Anyone unfamiliar with the way the U.S. treats dead young black men should take a look at today's New York Times front-page mini-profile of Michael Brown, the unarmed 18-year-old who was shot and killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Mo. earlier this month. It's headlined "Michael Brown Spent Last Weeks Grappling With Problems and Promise"—problems, you say?
Michael Brown, 18, due to be buried on Monday, was no angel, with public records and interviews with friends and family revealing both problems and promise in his young life. Shortly before his encounter with Officer Wilson, the police say 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. [...]
As a boy, Michael was a handful. When his parents put up a security gate, he would try to climb it. When they left out pens and pencils, he would use them to write on the wall. He used to tap on the ground, so his parents got him a drum set; his father played the drums. He grew into a reserved young man around people he did not know, but joking and outgoing with those close to him.
Is the Times cryptically gesturing at some unpublishable knowledge of Brown's behavior or juvenile record? Or has no one at the paper ever met a teenager before? "Michael Brown Spent Entire Life Being Pretty Normal Child, Teenager" is, admittedly, a less interesting angle. Maybe, given this telling detail—
In the ninth grade at McCluer High School in Florissant, Mr. Brown was accused of stealing an iPod. His mother said she went to the school, eventually showing a receipt to prove the iPod was his.
—we could settle for "Despite Facing Discrimination and Suspicion, Young Man Looked Forward to Future Before Police Killed Him."
Also gracing the front page of the paper of record is a mini-profile of Brown's killer, Officer Darren Wilson:
As a teenager, Darren Wilson lived in St. Peters, Mo., a mostly white city of 54,000 about 20 miles west of Ferguson, where his environment was chaotic. He was the eldest of three children of Tonya Dee Durso, who, records show, carried out financial crimes, including against Sandra Lee Finney, who lived across the street and had believed they were friends.
"It's a terrible thing that has happened now, but he did have a troubled childhood," Ms. Finney said in an interview, adding that Officer Wilson's family had somewhat awkwardly stayed in the neighborhood — moving just one door down — even after his mother was convicted of stealing and forgery in 2001. [...]
Officer Wilson's formative experiences in policing came in a department that wrestled historically with issues of racial tension, mismanagement and turmoil. During Officer Wilson's brief tenure, another officer was fired for a wrongful shooting, and a lieutenant was accused of stealing federal funds. In 2011, in the wake of federal and state investigations into the misuse of grant money, the department closed, and the city entered into a contract to be policed by the county. The department was found to have used grant money to pay overtime for D.W.I. checkpoints that never took place.
If Mike Brown "liv[ing] in a community that had rough patches" made him "no angel," what did growing up in a household with a convicted criminal and learning how to police in a corrupt racist department make Darren Wilson? A "Low-Profile Officer With Unsettled Early Days," apparently.
[image, of four-year-old Jeremiah Parker at a protest in Ferguson, via AP]