I can’t base my actions off what happened to him. (Police officers) can’t fix in thirty minutes what happened thirty years ago. We have to fix what’s happening now. That’s my job as a police officer. I’m not going to delve into people’s life-long history and figure out why they’re feeling a certain way, in a certain moment. I’m not a psychologist.
Then Wilson said his race hasn't affected the way he does police work. He said people never say, "Oh shit, the white cops are here!" But Wilson's failure to acknowledge why people don't say that (people don't specify white because most cops are white) shows that he is unsympathetic to the role that race — and the power that comes from race — has played in discrimination and police brutality for decades. Wilson explained why he doesn't think police power is a race issue. Instead, he thinks it's simply a power issue:
Everyone is so quick to jump on race. It’s not a race issue. There are people who feel that police have too much power, and they don’t like it. There are people who feel police don’t have enough power, and they don’t like it.
One black man who lived in a high-crime neighborhood in Ferguson and was visited by Wilson while he was an officer attributed the "disarray" of the neighborhood to the "economic meltdown." The man said there simply aren't enough jobs to meet the demand. But Wilson responded coldly to this, and seemed to imply that the entire neighborhood lacked initiative. Wilson's response ignores the fact that historically poor neighborhoods and people who can't afford a college education will have a harder time obtaining work, even if they're constantly looking for it, because of social factors:
There’s a lack of jobs everywhere. But there’s also lack of initiative to get a job. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.
Then the real stereotyping began. Wilson told Halpern that good values need to be learned at home. To illustrate this, Wilson described a black single mother in Ferguson who was physically disabled and blind. She had several teenage children who Wilson said “ran wild,” shooting guns, dealing drugs, and breaking into cars:
They ran all over the mom. They didn’t respect her, so why would they respect me? They’re so wrapped up in a different culture than — what I’m trying to say is, the right culture, the better one to pick from.
When Halpern pushed Wilson to elaborate on this "culture" statement, which sounded like racial code language, Wilson said he meant "pre-gang culture, where you are just running in the streets — not worried about working in the morning, just worried about your immediate gratification.” Then, he added, “It is the same younger culture that is everywhere in the inner cities."
The first time that Halpern asked Wilson what he thought of Brown, or if he even thought of him at all, Wilson said, "You do realize his parents are suing me? So I have to think about him." Despite the fact that Wilson himself had a turbulent childhood, he didn't seem to express any sympathy for Brown's background:
Do I think about who he was as a person? Not really, because it doesn’t matter at this point. Do I think he had the best upbringing? No. Not at all.
Halpern asked Wilson if he ever missed walking outside and going to restaurants. His response shows just how different the effects of racial tension are for white people and black people. For the former, it often means a chosen separation, while for the latter, it often means systemic violence and economic inequality. Wilson's failure to learn something about race relations from the incident in Ferguson shows just why racism is a struggle to overcome. Wilson still goes to restaurants, but only certain types:
We try to go somewhere — how do I say this correctly? — with like-minded individuals. You know. Where it’s not a mixing pot.
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