Darren Wilson followed the rulebook. There are clear rules regarding how police officers must act when facing a potential threat to their personal safety. Wilson knows those rules and has a clear conscience. Another policeman who aimed his weapon at a 12-year-old in Cleveland on Sunday followed the rulebook even more closely: The black youth was brandishing a gun so the officer had no alternative. Never mind that the emergency call failed to mention that the gun in question looked like it might be a toy.
Americans Are Split on Following the Rules
Many officials sympathize with the parents and understand the anger many blacks bring to the streets with them. But the police acted in accordance with the rulebook. That's the curious, formalistic excuse now being used to justify fatally shooting children.
The fact that Americans are split on following the rules didn't just emerge with rules governing the use of guns. Whether in governmental agencies or in the supermarket checkout line, insecure and poorly educated people insist on sticking to the rulebook. Deviation from the rules is considered even more dangerous than pulling a gun. Darren Wilson put himself in that category with his first television interview: A white boy who knows enough to stay safe knows he should do what he is told to do.
Republican Peter King suggested that President Obama should invite this brave police officer to the White House. Of course King is only trying to put Obama in a compromising situation. The president can't comply with the suggestion — African-American parents worry deeply about their sons. If LeBron James, the black king of basketball, hopes for a society in which black youngsters don't continue to be cut down in a hail of police bullets he's no doubt thinking about his own sons; or perhaps about his own rough childhood years in Ohio.
Sean Jackson, an African American resident of Ferguson, also advises his 25-year-old son to keep his hands above his head when he's dealing with the police, to say only “yes, sir,” and “no, sir,” and say nothing that could be construed as an insult. Many black parents give their teenagers the same advice. If you don't object to the police officer's methods, you don't risk being shot.
Obama Has Lost His Voice
Two Americas have collided in Ferguson and neither of them understands what the other is saying; they have no common language. The result is a dead teenager left lying in the streets. This animosity won't disappear very quickly: In police departments, racism is written into the procedural handbooks; black kids see the police only as enemies.
Under these circumstances, Obama can invite neither the parents nor the police officer to the Oval Office. He would be at a loss for words with both. Thus, the first black president has failed in his main hope: healing the racial wounds that divide American society. He never wanted to be president of just one skin color. Perhaps he did too little about socially solidified racism. But not even he couldn't reconcile those two Americas.