The New York Times is drawing criticism for its description of Michael Brown, the unarmed teen gunned down by Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson–and with good reason.
According to the Times,
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.
Of course, the paper was careful to paint Brown as violent:
Mr. Lewis said he recalled Mr. Brown getting into one fight. A contemporary they knew from the neighborhood was upset with Mr. Brown because of something Mr. Brown had said to the young man’s girlfriend. So one day the fellow, who was much smaller than Mr. Brown, took a swing at him. Mr. Brown backed up and pushed him back in the face.
“I don’t think Mike ever threw a real punch,” said Mr. Lewis, 19.
The young man’s father confronted Mr. Brown, Mr. Lewis recalled, asking him why he put his hands on his son. Mr. Brown’s father got involved, Mr. Lewis said, and they settled the dispute and went their separate ways. Mr. Brown rarely got into physical confrontations, Mr. Lewis said, because he was so big that nobody really wanted to test him. Mr. Brown tended to use his size to scare away potential trouble, Mr. Lewis said.
While the Times injected some positivity into the piece, the phrase “was no angel” struck a cord with many, who began to point out that even the Unabomber and Gary Leon Ridgway received more positive descriptions than the teen.
Let’s see what the Times had to say about Ted Kaczynski:
The simple, back-to-nature life of the man the Federal authorities believe is the technology-hating Unabomber was plagued by rabbits and deer. They ate his carefully tended organic garden.
“He had a war going with those rabbits because they were eating his garden,” said Dan Rundell, a local deputy sheriff who gave the suspect, Theodore J. Kaczynski, the battered bicycle that became his main transportation. “The rabbits were gaining.”
Shaggy-bearded and eccentric, Mr. Kaczynski passed almost unnoticed in this rugged mountain town of loggers, ranchers and outdoors enthusiasts, many of whom get by on odd jobs like trapping and guiding snowmobile tours. In many ways, he was as little noticed as the tough-looking Federal Bureau of Investigation agents who have been stalking him for five weeks through juniper groves and snowy ravines.
“I can understand his wanting to be private,” said Karen Potter, owner of the Blackfoot Market, where Mr. Kaczynski sometimes stopped for cans of Spam and tuna and packets of stone-ground flour. “He’s not the only recluse we have who is strange. There are people stranger than him.”
Gary Leon Ridgway, who murdered 49 people, also received a more positive writeup by the Times.
When Mr. Ridgway and his wife, Judith, moved into the area about four years ago, they immediately angered the neighbors by chopping down a beautiful stretch of trees at the back of their one-acre property.
”We moved here in ’62, and that was always a nice forest back there, and in two days it was gone,” recalled Clement Gregurek, whose yard backs into the Ridgways’. ”I went over there and he said they were planning to put in some rhododendrons, and don’t worry about it.”
The couple did indeed plant a nice garden, though there was still so many felled trees on the property that Mr. Ridgway seemed to spend an inordinate amount of time chopping at the trees and contributing to an enormous pile of firewood.
”He had a chipper and chain saws and all kinds of things,” recalled Mr. Gregurek, a retired tool-supply manager at Boeing. ”He was just always working away back there.”
Despite the initial fracas over the felled trees, the Ridgways, with their poodle and two cats, eventually became part of the small, quiet neighborhood on a private road. (Mr. Ridgway has an adult son from an earlier marriage; Mrs. Ridgway has been questioned by the police but does not appear to be a suspect.) Mr. Ridgway would wave as he went to and from work, and occasionally shared a glass of beer with the Gregureks in their back yard.
And despite the suspicions aroused by his questioning by the police, his colleagues seemed to mainly forget about it as time wore on. ”I just thought, well, they completely had the wrong man,” said one woman at the truck company, who asked not to be identified. ”I hope they have the wrong man now.”
Brown is not the first person the Times has called “no angel.” Another noteworthy person earned that description: Al Capone. “Still, Mr. Bergreen said, the Al Capone of Garfield Place was no angel. He was often truant from Public School 133 on Butler Street, and he was finally kicked out of school for hitting a teacher (as the story goes, she hit him first). He also picked up a case of syphilis that incapacitated him later in life, probably while hanging out by the Brooklyn docks,” Park Slope wrote for the Times in 2006.
In contrast, the Times is much more sympathetic to Officer Darren Wilson, who is described as a “well-mannered, relatively soft-spoken, even bland person who seemed, if anything, to seek out a low profile.”
Unfortunately, this is the treatment African-Americans often receive from the media. An unarmed teenager, gunned down in the street and deprived of an opportunity to go to college and embark on a successful career received much less positivity than his killer, someone who murdered 49 people, and the [email protected]#$ing Unabomber.