The right-wing media are confused. After a grand jury failed to indict Officer Darren Wilson for the shooting death of Mike Brown in Ferguson, they felt the rush of vindication and could finally voice their full-throated disgust at black “thugs” like, in their eyes, Brown and the Ferguson protesters. But within hours after a grand jury refused to indict Officer Daniel Pantaleo for the choking death of Eric Garner in Staten Island, the same pundits and pols—shocked at video showing Garner repeatedly pleading for his life—had to make an arthritic 180-degree turn to give Garner and the “I can’t breathe” demonstrators a moral pass. That hurt.
Of course, there are major differences in the Garner and Brown cases—in the deadly weapon used, the men’s alleged crimes, the tone of the demonstrations and, in the Garner case, the presence of videotape. For the right highlighting the differences is the easy part. The hard part is, first, to ignore the similarities—white cops killing unarmed black males, including 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland, armed with only a toy pellet gun. And, second, to maintain the all-important narrative that liberals are reverse racists for unfairly charging conservatives with racism.
The pain of pivoting from “Mike Brown, bad” to “Eric Garner, acceptable” has perhaps been most evident in Joe Scarborough, whose Morning Joe show is as much about the struggle within his own psyche as about real-world events.
On Monday, before the Staten Island grand jury decision came down on Wednesday, Scarborough was exploding at Mike Brown and the whole “Hands up, don’t shoot” crowd. Scarborough insisted (video below) that the left had made Brown a “hero,” and he likened the slain teenager not to Trayvon Martin but to George Zimmerman, who fatally shot Martin in 2012 and who Scarborough called a “thug.” (“No one has said Mike Brown was a hero,” NBC legal analyst Lisa Bloom tweeted in response. “What we have said was that we don’t give the death penalty to shoplifting teens.”)
The next day, Scarborough unleashed more of his considerable fury at the whole Ferguson movement and at anyone who dared to make the “Hands up” gesture, as three Democratic congresspersons did on the floor of the House and five Rams players did on the football field. They lie, said Joe, all of them!
But these players can suggest that the St. Louis cops shoot black youth with their hands up in the air? That’s cool with the NFL? That’s cool with the St. Louis Rams? That’s cool to suggest that St. Louis police officers in the town, probably a lot who go to the games and watch the games and are fans, the St. Louis Rams think it’s cool for them to suggest that St. Louis cops shoot young black men who had their hands up in the air when we know that was a lie? It’s a lie. And what was that gesture on Capitol Hill? More people like going, it doesn’t matter whether it’s the truth or not, I’ll suggest cops shoot people with their hands up in the air. What is wrong with this country?!