Michael Brown, a Black 18-year-old, was shot by Ferguson, Mo. police officer Darren Wilson on Aug. 9. In the aftermath of that shooting, citizens took to the streets in protests that at times turned ugly. The police came in wearing riot gear.

It looked like the 1960s revisited.

Over the past several weeks, Michael Brown has been labeled a “thug,” a “criminal,” someone whose death should be cause for celebration. Self-proclaimed critics attempted to tie him to the Gangsta Life of the rap songs and violence, concluding that a kid with no criminal record was no better than a thug. Others decried African Americans as a group, concluding that we do not care, ignore criminal activity, and actually support it.

Perhaps these critics have forgotten, or never knew, about times in the past, when young children idolized the pirates of the 1700s, the cowboys of the 1800s Old West, and the gangsters, bank robbers and killers of the early 1900s, who were all celebrated during their respective eras for their criminal exploits. Perhaps the critics forgot that those young people who imitated these criminals often got themselves into trouble that frequently proved fatal.

Back then, however, there were good people who stood up against such criminal behavior. Some paid with their lives. Critics sought to paint entire communities (Italian, Irish, Jewish) with broad brush stokes, condemning them all due the acts of a few.

We, in the African American community, are facing a similar situation: that same broad brush has painted us all as “thugs,” “potential thugs” or “thug wanna-bes.” It makes no more sense to paint us as collective criminals than it did to condemn other ethnic groups who also had criminal elements.

And today, like then, there are good people who stand up against the criminals.

There are good people like the Dawson family in Baltimore, who were burned alive in their home in 2002 because the mother testified against a local drug lord.

Angela Dawson went to the police about drug dealing in her neighborhood. She’d had confrontations with the dealers. After she reported her next door neighbor as a drug dealer, he made a plea deal with prosecutors and pled guilty to illegal gun possession. He was placed on probation. This thug, a real one, painted profanities on the outside of the Dawson’s three-story home. He attacked Mrs. Dawson whenever she tried to remove the stains. On October 2, she testified against him in court. The next morning, two Molotov cocktails were thrown through a window of the house and burned the kitchen before the Dawsons succeeded in bringing the fire under control. On October 16, after the failed attempt to torch the house, the dealer’s crew kicked in the Dawson’s door and poured gasoline all over the first floor. They set the house ablaze, killing everyone on the floors above as they slept.

Angela and Carnell Dawson, and all five of their children, died.

Having taught in inner city Baltimore, I worked with adults who had a collective stake in the lives of Black children. We understood the challenges urban schools faced, and we went into these classrooms on a mission. I taught at two of the “tougher” schools in the city. We had a battle on our hands as we tried to compete with the lure of drug culture, which offered quick money to teenagers who sought relief from tough circumstances.

I sponsored an after-school theatre club. The students performed classic works, rewritten for modern times. We invited teachers, and even the principal, play parts in the cast and crew. That way we had enough cars to get the children home after late-night rehearsals. The youthful performers were featured on NPR, and performed for the governor’s wife as well as for a then-city councilwoman who is now the mayor.

We reached many. We lost many. One of my students was beaten nearly to death for not joining a gang. Another rejected the life of his drug dealing family, and is now in Job Corps in another state. Several others have gone to college – one in Pittsburgh, one in Baltimore, one in New York. Another of my former students recently texted me to let me know he had enrolled in community college, seven years after graduating from high school. These are victories, but they are not enough. We often lose good children to the real thugs.

So what is a real thug?

Hip hop mogul Marion “Suge” Knight, has been the prototypical thug. He’s made a fortune doing so. Knight is best-known as the co-founder of Death Row Records, home to such rap stars as Dr. Dre, Tupac Shakur and Snoop Dogg. On August 24, Knight was shot and wounded, struck by six non-fatal bullets when a gunman fired on him at a club in West Hollywood during a party in advance of the MTV Music Video Awards. There have always been Black entertainers who would take the money to perpetuate stereotypes: Knight’s “act” is no different than the minstrel shows from back in the day. His history as a thug is a testament to his act:

  • In 1996, Knight was sent to prison for a probation violation.


