Perfect Victims

Vikram Bath

Vikram Bath is the pseudonym of a former business school professor living in the United States with his wife, daughter, and dog. (Dog pictured.) His current interests include amateur philosophy of science, business, and economics. Tweet at him at @vikrambath1.

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81 Responses

  1. Saul Degraw says:

    Good post Vikram.

    From what I’ve read, some serial killers are very adept at picking their victims because they will go after people who would not be noticed if they were gone. People who exist on the margins of society like lonely men on the down and out, prostitutes, drug addicts, etc. Ariel Castro picked his victims because they were truants from bad family situations.

    I wonder how much this is part of human nature or is this need for sainthood largely particular to American culture.

    This is where a little lawyering can probably go a long way and people would be better off with a viewpoint of “you take your clients as you find them.” Just because someone is far from blame doesn’
    t mean that they don’t have rights. Though the “so what” argument appears to be a very liberal one. We have responses on OT proving this point.

    I wish I knew what to do about this particular problem. Maybe Brown did commit some minor larceny but that larceny is not worth 6 bullets. The autopsy also revealed some marijuana in his system and I say so what.Report

  2. Damon says:

    “Yet, these sort of details do seem to matter to most people. A number of the same people who discount the theft had previously pointed out that Brown was going to college the next year. That also was irrelevant, but reported forcefully nevertheless. If one fact matters, so does the other.”

    Neither fact matters. “Most people” are wrong. What matters is that a kid is dead, shot by a cop. I want to know whyReport

    • morat20 in reply to Damon says:

      The story is always the same. It’s a variation of “He was attacking me/gonna attack me/rushing me/rushing someone else/etc”.

      Self-defense, same for cops as it is SYG cases. No cop is ever gonna say “Yeah, I just totally over reacted and shot the guy. Like, just so torqued off that he wasn’t respectful enough that I just saw red and BLAMMO”.

      You’ll never know why. The guy’s dead, the cop’s gonna go with self-defense no matter what, and the living guy can make a much better PR pitch than the dead guy, especially with cops — because let’s be honest — we want it to be the dead guy’s fault, because the alternative is that a police officer just up and murdered a guy while on duty.

      And nobody wants to believe that.

      Of course, we could wire the cops for video and sound — that’ll help give some answers. And heck, might even make policing a lot safer. People always seem to be a lot more polite when know they’re on camera, whether they’re a uniformed officer or a random criminal. (Well, assuming they can’t confiscate and destroy the camera).Report

      • Damon in reply to morat20 says:



      • Citizen in reply to morat20 says:

        Remember those guys that don’t want to be told how to do their job?Report

      • Jim Heffman in reply to morat20 says:

        It doesn’t even need to be “respeck mah authoritah”. It could just be the natural result of giving a guy a gun, filling him full of adrenaline, and putting him in a low-information situation with a head full of “better to be judged by twelve than carried by six”.Report

      • morat20 in reply to morat20 says:

        I think body cameras are inevitable. Groups opposed interrogation room cameras too, but let’s face it — you’re the police, you carry the authority to use force on behalf of the state. It’s not “I have nothing to hide” — it should darn well be you have no ABILITY to hide on duty.

        Nuts and bolts of implementation (especially in regards to privacy when citizens are taped during routine duties) will take some doing, but in the end — we’re gonna end up there. Getting too cheap and easy to do it, and eventually courts will come to expect it. Lawyers — prosecutors and defense — will start to demand it, and the good cops will want it (because it protects them from false accusations and makes a LOT of their problems go away) and the bad cops, well….they’ll find another career or learn to fake being good cops.Report

      • Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to morat20 says:


        Cops a rarely judged by 12 or carried by 6. They just say “self-defense” & it magically is so.Report

    • Stillwater in reply to Damon says:


      Neither fact matters.

      Exactly right. I’m not sure why a consideration of what “other people” think about the situation, or how they frame it, is relevant to the correct framing of the issue. This post is so meta it’s making my nose bleed. I mean, it’s absolutely true that a bunch of folks will employ the kids character as somehow relevant when making a judgment about what happened. But as you say, What matters is that a kid is dead, shot by a cop. Neither the kids character nor the cops character, nor the stellar record of the Ferguson PD, nor what I had for dinner last night matter in the slightest.

