The New York Times informed us that Michael Brown was “no angel.” When to be young and black is to be guilty until proven innocent, black children must be “angelic” just to be deemed worthy of living.
The Times initially defended its “no angel” assessment of Michael Brown’s young life, which ran on the day of Brown’s funeral. National editor Allison Mitchell said the description connected to the lead paragraph about a moment when Brown thought he saw an angel, and that the article would have been written the same way if it had been about a young white man in the same situation.
The Times eventually apologized, but the article is typical of a media pattern of treating white suspects and killers better than black victims. The pattern was so evident in the media narratives around Brown’s death that black Twitter users responded by posting side-by-side pictures of themselves under the hashtag #IfTheyGunnedMeDown, to underscore the power of the images the media uses to portray black victims.
The ritual now follows every police killing — or extra-legal killing — of an unarmed black male. It starts with the formation of a narrative against the victim, as when rumors that Trayvon Martin stole the candy and iced tea found near his body spread across social media. Even video footage of Martin making his final purchase couldn’t quell rumors of his criminality. Martin’s suspension from school, marijuana use, and social media profiles became fodder to “prove” that he must have deserved to die as he did.
In Michael Brown’s case, the ritual began when Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson (above) named Darren Wilson as the officer who shot and killed Michael Brown, while simultaneously releasing video of Brown’s alleged “strong-arm robbery” at a local store moments before his death.