Your Public Radio > WYPR Archive
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
You are now viewing the WYPR Archive of content news. For the latest from WYPR, visit
WYPR's Senior News Analyst opines on recent Maryland news.

We Can't Assume Brown, Martin Tragedies Are Simply Random

Tom Chalkley

The images are chiseled into our consciousness.

A dead body in the street for hours. Chanting crowds. Whirling tear gas grenades.  The designated calming agent, a black highway patrolman, pleading.

He stood there unarmed. Information and lack of transparency propelled and legitimized the chaos.  Didn’t anyone think prolonged silence might make things worse?

I have not been in Ferguson, but a few questions seem important for further consideration:

  • Was there nothing more police might have said immediately about the shooting of Michael Brown? And why was his body left in the street for hours? Could lack of respect for the community have been any clearer?
  • Why was so much power used immediately to disperse protesters? Did crowd control training come along with the tear gas?
  • Why wouldn’t the black community be demonstrating? Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, a man choked to death in New York, a similar death in Los Angeles. Are we looking at a pattern?
  • And why is there such a division of attitudes: blacks condemning the police action, whites approving of it.
  • If he stole a handful of cigars, Brown allowed himself to become a stereotype of the young black law-breaker.  But maybe he was flaunting that stereotype? We may never know. But did he deserve the death penalty?

  • There is talk now, belated talk, of assessing police responses to challenging situations across the country. What would a survey of “best practices” show – not just for police on the street, but for their leaders?

We can’t assume now that the Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown calamities were simply random.

Your comments are welcome at [email protected].