      “Most people” are wrong. Yeah, that’s pretty obviously true, if most people think the character of the individuals involved has anything to do with determining whether killing the kid was justified or not given the circumstances in which he was gunned down.Report

      • Mal Blue in reply to Stillwater says:

        When trying to figure out what happens, it matters insofar as it influences the narrative. A victim who has lead an exemplary life is less likely to rush a police officer than one who has had scrapes with the law.

        Along these lines, if the exemplary life is being used to support a particular narrative, in which the dead person obviously did not do what the suspect said he did, then it’s hard to say that it doesn’t matter when a less exemplary light is shone on the dead person.

        But if we know what happened, then it doesn’t matter at all. Or if our opinion doesn’t change even if we accept the shooter’s narrative, then it doesn’t matter at all.

        So it’s a question of whether we’re trying to figure out what exactly happened, or we’re coming to judgment on what we believe happened.Report

      • Stillwater in reply to Stillwater says:

        Mal Blue,

        A victim who has lead an exemplary life is less likely to rush a police officer than one who has had scrapes with the law.

        That’s exactly the argument I’m questioning, MB. Is rushing a police officer such a serious offense that shooting that person in the head two times and in the body four a justifiable response?Report

      • Stillwater in reply to Stillwater says:

        Look, I get that there is a sentiment out there to the effect that if people don’t inherently respect the power of the police, then all hell breaks loose. But JesuMary, are we really living in such precarious times that rushing a cop (supposing that’s what happened!) constitutes such a serious threat to *order* that we tolerate shooting that person in the head?Report

      • Mal Blue in reply to Stillwater says:

        My answer is yes, for the most part. If you rush an officer, you are at least potentially a clear and dangerous threat to that officer’s life. That’s very different, in my view, than a lot of what the police are doing now to people who are not a threat. While I don’t support jaywalking, robbery, or running for an officer as sufficient to put your life in danger, rushing a police officer does meet that threshold, in my view.

        If that’s what happened, and I’m not saying that it is.Report

      • Stillwater in reply to Stillwater says:

        If you rush an officer, you are at least potentially a clear and dangerous threat to that officer’s life.

        Thanks for the honest reply, Mal. I come at this from a different angle, so I’m not at all sure I’m gonna respond in a way that makes sense to, or is relevant to what you wrote, but here goes:

        1) Insofar as the person who plays the cop role feels his life is in danger, then normal laws and procedures ought to apply. That is, there ought to be no extra-special consideration of the “copness” of the individual in determining whether that person’s use of force in response to a perceived threat was justified or not. Normal civilian rules ought to apply, in which case, this cop ought to be on trial.

        2) Insofar as the copness of the person playing the cop role is relevant, then an extra-special “use of force” authorization needs to be justified independently from an appeal to copness. That is, it can’t merely be that the person who was assaulted, or feared for their lives, was a cop that matters, it’s something special about being cop which justifies the use of lethal force when not that person, but that *role* is being assaulted. My question: what the hell is that special property which justifies the use of lethal force when *the role*, rather than the person playing that role, feels threatened? (Or insulted, for that matter.) (And what the hell would distinguish the two?)Report

      • Mal Blue in reply to Stillwater says:

        I don’t think that copness uniquely entitles them to much. Necessarily. I’d have to think on it. But it’s certainly not just copness. Context matters. I do think that being a police officer, or one in a particular situation such as a stop like this is an aggravating circumstance that justifies force, though one of many.

        “I am a police officer and potentially the only thing in between him and going to jail and he was rushing me.”

        “I am a security guard and have the keys to where he is trying to enter and he was rushing me.”

        “I just saw him commit a crime and I’m the only person that did and he was rushing me.”

        “I’m gay and gay people have recently been targeted, he called me a fag, and he was rushing me.”Report

      • Vikram Bath in reply to Stillwater says:

        This post is so meta it’s making my nose bleed.


        Yes, most people might be stupid, but it is sometimes important to nevertheless keep track of what most people think. If you’re ever in the position to influence the behavior of protesters, you’ll have an additional thing to consider.