  • In February 1997, he was sentenced to nine years for the violation. He was released in August, 2001.


  • In 2003, he was sent to prison again for violating parole when he struck a parking lot attendant.


  • In 2006, he got into a beef with Snoop Dogg after Suge’s ex-associate insulted Knight in a Rolling Stone magazine article.


  • In May, 2008, Knight brawled over money outside of a Hollywood nightclub. He was reportedly knocked unconscious for three minutes, then taken to the hospital, where he refused cooperate with the Los Angeles Police Department.


  • In August, 2008, he was arrested on drug and aggravated assault charges in Las Vegas. When police arrived at the strip club, he was beating his girlfriend and flashing a knife. Reports alleged he was under the influence of ecstasy and hydrocodone.


  • In March, 2009, he was implicated in the robbery of music producer, Noel “Detail” Fisher. Reportedly, five armed men broke into Detail’s house to collect a debt on Knight’s behalf. More than $170,000 in jewelry, a locked safe, stereo equipment, and the key to a Mercedes were taken.


  • In February, 2012, Knight was arrested again in Las Vegas, after police found marijuana in his car. He is currently serving three years unsupervised probation for driving with a suspended license.

That is what a real thug looks like.

Michael Brown was not a thug, but he was also no angel. He made a lot of mistakes. His parents and friends described him as a handful. Not a hardened criminal, but he was a difficult child at times. He also was on a path that might lead him to a better life — enrolling in a trade school to learn a skill that could put him in a position to support himself and be a productive member of society. He had problems and he had promise. His last mistake cost him his life. And now his parents have buried their child.

Darren Wilson was also a troubled youth. His mother had been convicted of stealing and forgery in 2001. Darren also made a few bad choices, including a couple of minor thefts. Then he grew up, grew out of that, joined the police force. He came up in a department that had some issues, which included a fellow officer who was fired for a wrongful shooting, and others who were busted on corruption charges. By all reports, he managed to sidestep all of that confusion and have a solid career.

When Michael and Darren met, perhaps for the first time, Michael had grabbed a box of cigars and forced his way out of a convenience store, after shoving the owner aside. Darren saw a jaywalker and attempted to pull him over.

A few moments and six bullets later…

We never know how a person’s life will turn out. But this is not a time to celebrate a death. Any death of a young person should be seen as tragedy. I have seen some good kids and some bad kids. Some went on to be like Darren. Some went on to be like Suge Knight. Some did not live long enough to become anything other than a gigantic heartbreak for their parents.

At the end of the day, the death of Michael Brown is a terrible tragedy. Lives have been damaged due to bad choices. Michael clearly made a choice that proved fatal. It remains to be seen what, if any, bad choices were made by the officer.

Promise and problems…

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“I cry silently, because as a child I had to be very quiet.”

A Future of the Brave


the phrase ‘thug’ as used in MSM is almost never applied to anyone but young men of color. Based on behavior alone, George Zimmerman should have been so labeled–and would have been had his father not been shown some police deference for his judicial standing. And the Central Park 5 were ‘thugs’ until they weren’t–sent away for a rape committed by another, vilified by the better part of society.

We’re back to the Scottsboro boys law-enforcement wise. And our current crop of Robocops are far more ready to unholster and let loose with ‘justice’ in shell casings.


I have been caught up in a number of things for the past several days and am SO pleased to have read your thought provoking post here.

I worked in the inner city in a high school that did great work. I worked at a university that was known for its outreach to families where college had always been out of reach.

The lives of “kids” from troubled neighborhoods and of their families are very complex and the neat narrative that the media takes from the police or from activists or from clergy or from business people or from….is simplistic.

You have provided several stories here that speak to complexity and to the subtlety of response that the narrative requires (like the theater group).

You remind us of the everyday heroism of families that fight the streets and sometimes lose in a horrifying tragedy.

Please write more here…you always have something of importance to share with us.


I’m sorry you didn’t have the opportunity to learn from the mistakes of youth Michael Brown.

I remember stealing wine, and a few cigars, from the local 7-11 when I was young. And learning over the years how wrong it was.

But I was white, and police did not seek me out to blast multiple bullets into my body when I ran.

