Michael Brown Was No Angel
Before Michael Brown was killed by officer Darren Wilson he stole cigars - Swisher Sweets to be exact - from a convenience store. All over the internet this fact, among other things, has been used to justify his death. The truth of the matter is that only the events of his confrontation with Darren Wilson can justify his death.

In the month after Brown’s death there appeared a piece in The New York Times detailing Michael Brown’s final weeks. A single paragraph in that piece garnered a lot of attention around the internet, mostly because of its description of Brown as "no angel"
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.
It was then that something hit me about Michael Brown’s “problems and promise”, specifically the attempts to smear Brown for “stealing a box of cigars”.

As a teenager, I stole cigars.

Several of my friend and I started smoking at 16 and, because we couldn’t buy them ourselves, we sometimes stole them out of the local Foodland when we couldn’t find someone to buy for us. I think it was usually 2 or 3 of us. One would buy something at the counter. One would look out. One would snatch some out of display case in the middle of the store. This was before cigarettes were exclusively stored behind counters. It was usually something disgusting like GPCs because they were the easiest to get to. Sometimes we’d get better brands and we even got some Swisher Sweets. I think this happened a handful of times.

My friend, doing it on his own once, even got caught at the counter. The cashier asked him to put the cigarettes back so she wouldn’t have to call the police. If caught I doubt he or I would have “[pushed] the clerk of a convenience store into a display case” only for the reason that it wouldn’t matter if we got away - everyone in town knew our dads.

If I was gunned down would the fact that I stole cigarettes be used to justify my death?

While we’re at it, what about the rest of Michael Brown’s less than angelic life. Brown “dabbled in drugs and alcohol”. “Dabbled” is the best way to describe my sparing use of marijuana, but it doesn’t come close to how I used tobacco and alcohol. Though I was never a pack a day smoker I always had a pack on me. As to alcohol, Friday nights were often spent trying to get someone to buy me and my friends beer.

Brown “had taken to rapping in recent months, producing lyrics that were by turns contemplative and vulgar.” Thankfully I never subjected the world to a song, but I certainly listened to vulgar music. Nirvana talked about heroin, Green Day about masturbation, and Rage Against the Machine about tearing down the entire establishment. Marylin Mason was part of the warm up tape I made for varsity basketball senior year.

Who didn’t get into at least “one scuffle with a neighbor”, or with a friend or family member?

I picked on weaker kids, tried to have sex with every girl in high school, and argued with my parents. Taken out of context I was a monster. Certainly given all my transgressions my death would have been easily justified in the eyes of many.

But of course I was also the valedictorian of my high school, a three sport athlete, a respectful kid, and generally well liked by adults in my community. Would those facts (or the fact that I’m white) have flipped the switch and turned a police officer into a murderer?

Sometimes I wonder if the people who are tarring Michael Brown remember what high school was like. I remember always trying to make people think I was less smart than I was, had less money than I did, and was tougher than I was.

It hit me profoundly when I heard people using Michael Brown’s teenage life as justification for his death. I’m almost certain the facts he is being tarnished with would be chalked up to youthful indiscretions if they were talking about someone like me.
 
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