      • Brandon Berg in reply to Stillwater says:

        Is rushing a police officer such a serious offense that shooting that person in the head two times and in the body four a justifiable response?

        It’s not a question of the seriousness of the offense, but of the threat it poses. I see the word “unarmed” thrown around as if that were proof that he wasn’t a threat, but pretty much any able-bodied man, and certainly one of Brown’s size, is capable of killing another person without the aid of any weapons.

        Do you remember about a month back, when that guy who was hawking cigarettes died after being choked by a police officer? The officer didn’t use any weapons, but the guy’s just as dead as he would be if he were shot.

        The number of shots strikes me as a non-issue. Once an officer has decided that someone poses enough of a threat to shoot, I wouldn’t expect him to shoot once and hope for the best. The time it takes to perceive the results of the first shot, process it, and decide whether to shoot again is time the other guy can use to do whatever the officer was worried he was going to do.

        None of the above should be taken to imply that I have any idea whether the police officer is telling the truth, but certainly I’m more inclined to believe him if it turns out that Brown had indeed committed a robbery recently.Report

      • Stillwater in reply to Stillwater says:


        Your comment makes the same confusion I was pointing out upthread. If the issue is that a person was assaulted, then normal laws and procedures apply. Presentation of evidence in a court and all that, perhaps culminating in a jury trial.

        If the issue is that there’s something special about assaulting a cop (if that’s what happened!), then what’s so special about the assault being perpetrated on a cop that there’s a uniquely identifiable defense in advance of the evidence exonerating that person? Or further, that the cop ought not be put on trial for murder to let a jury decide the matter? What is it about being a copthat not only entitles that role player to the use of (in my mind) excessive force, but legally and morally permits it? I mean, what is that thing?

        Upthread, I offered one possibility: that the threads of peace are so fragile that the mere assault of a cop (if that’s what happened!) threatens the entire social order to such a degree that killing that person right there and then is justified.

        Are we really at that point of social precariousness? And if we are, doesn’t that tell us something about social dynamics which cop violence can’t resolve? But also, are we really willing to sanction the right of cops to shoot people for assaulting them (if that’s what happened!) in any event just to preserve “stability”? I mean, doesn’t it seem more reasonable – politically and practically – to say that assaulting an officer results in jail time rather than your head getting blown off, and that the officer is at fault if he chooses to engage in headshots rather than cuffs? And if not, why not?Report

      • Stillwater in reply to Stillwater says:

        Brandon, in a weird turn of things, I get the feeling that I’m out-libertarianing you on this issue. Which is weird, no?Report

      • Damon in reply to Stillwater says:


        I’m not sure how to respond to your post, and whether you’re mocking me or not, however, I’ll assume not.

        “I’m not sure why a consideration of what “other people” think about the situation, or how they frame it, is relevant to the correct framing of the issue.” Framing isn’t the issue. Framing is perspective. I want to know the facts. Let’s assume the guy charged the cop. Guy is running, told to stop, he stops, turns around and charges cop. Those would be facts. Once I have the facts, NOW I want to know about frame. I want to know the perceptions of cop and why he thought it was necessary to pull his weapon and fire vs pulling a baton or a taser. I want witness statements of the facts. Then I want their perceptions.

        Then we’ll get something close to the truth. Let the chips fall where they may then.Report

      • Kim in reply to Stillwater says:

        Without a modicum of training, it takes a VERY long time for one unarmed person to kill another. Within that amount of time, one can easily rip out their eyes, or do many other nonlethal takedowns — that police are trained to do.

        If police officers killed anyone rushing them, there would be a lot more dead drunken bar patrons.
        We don’t want “too drunk to know better” to be a “yes, you can kill them”.
        Again, this is why we have tasers, why we train police in nonlethal takedowns…

        A gun is not the only thing that a police officer has on him!Report

      • Kim in reply to Stillwater says:

        If you’ve got a reasonable amount of combat training, you can basically deal with a charge — it’s relatively easy to judo that (essentially dodge, throw in trip the guy, or tug him off balance).