“If it’s Gods will, why is your finger on the trigger?”

A Future of the Brave


ST, your wisdom is showing.


I’m trying to be as naked as you gentle friend Nirek.

“They never gave me a plan.

Just a purpose.”

A Future of the Brave


James, first off, it’s very inspiring to read of your contributions to the lives of young people most in need of them.

And your generosity towards Darren Wilson reflects your professionalism as a journalist. Very appreciated.

There are different themes covered in your article so to begin, indeed, Americans have always had a fascination with real life “bad guys”. The film industry’s early talkie days were built upon gangster films and stars like Bogart and Cagney. The Godfather and The Sopranos continued that tradition as did Breaking Bad. In music, we’ve seen the same thing but I never saw white people deemed “thugs” for being fans of the meth crime lord and murderer Heisenberg. So no question, there is a double standard applied to black people who are fans of the bad guys in music and white people who are fans of the bad guys in films and tv.

Keeping all this in perspective though, it is grit thrown in the eyes of the public to blind them from focusing on the actual and only crime that matters here, a cop shooting an unarmed teen. The rest is truly character assassination, promoted by the Ferguson PD to spread the propaganda that Michael Brown “had it coming”, he deserved to be murdered and/or at least society is better off with him dead…and to protect their own officer from being held responsible for his actions.

The thing about stereotypes is that there is always a basis for building them but they are of course lies because you can’t apply a blanket characterization of individual human beings and be fair or honest.

Suge Knight lived the thug (kingpin) life like a number of rappers. There was an addictive rush to it that they couldn’t resist. There’s a reality too, to glamorizing a life of crime, greed and egotism…and that’s what happened to Knight and others.

But if being a fan of rap automatically makes one a thug, there are a lot of nerdy suburban white kids who should also be deemed thugs.

As to Wilson, I would suggest that it is far too early to conclude a great deal about his character. He was a cop in a police force that was disbanded due to the racism and corruption that plagued it. He’s a member of the FPD which has clearly expressed its hostility to its majority black citizenship. I wouldn’t expect to see Wilson or any officers have much of a disciplinary track record for acting in a hostile or prejudicial way in an organization where hostility and prejudice is the norm (the FPD issued over 30k arrest warrants in their town where there are only 22k residents). So, the lack of a documented history of abuse or corruption with regards to Wilson doesn’t mean he’s not a problem cop. The only real evidence we have on Wilson is his shooting of an unarmed teen, and, as a member of the FPD, seeing how they all treated blacks in their community during the protests and before. With that concrete evidence, I am less inclined to start from a position of assuming Wilson is devoid of race-based motivations.

As for Michael Brown’s character, I admit I am interested in seeing the full picture of who he was but IMO, it’s an ancillary thing to a policeman shooting an unarmed teen. There are all manner of actions a cop can take in dealing with an uncooperative citizen, if he truly was, (giving Wilson the full benefit of the doubt in his representation of what happened) but shooting them and murdering them is difficult to justify.

We’ll see what happens and develops on the prosecution of Wilson but based upon the shooting itself of an unarmed teen and the shots into the top of Brown’s head that seem to illustrate the gunning down of Brown even as he was falling to the ground, I believe Wilson needs to be prosecuted and if the facts continue to support it, held responsible for his actions.




James, I now understand better what you were attempting to do. As you say, the police department could have done a much better job of disseminating information regarding this case in the first place. Something by the way they still haven’t done. We still don’t have a report that establishes clearly in Darren Wilson’s words what he thinks happened that day.

You, of course, realize that I know what the connotations behind the word thug used in relation to the African American community means, and I never allow a reference of that type to go unchallenged. We as citizens of this nation have allowed that to go on too long. Our politics are saturated with that code dog whistle type language, and even though you try to honestly dispel the myth, there are those that will misinterpret what you are saying and make the connection I did. As a matter of fact, my friend is white, he read your article and came to the same conclusion I did. So again, apologies if I came down too hard on you, it is all in love, not criticism. It is a difference of opinion, but hopefully I have explained my opinion better and you now understand what I was trying to convey.


