Michael Brown is dead, shot multiple times by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. On the day he is to be buried, The New York Times profiled the 18-year-old. Included in the 1300-word piece are references to Brown’s taste in music and his poor grades.
“He occasionally smoked marijuana and drank alcohol, according to friends.’’
I attended Malden Catholic High School in Malden, MA. I graduated in 2006 and went on to attend Northeastern University on a generous scholarship. During my second year, I got into a bad car accident and dropped out, eventually finishing my degree at Rutgers in New Jersey. If I got shot by a cop, the aforementioned facts might matter to The New York Times, but not nearly as much as some others.
“He began producing rap songs with friends … He collaborated on songs that included lyrics such as, “My favorite part is when the bodies hit the ground.’’
I’m black, but my closest friends in high school were all white. All but two of them drank. All but one listened to rap music, everything from the vulgar to the high-minded. Most of my friends smoked weed. A few of them sold it. At senior prom, two of my friends offered me ecstasy. Our freshman year, we had a day of mourning to reflect on the death of our hockey team’s goalie, who’d overdosed on prescription meds. But if any of my white high school friends got shot, none of this would matter to The New York Times.
“Brown was not the best student.’’
During college, I dated a beautiful, intelligent, funny girl. She was a pastor’s daughter from northern New Hampshire. She was blond with light eyes, a winning smile, great grades and a good head on her shoulders. She played sports, volunteered in church, and brightened the lives of the people around her. We broke up because her parents and grandmother completely objected to her dating a black man. But then she moved down south and had a baby with a black man. She was no angel. She drank, listened to vulgar rap — I taught her most of the words to Too $hort’s “Freaky Tales’’. She is the proud mother of one of the absolute most beautiful little girls I have ever laid eyes upon. If she were shot dead in her tracks today, The New York Times wouldn’t write about her taste in music, or her drinking. None of that would matter.
“Brown showed a rebellious streak. One time, his mother gave him her ATM card so he could buy shoes, said Brown’s friend, Brandon Lewis. Brown bought himself a PlayStation console.’’
Before I got to Northeastern, I’d never actually seen cocaine, much less seen anyone ingest it. My first night at college, my girlfriend and I roamed the streets looking for a decent party. We found one, thanks to a friend I’d made at orientation. “Matt’’ was a seemingly laid back kid I’d hung out with between mandatory orientation meetings. Here he was, at this party, sniffing line after line of coke off a kitchen counter, in plain view of anyone who entered.
“An aspiring rap artist, he included vulgar lyrics of misogyny and aggression in some of his songs.’’
‘Matt’ had jet black hair and broad shoulders. He was a little over six feet tall. He was also the only white kid I met at Northeastern who knew, much less liked, J Dilla. We both know the words to Dilla’s “Fuck The Police.’’ I’m still Facebook friends with Matt. To hear him tell his story, he got caught with three or four ounces of cocaine in Framingham, cooperated, gave a few names, got two years probation, and never saw the inside of a cell. Matt is absolutely hilarious, sure to keep you in stitches if you have the pleasure of spending more than five minutes with him. Matt still uses and sells illegal drugs. Nothing I’ve just said about him would be likely to make it into a New York Times profile of Matt if he were to die young.
You would likely be told, instead, about his sense of humor, his good looks, his beautiful spouse and his degree from a top flight university. The rest of it? His cocaine use. His taste in vulgar music. It may as well have never even happened.
“He got into at least one scuffle.’’
My best friend is a blonde haired Irish kid from Melrose. My female friends tell me he looks a bit like a retired Backstreet Boy—and they mean it as a compliment. He’s the son of a pastor, makes good money, loves his family, gives back to the community in any way that he can, and will give you the shirt off his back if need be. My mother calls him son, and I love him like a brother. He gave me my first Guinness recently, at a Buffalo Wild Wings in Saugus, and changed my life. Guinness had always looked like a gross, murky waste of my money, but Sean showed me the light. His love of a strong drink almost matches mine. He’s never been in trouble with the law, but my love of Chief Keef is rivaled only by his love of Houston rap vet Chalie Boy. Driving through Texas together on his way back from seminary, we played it incessantly, and we both loved it. If my best friend was gunned down in his suburban neighborhood tomorrow, no one who worked within a half a mile of a news publication would bat an eye at any of this. A story about a white kid who enjoyed Chalie Boy and drinking just wouldn’t make as good a read in The New York Times as a story about a white kid who attended seminary and gave back to his community.
“He lived in a community that had rough patches, and he dabbled in drugs and alcohol.’’
A tall salt-and-pepper haired man I know used to live a hard life. He used to drink until he passed out, snort coke until he couldn’t feel his face, brawl at bars and concerts, fend off the hangover, and get right back to his destructive ways. A few years back, he decided that he’d seen all he needed to see of the world he’d spent decades living in, cleaned up his act, and set out on a path of service. He’s one of the most dynamic, down to earth, caring pastors I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing. He’s also white. If you read about his life in The New York Times, you’d find yourself reading about his acts of service, not his brawling.
“As a boy, Michael was a handful. When his parents put up a security gate, he would try to climb it. When they left out pens and pencils, he would use them to write on the wall.’’
I am no angel. I was a handful as a child. I had more mandated writing assignments, suspensions, detentions, notes home and parent-teacher meetings than anyone – especially my mother and myself – cares to remember. As a teenager I stayed out after football games and worried my mother sick, took the train to Boston and wandered when I was supposed to be at friend’s houses, listened to vulgar rap music, knew and freely associated with kids in gangs, and drank and smoked weed every now and then. I ran through money, crashed cars, brought home girlfriends my mother hated, and had terrible grades.
“In the ninth grade at McCluer High School in Florissant, Brown was accused of stealing an iPod. His mother said she went to the school, eventually showing a receipt to prove the iPod was his.’’
My freshman year at Northeastern, I was living with three white guys on a floor full of white guys and girls. My roommate was told by his hippie girlfriend (who slept in a dog bed in our living room) that I’d stolen some money. Soon everyone on my floor had heard the accusation. I was confronted. The RA was told. It wasn’t enough that I’d worked three days a week and had a mother who pitched me a few dollars when she could. I was accused of stealing. It took pay stubs, letters from my bosses, and letters vouching for my character to beat the accusations. My white roommate, the one whose girlfriend’s accusation put me on the defensive, was later expelled for selling weed.
“Michael Brown, 18, due to be buried Monday, was no angel.’’
I am no angel. But really, no one is. It’s just that some of us also are black.