        Someone actually wanting to do a real fight is slightly more tricky to deal with — but again, cops are trained in this sort of thing. As far as I know, there’s one blow that will kill someone nearly instantly (drive the nose bone into the brain). That chokehold you’re talking about? That took a while to actually kill him. Backup with a billyclub could easily take down the guy (now, you might have an unconscious cop on your hands, maybe with some brain damage).

        There’s a very real difference in “Threat to Life” between an unarmed man, and a man with even a small knife.Report

      • Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Stillwater says:

        @brandon-berg @stillwater @mal-blue

        From a civilian perspective, a guy rushing at me, who has not in some way previously threatened me with bodily harm, is not a reasonable threat (reasonable does a lot of work here; if I was a 80 year old man with a walker, the reasonable threat posed by a young man rushing me is an order of magnitude different than me as a 40 year old man with a dodgy knee). Even if I asked him to stop & turn around, the act of rushing me is not of itself a reasonable threat. I can step aside at the last second & let him run past, see if he tries to double back for a second rush. This is basic self-defense training every cop should get in the academy & stay practiced with.

        Now, officers as a class have a history of being assaulted by people who want to run. If the guy was rushing the officer, the intent was likely to knock the officer on his ass & buy more time to escape, not actually cause his serious harm; but any such action can result in serious harm or death (cop could fall & fatally hit his head or break his neck), so the officer does have a personal justification to not let the rusher make contact.

        My question, at this point, is when did the cop pull his weapon? Was his gun drawn before Brown turned & rushed, or did he pull it after? Look up Tuller Drill, or just watch the episode of Mythbusters where they covered it. If he had time to pull his gun & aim it, either he is a hell of a gunfighter (unlikely) or Brown was quite a ways away. If he had time to pull a gun, he also had time to pull his chemical spray, or his baton. He could have filled the air between them with spray (hard to charge when you are in pain or your respiratory system just went apeshit). He had time to set to receive the charge with the baton (step aside & deliver a blow to the guy). He had options besides the gun.

        So what makes police special is A) they face a much lower standard for the use of deadly force than a civilian does, & B) As such, they are trained to use deadly force first, because it is more important that the cop go home alive* than he risk himself to try & make sure the suspect lives. I’m going to channel @zic
        here & wonder just what kind of training Ferguson cops get for non-lethal response. Is it cursory, or comprehensive?

        *If only the military had this consideration…Report

      • Kim in reply to Stillwater says:

        what is the military standard? Does it differ for peacekeeping operations?
        How about in an active “somewhat uniformed” combat zone (during the Iraqi invasion, say)?Report

      • Kolohe in reply to Stillwater says:

        Kim, it’s complicated.

        Any military unit has the inherent right of self defense, but after that, it’s entirely dependent on the situation, the commander’s intent, and the overall mission goals.

        This is why ‘peacekeeping’ operations can turn rapidly into soup sandwiches as the circumstances on the ground changes while command & control lags.Report

      • Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Stillwater says:

        Military standard for what? ROE, or safety of members?Report

      • Kim in reply to Stillwater says:

        i’d find both perfectly fascinating.Report

      • Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Stillwater says:


        ROE varies, depending on command goals & the situation at hand. From what I’ve heard from Iraq/Afghanistan, the general ROE is “only fire when fired upon”. Of course this can be superseded during planned battles, ambushes, etc.

        Safety of members also varies. In general, the military strives to keep its personnel alive, as replacing people is time consuming & expensive, and the wanton spending of lives is horrible for morale. However, when it comes to meeting the military & ultimately political goals of command, the desires for personal safety of the members is a distant second to those goals. In other words, your desire to live long enough to go home & hug your kids is not a factor in the decision making process of command, and if that desire interferes with the ability of command to meet it’s goals, if you are lucky you will face court martial & be only able to see your kids through iron bars.Report

      • Citizen in reply to Stillwater says:

        “As far as I know, there’s one blow that will kill someone nearly instantly (drive the nose bone into the brain).”

        Most unsavories have their nose broken to the extent that this doesn’t work. Also if the impact is hard enough it makes the bones of the inner brow poke into the knuckles.Report

      • Stillwater in reply to Stillwater says:



        Heh, thanks for finding some humor in that comment. It was intended that way, anyway. And just so you know, my nose is fully recovered and expects to life a long and fruitful life.