A wonderful piece about the good and bad in ALL OF US. I have been very upset that the hatred for the “other” (in this instance the AfAm community) has been on full display without the needed word of condemnation that it deserves from those in authority.

As far as the definition of thug goes, run-ins with the police aren’t the only things to qualify one as a thug. I don’t know if you have been paying attention at all to the Market Basket family fight over money that has brought three states’ food distribution to a near standstill. And yes, grocery chains are one integral part of food distribution. Anyway, chalk one up for the good guys. The chain will have 85% ownership by the sane cousin and the remaining 15% are tied to the debt obligation that bought out the money-hungry cousin. He, by the way, is on his fourth or fifth honeymoon with his current trophy wife. Just saying. For nearly three months his money-grubbing ways cost Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts in more ways than can be counted. Recently it had an impact on food pantries because those without transportation had no where to shop. In my opinion, this man is a thug.


Where do I begin? Never mind, let’s just start here:

CNN affiliates KMOV, KSDK, KTVI and KPLR.
Ferguson, Missouri (CNN) — The Ferguson police officer who shot Michael Brown didn’t stop him because he was suspected in a convenience-store robbery, but because he was “walking down the middle of the street blocking traffic,” the city’s police chief said Friday.
Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson — hours after documents came out labeling the 18-year-old Brown as the “primary suspect” in the store theft — told reporters the “robbery does not relate to the initial contact between the officer and Michael Brown.”


Police on Friday said that Darren Wilson, the officer who shot and killed Michael Brown last weekend, confronted Brown after the teenager was identified as the main suspect in a convenience store robbery that occurred Saturday morning.

However, hours later, authorities said that the robbery was not the reason for the encounter that ended with Brown shot to death on a suburban St. Louis street, suggesting that it was unrelated to the confrontation.


I’m surprised there are still people promoting this lie about this child who is buried now and unable to defend himself. I am also tired of people trying to paint this officer as someone just doing his duty. Anyone can look at how the police department of Ferguson has lied during this entire ordeal and tell that there is something really wrong in this case. Who ever heard of a police officer killing someone and not filling out a report afterward. Who ever heard of someone being shot down in the street by a police officer and being left there for 4 1/2 hours before a police van, not an ambulance comes to pick them up. You then begin to paint a story that says you have worked with bad children as if this is the reason you know that Michael Brown was just another bad child doing things he shouldn’t do and then you say you think suge knight is a real thug, and an example of a thug, you paste portions of his history as thought it is a stand in for what Michael Brown might become, or as if to say these things make Knight a thug, but for what? What has suge knight got to do with Michael Brown. A teen that would have been starting college the next day if he hadn’t been gunned down in the street by an over zealous cop. I’m really surprised at this article. Not factual, not incident related, and biased IMHO.

Maybe if you understand that the, “theft of cigars” had nothing to do with this case, you might be able to start over again, maybe you might be able to see through the rest of these thoughts you seem to be having. If walking down the street blocking traffic is a reason for a police officer to get upset and kill someone then your thoughts are valid, if not, then all I can say is you are leaning heavily against this young man who has lost his life because he refused to kow tow to this police officer. Do you read the news at all. How can you even in the same article write about Suge Knight and then segway into Michael Brown. All I can say is, with friends like you, the African American community doesn’t need any enemies.


Well said, James. This story is a tragedy for all involved. I hope we do find out exactly what happened since the stories don’t match at all.

I find I’ve been avoiding following this story in much detail because it pushes a button with me. As some Planeteers know, I used to be a volunteer victim advocate. I was on a call similar to this one (but without the racial element), where a young man was killed by the police. I was with the family when the doctor came in and told them their son was dead. The family blamed the police and by extension, me. I ended up quitting after that. It was a very bad experience!

That Knight story is pretty disturbing. I’m sure I’m not the only person to hope that young black kids will admire and emulate the Obamas instead of gangsta rappers.


Thanks so much for a very thoughtful, balanced article, Michael. This Ferguson situation really seems to have struck some nerves, but maybe they’re nerves that needed to be struck.

