Let me start this article with a confession: I don’t know if Darren Wilson was justified in killing Michael Brown. I have not reviewed the Grand Jury evidence. For all I know, WIlson did indeed overestimate the threat he faced or worse – fired for reasons of racial bias. I want to address something else: the media’s constant reference to Brown (and other Black victims of cop shootings) having been unarmed.
What do you think of when you hear an unarmed person was shot dead? If you’re like me, you probably think of someone going about their business, who was shot for no fault of their own, simply for being the wrong kid of person. Perhaps your imagination went further, conjuring up images of the Nazi Eisanzgruppen or ISIS terrorists taking scared civilians to a ditch and mowing them down.
Therein lies the problem: unarmed does not always mean nonthreatening and even not life-threatening. There are people, especially men, who thanks to their physical strength or fighting skills who can threaten someone’s life should they choose to do so – no weapons required. By all accounts, Michael Brown was a young man (he was 18; not a child) who could have constituted a threat to Officer Wilson if that was his intention.
Indeed, this is corroborated by those who defend Brown and damn Wilson: that Brown was not the kind to try to kill someone, and that he was ready to surrender – “Hand Up, Don’t Shoot” – when Wilson opened up on him. To me, this is an implicit admission that if Brown was bull-rushing Wilson, he could have been a threat to his life by virtue of his size and strength.
So unarmed is irrelevant either way; there are many people who are armed but not dangerous, and many who are unarmed but are. All ‘unarmed’ does is conjure all the wrong images. Far better, when appropriate, to use the term ‘not threatening’ or ‘unthreatening’ to describe an unjustified police shooting or possible case of police murder.
The situation in Ferguson, and in America in general, is bad enough. There is no need to inflame the situation by using misleading terms which makes things sound worse than they already are.