        I wasn’t mocking you, I was agreeing with you.Report

  3. LeeEsq says:

    This is why its difficult to get many Americans to take the 4th, 5th, 6th, and 8th Amendments seriously. The people who are most likely to need them are probably not going to be perfect victims. Its going to rather difficult to find a completely innocent person whose been subject to an unreasonable search and seizure. Many Americans see the 4th, 5th, 6th, and 8th Amendments get found not guilty of crimes because of what they perceive as legal technicalities rather than valid protections against government intrusion. Since the people who are most likely to invoke the above named amendments are going to be at least slightly checkered than violations are not going to be taken seriously by many people.Report

  4. Anderson says:

    Interesting point about lawyers finding perfect victims when filing cases, particularly big-name cases that will move up the appeal chain. The kindly old ladies protesting abortion clinics are another great example of such “perfect-victim-seeking” from this year’s SC case McCullen v. Coakley.

    One could also look at the creation of “perfect perpetrators.” In the 2006 Duke lacrosse rape case, for example, the loud, white, fratty male represented, to the eyes of many on college campuses, the obvious rapist. While many factors went into their prosecution–and eventual overturning–their image played some role in the rush to place blame. On a more relevant note for Ferguson, this “perfect perpetrator” model almost always appears alongside racial and ethnic discrimination/stereotyping. Recall the assumption that the Norway shooter in 2011 was a Muslim radical when, in fact, Anders Biervak was a white fascist.

    Perfect victim and perfect perpetrator images dominate society. Sad to say, but many of these stereotypes arise out of some grain of truth; nothing exists in a vacuum. The difficult questions are: When are we making reasonable assumptions based on past experience? And when are we letting stereotype cloud our judgement?Report

    • Vikram Bath in reply to Anderson says:

      perfect perpetrators

      I hadn’t thought of that. Of course, which demographic makes you a perfect perpetrator will depend more heavily on who is doing the accusing than with victims. I think there is more variety in the ways a person can be a perfect villain than ways in which a person can be a perfect innocent.Report

    • ScarletNumbers in reply to Anderson says:

      Yes, many people, myself included, were hoping that the Duke Lacrosse team was guilty. I’m sure they were guilty of something. Just not rape.Report

  5. veronica d says:

    I was the victim of assault this weekend. And honestly, no point in reporting it, not for a tranny like me. Just suck it up and move on.

    At least I’m alive.Report

    • Burt Likko in reply to veronica d says:

      “A tranny like [you]” has as much right to expect not getting beat up as anyone else. If you were going to say that you expect a degree of shunning, scorn, mockery, and such when you go out that’s one thing. That would be in the “that sucks, that’s b.s.,” category.

      Assault? Actual violence? Maybe the cops don’t do anything about it, you can’t control them. And maybe the cop who takes your report is disrespectful and its’ a chunk of time out of your day that leads to nothing but frustration and humiliation.

      But if nothing else gets accomplished, it gets added to the statistics they accumulate and one day in the future someone can say “Pittsburgh P.D. got x number of complaints about assaults on transsexuals and didn’t do anything about any of them.” As it stands, the correct number in that statement right now is x-1.

      There is a critical mass of complaints somewhere out there, and hopefully that gets reached before it goes from a trans woman getting assaulted to a trans woman getting raped or killed.

      I hope you’re doing well, @veronica-d .Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to Burt Likko says:

        Yes, this. Physical safety, the right to go about your daily existence without threat to bodily harm from other people is one of the most essential services offered by governments. It is a human right that people don’t talk about too much.Report

      • Kim in reply to Burt Likko says:

        What happens to accounts that are not prosecuted for “witness changed their story and is inconsistent”. Do those still reach criminal statistics?

        Because I remember reading that rapes don’t, under those circumstances. Circular file the whole way.

        Not that I’m trying to discourage veronica from talking to the cops, she should.Report

    • I’m very sorry to hear about that, @veronica-d . I hope you’re doing better.Report

    • Mike Schilling in reply to veronica d says:

      That’s horrifying. Both what happened, and that it’s something you feel you have to just live with.Report

    • ktward in reply to veronica d says:

      What @mike-schilling said. Christ almighty, so much wrong here.