I have to say that you’re more generous to Darren Wilson than I’m inclined to be. Yes, he did have a difficult childhood, but I think it’s yet to be decided as to whether he grew out of it. Or did he end up being a thug in a uniform?

I’m not really in a position to judge. But if he had thuggish tendencies as a police officer, I get the impression that he was not in a department that was going to modify those tendencies. If anything — based on descriptions of other incidents that this department has been involved in — it would exacerbate them.

This department seemed to harass, intimidate and assault black citizens with virtual impunity. How much different is that kind of behavior from gang behavior? But having a badge seemed to protect them all from investigation and prosecution.

I knew a kid who was a lot like Michael Brown — maybe even a little bit more of a handful. He’d actually had some arrests — for breaking into parked cars and stealing things from them and for drug possession. But he was lucky enough to meet people like you. People who took the time to listen and talk to him. And then there was the effect of time itself. As he got into his mid to later 20s, the futility of the way he’d been living struck him. He started at a fairly low level factory job, but after a couple of years of showing up every day, he ended up getting some training in welding and machining and a promotion. He got married and is in the process of buying a house now.

As your title suggests, Michael Brown never got the chance to see whether he’d be able to get his life on track. He had problems. He had promise. But now he’ll never have the opportunity to see how far he could have gone.

It’s good to see that people are keeping this issue front and center in the news. I really appreciated this Oakland demonstration technique and I hope it catches on. They simply stand there and hold up mirrors to the officers’ faces:

[imgcomment image?oh=0ab78e3e57cab03fc24eb78d5fc34ec7&oe=54668EF0[/img]


Nice post Kesmarn.

I agree.

long life!!


Thank you for the kind words, RSG!


Anytime kesmarn, i will be looking for more of your posts.

A synthesizer can create any instrument made and others that have not been created yet.


Kes, I wonder what the police see when they look in those mirrors? Do they see “jack booted” cops or what?


That is a very interesting question…


Nirek, I have to echo what sillylittleme said: that is a very interesting question.

Some of them might think: “I look like an over-armored bully.”

Some might think: “I look soo cool! I’ve been wanting to dress up like this since I was eleven!”

Some might be thinking: “The minute I get the order, you’re going to be picking little pieces of that mirror out of your scalp.”

But holding the mirror up to all of that is a good thing, I think.


Excellent comment Kes!! Thank you so much for pointing out the obvious.

Great idea that mirror technique in Oakland. Maybe if those officers see the anger on their faces they’ll realize why they are the cause of violence when people are trying to peaceful protest. Why are the police so angry at people who try to exercise their first Amendment rights, and so forgiving when others exercise the 2nd Amendment rights? This is what we as a nation need to look into along with the racial bias that seems to be permeating our police forces these days.


Yes, monica. And I think we also have to ask who and what are the forces behind the police forces? In a way, the cops are just the brutal tools used to accomplish a goal.

What are the goals? In the case of the thuggish repression of the Occupy movement of 2010, it was likely the desire to keep unregulated capitalism in the driver’s seat permanently.

In Ferguson (and elsewhere, especially in the South) it must have been to maintain white power even in areas where blacks were the majority.

These “officers” are the hired mercenaries of people who are a minority as far as numbers go (the very rich and/or whites) but who want to dominate the majority. Unfortunately the character of mercenaries is often that they have no principles at all. They just like violence.

Police forces made up of those people are going to be a big problem.


I couldn’t agree more Kes. I did a bit of research on who is training the police in this nation, and found that the company that was named Blackwater, then XE, and now ACADEMI has been training the police in many precincts in this nation.

I also learned that many veterans who were in the U.S. Army, and many of those who worked as contractors for the aforementioned organization are now working for police departments throughout the nation. We know what the contractors record was in Afghanistan and Iraq, we know of the violence and havoc they wreaked upon those two nations, and now some of them are here policing our streets.

This is disastrous as far as I am concerned, add in the violent behavior and the racist component, and you have the perfect scenario for those who wish to stay in power, those who wish to control the rest of us to keep us fighting among ourselves, and when that doesn’t work, and we decide to unite, they have the militaristic police forces backed by the government to put down what I’m sure they see as insurrection. You are correct. Occupy Wall street was a perfect example for anyone who has eyes to see ears to hear and a brain with which he/she can use to understand/distinguish what is taking place.


