Sometimes a tragedy is just a tragedy, and not necessarily a melodrama pitting good against evil. No heroes, no villains, just a terrible misfortune and a damned shame. We accept that when people are killed by tornadoes. Otherwise, however, many prefer the illusory comforts of a well-told tale — particularly one that reflects favorably upon their own ethnic tribe or political cohort and unfavorably upon others.
So it's been in the infinitely sad death of Michael Brown at the hands of Ferguson, Mo. police officer Darren Wilson. Tragic not only because of one young life snuffed out and another ruined, but because of a veritable avalanche of racial and political accusations that have millions fighting bitterly over who's to blame.
Whether on Fox News, CNN or MSNBC, marketing racial discord has become a profitable niche industry. There's a well-known cast of ex-prosecutors, defense attorneys and professors who appear to spend more time in TV studios than courthouses or campuses.
Even professional athletes have joined in, with five St. Louis Rams receivers striking the now iconic hands-up, don't-shoot pose, and the policemen's union demanding an apology from the NFL.
Well, they're not going to get one. Political symbolism is a big part of professional sporting events; cops can't expect to be lionized as heroes all the time. Athletes have free speech too.
Never mind that the hands-up gesture may be pure urban myth to begin. Yes, as you'll hear nightly on MSNBC, more witnesses told the grand jury they saw Brown make a gesture of surrender than described him charging Officer Wilson. However, several of the same witnesses also claimed they saw Wilson shoot Brown in the back or murder him execution-style, which both autopsy and ballistic evidence proved impossible.
Some admitted they tailored their stories to what they heard in the street or saw on TV.
Having previously written that a nationally televised murder trial might have cleared the air, I now doubt that's possible. As a friend commented on Facebook, the Ferguson case looks like the left's Benghazi — an endlessly evolving conspiracy theory that morphs into new forms as evidence contradicts its premises.
People committed to the thrilling tale have conjured a white racist plot out of a bad John Grisham movie. Before encountering Mike Brown, it's worth noticing, Darren Wilson had never so much as drawn his weapon, much less shot anybody dead in broad daylight.
Media mind readers like Georgetown University Michael Eric Dyson have no difficulty explaining a total stranger's motives. "To the police officer ..." Dyson wrote in the New York Times, "Michael Brown was the black menace writ large, the terrorizing phantom that stalks the white imagination."
What rubbish. Thinkers like Dyson apply the methods of bad literary criticism to reality, with pernicious results. Everything's a symbol, and only experts like themselves can interpret them.
Converting poor Mike Brown into an abstraction also prevents anybody from asking why such a peaceable young man acted so bizarrely that terrible morning — assaulting an armed cop for no sane reason. It's the left-wing equivalent of calling him a "300 lb. black thug."
In my experience, people who see visions of Satan and God battling in the clouds, as Brown's father told the New York Times he did weeks before his death, and who send cell phone photos of the sky documenting those illusions, are in dire need of psychiatric intervention he never got.
According to the AP, Brown had made dramatic pronouncements to his great uncle, Pastor Charles Ewing. "He said, 'One day the whole world is going to know my name.' Isn't that something? Not knowing that this was going to happen, and that's what touched me 'the whole world will know my name.' "
It's apt to touch anybody familiar with the messianic delusions of schizophrenia rather differently.
Yes, Wilson depicted Brown's face as looking like a "demon." His account of Brown's actions, however, will sound sadly familiar to anybody who's ever dealt with an enraged person suffering from psychosis: "He was almost bulking up to run through the shots, like it was making him mad that I'm shooting at him. And the face that he had was looking straight through me, like I wasn't even there ... Just coming straight at me like he was going to run right through me."
One horrified witness told jurors, "The only thing I kept saying was is he crazy? Why don't he just stop instead of running because if somebody is pulling a gun on you, first thing I would think is to drop down on the ground and not try to look like I'm going to attack 'em."
Another woman testified "Michael turned around and started charging towards the officer and the officer [was] still yelling stop. He did have his firearm drawn, but he was yelling stop, stop, stop."
Beyond race, beyond politics, the question is: could Michael Brown even hear him?