      Wish you would/could call the cops, but that can be tricky. Got live friend(s) with shoulder(s) handy? No one here can change how fucked up this is for you, @veronica-d, but I’m pretty sure we all sincerely hope you have someone who can hold you.Report

    • veronica d in reply to veronica d says:

      Hi everyone, thanks for your kind words.

      I’m not hurt. I just got shoved around by a cranky weirdo on the subway.

      In fact, I probably could have beat him up, like, if I were willing to throw punches. But that is too big a risk for me. Who knows what witnesses would choose to say. The “crazy tranny” is a stereotype easy to believe. The dude was an old white guy, maybe an ex-cop, maybe the mayor’s cousin.

      Dunno. In MA they are supposed to put me in women’s jail, but maybe these cops or some judge puts me in men’s jail, and while lawyers fight over it I’m locked up with men.

      In fact, even just calling the cops about what actually happened could backfire. Cops are working class dudes. I’m a fucking tranny. Not worth dealing with them any more than I have to.

      I walked away. I am alive and unraped. That has to be enough.Report

      • Burt Likko in reply to veronica d says:

        Well, I’m frustrated for you. And glad you’re not worse off than you are.

        Fish all, the system needs to be there for everyone. this sucks.Report

      • zic in reply to veronica d says:

        @veronica-d I’m glad you survived.

        My daughter tells me that something like this seems to happen to her every couple of months, too.

        I can report that shiz happened to me in the city on a pretty regular basis, too.

        And I never once reported anything. Perhaps that somehow condones?Report

      • Murali in reply to veronica d says:


        agree with everything the other’s said. The police should be there to protect everyone.Report

      • veronica d in reply to veronica d says:

        @zic — Before I transitioned I read a lot of feminist stuff, and I went into this thinking I was ready. After all, most women get dragged into this world as teens (or younger). I was coming at it armed with theory and an adult mind. I would defend my boundaries. I would stay strong.

        That is not what happened, of course. The first time I was sexually assaulted I just smiled at the guy and brushed it off. The second time, I let the woman do what she was doing and then later cried it out in the bathroom of a club.

        I’m getting better, but I’m finding now if I stand up for myself too much, it goes wrong and gets dangerous fast. Talk back to a man and he will hurt me. Not every man, but it only takes one. And I can fight, but I have no reason to think the cops will see my side — too much danger. If I go to jail —

        Everyone here knows exactly what happens if I go to jail.

        So that’s my life. I walk around with a target. I get abused. I suck it up.Report

      • zic in reply to veronica d says:

        I worry of that extra burden; the wrong jail cell-mates, etc. I worry a lot.

        We had along talk this weekend about the loss of physical strength, something I really hadn’t appreciated before.Report

      • veronica d in reply to veronica d says:

        @zic — Oh the strength loss, totes for real. HRT actually works (which is why all the fuss about trans athletes is bogus).

        On the jail cell thing, CeCe survived, Jane Doe (a teenager) in CT survived, Avery Edison survived. We survive.

        But fuck I don’t want to ever have to do it.Report

    • Stillwater in reply to veronica d says:

      VD, I read this comment earlier and all I could write was vitriol and incivility and so I didn’t post it. It pisses me off that this shit happens, but that point aside I’m glad your OK and can talk about it. That’s all I can say without further self-deletion.Report

    • Vikram Bath in reply to veronica d says:

      Glad to hear you’re OK. Frustrated that you’re probably right about needing to suck it up.Report

  6. Vikram,

    Have you read this post from Popehat? Ken White discusses the issue along similar lines.Report

  7. Mike Schilling says:

    Rosa Parks is another example: someone non-threatening, hard-working, who would stand her ground firmly but peacefully.

    But there are really (at least) two things going on here. One is asking whether imperfect people have the same rights as apparently saintly ones: yes. Another is saying that if you’re going to specifically choose a symbol, you should choose one there are no superficial objections too. That’s just common sense.Report

    • zic in reply to Mike Schilling says:

      Yes; remember: they selected Rosa for her saintliness.