Why am I not surprised that ACADEMI is involved in this whole mess, Monica? Sigh… Talk about one of the most pernicious organizations of the 21st century.

Thanks so much for doing the research that confirms what I had intuitively suspected — that some people who had been on the dark side of conflicts in the Middle East were bringing home with them the attitudes and tactics that were commonplace among them when they were over there. And passing them on to our police forces.

It seems that over-sized tanks and weaponry aren’t the only “surplus” we’re having to deal with from that ill-advised, ill-fated war of Dubya’s.

Time to clean house.



This is from Military.com a Veteran employment center:

Former military personnel hold a special place in the heart of police department recruiters across the U.S. The qualities of a great police officer are virtually identical to those of a great soldier: Both have a desire to serve their country and community and protect people and their rights. A career as a law-enforcement professional may appeal to those with military service because there are a variety of departments and specialties to pursue, not unlike the military.
Because vets are in such high demand, many police departments offer hiring perks, including extra points on the entrance exam, an age deduction from the maximum age limit, GI Bill benefits, retirement perks and more. Find police officer or security jobs.


This is exactly what I thought might be going on, Monica.

Granted, there are veterans who really would make excellent police officers. No doubt about it. There are also people who’ve been to Iraq and Afghanistan and come back with severe PTSD, paranoia, depression and flashbacks included. They deserve treatment.

But the police force may not be the place for them to be rehabilitated. It would take a very adept psychiatrist to determine when/if someone with mental health issues is ready to carry a weapon and have a lot of authority over people.


This is the way I feel also Kes, I believe veterans should be given an opportunity to serve on their local police forces, but they should be as you say continually evaluated psychologically, especially those that have a record of having been in combat action. Not because they may be suffering from PTSD, but because they have had training that could cause them to revert back to military style tactics.

I don’t believe mercenaries should ever be allowed to be on the police force in any manner. They are to militaristic, and have generally been trained in ways I hope are different than what the local police force uses to train members of police departments.


Brodie, you make excellent sense. Michael Brown made a mistake. That mistake cost him his life. Darren Wilson made a BIG mistake. He killed an unarmed youth. Police have a dangerous job, but they are trained in self defense and how to deescalate a bad situation. Darren did NOT do a good job of deescalating the situation. My heart breaks every time any young person is killed for any reason.

Mr. Knight has had many chances to turn his life around. He could have chosen to set a good example for the young people who listen to his “music”.
He didn’t take that opportunity sadly. Even more sadly too many young people listen to the kind of “music” that glorifies violence. I’m sure that youths of any race fall into the trap that that “music” glorifies.

Young people have not completed the development of their brains. That is why I have said that “youth is wasted on the young”. They need guidance from responsible adults, people like you and me and the folks here at the Planet.

Brodie, this article was well written and well timed.
On another point, I doubt that I could be as fair minded as Michael Brown Sr. if it were my son shot down in the street.

Peace and equality for all.


OH i like this article, Good information James Brodie. a 10

In reality there are thugs in the white communities also. They some how avoid media scrutiny and records are hidden very well under 18 if they are logged at all.

The point is that shot lifting is not a crime with a death penalty.
Many crimes do not warrant killing the criminal. Believe it or not they do have rights and the goal of every arrest is to bring the suspected violator in ALIVE. IN this case the officer could have backed up. He did not have to get out of the vehicle and should have called for back up. Even shot to disable brown in the legs.

The police man with the brown shooting violated some many police procedures that is why he has to worry.

He can say all he wants he saw a gun or suspected one but the gun was not there. After the altercation at the car the policeman was in no danger. IF fact brown could not have reached the gun in the holster of the policeman who is trained for hand to hand combat. Most likely is that the policeman drew the gun and brown defended himself from being shot for shoplifting. If he has a gun he would have used before the altercation.

The one thing everybody should look at, if it where your kid or family member what would you want done?

Yes there are biases for African american citizens or other minorities not in just gun related or criminal altercations.

The one thing everybody should look at, if it where your kid or family member what would you want done?