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Opening Arguments

Race to judgment

An interesting observation:

You know, Walter, back in the fifties, one of my favorite actors – Gregory Peck – played Atticus Finch in the film adaptation of Harper Lee’s great novel To Kill a Mockingbird. Atticus Finch defended Tom Robinson, an African-American man in the deep south who was accused of assaulting a lower-middle class white woman… of course, he was found guilty and he was sent to prison. Along the way, the officers that were holding him claimed that he tried to escape and they shot and killed him…

This [situation in Ferguson] is To Kill a Mockingbird in reverse, isn’t it? We’ve got a white police officer who has been found guilty in the court of public opinion, including the former attorney general and governor of the state who says the Brown family needs justice. What about this police officer’s situation? We don’t know what happened there, do we?

There are some differences, of course, including the obvious one that the power dynamics vary greatly. Tom Robinson was a member of an oppressed minority who was messed with because it was accepted by the domionant culture. The white police officer's cohort is not exactly downtrodden. In most encounters, in fact, they are the ones with the most power. The point about racially-fueled bias creating a rush to pre-judgment is still valid, though.

Actually, the book I thought of was Tom Wolfe's "The Bonfire of the Vanities." We have the black victim who can be elevated to near sainthood and the white villain who can ber punished for all the sins of his ancestors. Perfect narrative, happy media.