      And remember, too, that when the Civil Rights marchers choose peaceful protest, they conscientiously opted to surrender their right of self defense; again going for that ‘perfect victim’ status. They trained to learn how to not protect themselves.

      This is a really high standard to demand of protesters, too. Particularly given the stuff the cops are prepared to dish out at the slightest hind of non-peacefulness.Report

      • Vikram Bath in reply to zic says:

        Yes, but it might be necessary to be taken seriously.

        The word “rioting” is certainly used in a racially tinged way, but they organized the protests to be truly passive through and through with no exceptions, no one would be able to use the word, and the cause might gain more supporters than now when people can dismiss those protesting as looters. This might not be fair, but it’s what’s actually happening.Report

      • James Hanley in reply to zic says:

        And also the use of children, which–through televised images of them being threatened by police dogs and bowled over with fire hosed–had a big impact on perceptions around the country.Report

    • Also, as I understand, about the same time as Parks made her challenge, an unwed pregnant woman had made a similar challenge, though perhaps not in Montgomery. The activists chose to go with Parks, for many of the reasons Vikram talks about.Report

    • Kazzy in reply to Mike Schilling says:

      What is interesting with regards to Parks is that the narrative that was pushed at the time (for very good reason) has in some ways come to do a disservice to Park, King, and others involved in the CRM.

      I had a middle school teacher who I am still in contact with who was intimately involved in the CRM (she was with Dr. King on the night his house was firebombed).

      For a host of reasons, we have turned the leaders of the CRM into teddy bears. Soft, cuddly, and — perhaps most importantly — non-threatening. This completely undermines the level of thought, planning, calculation, cunning, and brilliance that went into many of their efforts. Mrs. Parks was not just some tired old lady. She knew exactly what she was doing that day. And while there is a certain romance in believing the traditionally trotted out narrative, it also serves to disempower the people. Parks wasn’t brilliant and courageous; she was tired. She wasn’t a leader; she was just in the right place at the right time.

      Revolutions don’t happen by accident.Report

    • Kim in reply to Mike Schilling says:

      The first girl to sit on the bus and not move was a young girl who shortly thereafter turned into an unwed mother (there were three of them, as I recall).

      It’s not the story for the history books, but for the back pages — the incendiary pages that turn to revolution. 😉Report

  8. Mad Rocket Scientist says:

    Good post Vikram.Report

  9. James Hanley says:

    How the press would report on Ferguson if it was in another country. Brilliant.Report

    • Stillwater in reply to James Hanley says:

      Christ that’s depressing.Report

    • Mike Schilling in reply to James Hanley says:

      Complicating matters, President Obama is himself a member of the minority sect protesting in Ferguson,

      and he is extremely unpopular with the majority “whitehetmale” tribe, who consider his rule illegal and frequently threaten a coup to remove him. Most knowledgeable observers believe that all that keeps Obama in power is the specter of his ally and likely successor, the even more hated and feared renegade whitehetmale “Papa Joe” Biden.Report

    • Kim in reply to James Hanley says:

      Do you remember hearing about the civil war in Mexico?
      The media just wouldn’t bother.
      What’s not talked about doesn’t exist.

      (Friend of a friend was there manning the barricades, or I wouldn’t know about it either.)Report

  10. Kazzy says:

    I remember when the Gates affair went down at Harvard. “But he’s a professor!” people-I-was-inclined-to-agree-with shouted.
    “So? We should be outraged at ANYONE being arrested for ‘breaking in’ to his own home,” I replied.

    Even earlier than that, I remember interviewing a black roommate and his white girlfriend for a project on interracial dating. In it, she indicated that her parents objected and she didn’t understand why. “His parents are both doctors.” He nodded along but that never quite sat well with me.Report

    • Gabriel Conroy in reply to Kazzy says:


      I’m aware of a certain line of, well, not “argument” but “emotional reaction” that suggests because he was a professor, and an elite Harvard professor at that, he deserved less sympathy. I was inclined to indulge that particular reaction, but in sober second thought, I know that I’m wrong.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Gabriel Conroy says:

        That’s really interesting, @gabriel-conroy . My experience was generally the opposite: “How could they do this to a professor!” I can understand a backlash to that being, “Why should he get special treatment just because he’s a professor?” I’m surprised — not in an “I don’t believe you” way but a “People are even worse than I imagine” way — that people thought he deserved less sympathy.Report

      • I’m surprised — not in an “I don’t believe you” way but a “People are even worse than I imagine” way — that people thought he deserved less sympathy.

        I guess because I have hung out with a lot of professors, I’m inclined to a knee-jerk anti-professor attitude. (Knee-jerk, but not universal, there are a lot I actually like, and many of them contribute to or comment at the OT.) I admit I’m in the wrong.Report

      • James Hanley in reply to Gabriel Conroy says:

        I admit I’m in the wrong.

        No, you’re not.Report

    • Vikram Bath in reply to Kazzy says:

      “So? We should be outraged at ANYONE being arrested for ‘breaking in’ to his own home,” I replied.

      If you said or thought this at the time, then I’m impressed. Most of us aren’t critical of the relevance of information that tends to point in the direction that we want.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Vikram Bath says:


        I did say it at the time, but I will confess that I don’t think it was something that really resonated with me until I heard the point being harped on.

        If the story was reported as, “College professor arrested for ‘breaking into’ own home,” it might have slid under the radar for me. But when people started to incorporate the “college professor” bit into the “moral outrage” bit, I got uncomfortable and began to think more about it.

        That particular case — for whatever reason — has led me to be much more conscious of these things. I’ve been on a pretty big “Let’s evaluate the acts not the actors” bit since then, in all directions.

        The “lower rungs” of society — however we want to define that term — deserve “justice” — however we want to define THAT term — just as much as everyone else. And, arguably, we might want to pay special attention to the injustices done unto them since they tend to be in worse position to respond. This might be playing into the response that @gabriel-conroy described, whereby which people swung the pendulum the other way and became indignant that Gates was being treated as a special case.

        As far as I see it, it is either right or wrong for cops to arrest someone for the actions that Gates engaged in that night. It is no more or less right because of Gates’s educational background, profession, or standing in the community.Report

      • Do you have thoughts about the discussion now about journalists? There seems to be much more importance and indignation when journalists are herded or arrested than when citizens are.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Vikram Bath says:


        I’ll confess to having not followed the in’s and out’s of the story as much as I probably should have given to some things going on in the personal life (all is well… just busy…).

        The issue with journalists is a tricky one. We afford journalists certain privileges and powers because of the role they play in society. And we should be mindful of protecting those. As I understand things (which is admittedly cursory), it seems that the police are violating everyone’s rights and I am equally appalled by all of it.

        If we were discussing a non-press citizen being kept out of a White House press conference while a member of the press corps was allowed in, I wouldn’t be too outraged by that (though we might want to examine how we define who is and is not a member of the press in this day and age).

        But what is happening in Ferguson strikes me as being beyond the pale for everyone. Of course, should we be surprised when the press zeros in on abuses of their own?Report

    • ScarletNumbers in reply to Kazzy says:


      To be fair, he wasn’t arrested for “breaking in to his own home”.

      He was arrested for disorderly conduct. In other words, he was being an asshole. Which is not to say he should have been arrested in the first place.Report

  11. zic says:

    Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote this:

    Among the many relevant facts for any African-American negotiating their relationship with the police the following stands out: The police departments of America are endowed by the state with dominion over your body. This summer in Ferguson and Staten Island we have seen that dominion employed to the maximum ends—destruction of the body. This is neither new nor extraordinary. It does not matter if the destruction of your body was an overreaction. It does not matter if the destruction of your body resulted from a misunderstanding. It does not matter if the destruction of your body springs from foolish policy. Sell cigarettes without proper authority and your body can be destroyed. Resent the people trying to entrap your body and it can be be destroyed. Protect the home of your mother and your body can be destroyed. Visit the home of your young daughter and your body will be destroyed. The destroyers of your body will rarely be held accountable. Mostly they will receive pensions.

    If you’re black, he’s arguing, you can never be a perfect victim.Report