Why do we build monuments? What purpose do they serve?
Consider the Lincoln Memorial. In its dignity and power, it reminds us of the worth of the man, the right man for the right time. It shows us what we might accomplish, to what we must aspire, and for what we have to be grateful—that such a man lived and perhaps, when we need them most, such men will rise once again to the occasion. Above all, it reminds us of what it is to be an American, of the legacy of the rule of law, mercy, altruism and acceptance of responsibility, the responsibility to preserve liberty for future generations.
We also build memorials to encourage the young to recognize the accomplishments and sacrifices of great men and women. We hope that they will value the qualities of character that led, even compelled, those memorialized to greatness. We hope our young will be moved to those qualities, to those heights of character.
We build memorials that all may see, in materials that may stand the test of time as we do not, what we believe the best of us have been and may be.
And then there is Michael Brown. MSNBC has the predictable story:
A memorial that grew from the spot along Canfield Drive in Ferguson, Missouri where Michael Brown Jr. lay bleeding after being shot by a police officer last summer became a symbol of the young man’s life and death, but also the violent end that too many black men in America face.
The memorial cropped up soon after Brown’s killing and grew to include dozens of teddy bears, flower bouquets, balloons, baseball caps and candles. For the better part of a year since Brown’s killing the memorial and another that formed around a telephone pole a few yards away, were ubiquitous reminders of the teen’s death, a ripple of soft sentiment amid the shockwaves of protest and outrage.
At the request of the city of Ferguson, the memorial was removed on Wednesday afternoon as part of a plan to repave that forlorn stretch of Canfield Drive.
‘We understand this situation is not easy for all parties involved,’ Mayor James Knowles III said in a statement. ‘This event will forever be a part of Ferguson’s history – but it is important that the community moves forward.
So for a year, numerous people have left teddy bears—I’m not sure of the symbolism of that—baseball hats, candles and other items around a light pole to commemorate Michael Brown?
Brown’s father, Michael Brown Sr., joined Mayor Knowles at a press conference earlier in the day at the Ferguson Community Center to essentially give his blessings for the removal. City officials hope the removal of the memorial will mark a moment to move forward.
‘He would have been nineteen years old,’ Brown Sr. told reporters during the press conference. ‘Not a day goes by that I don’t think about how I can help other young men to go forward in life.’
A more permanent memorial—a metallic dove and plaque— will be placed on the side of the road not far from the site of the old one, paid for by the owners of the Canfield Greet Apartments, according to the city.
Shortly after noon on Wednesday, as a slow rain fell, Brown Sr., the Mayor and other city officials made their way to the site of the memorial. They were joined by members of the National Urban League who agreed to store the remnants of the memorial at a local storage unit. Brown Sr., wearing a hooded sweatshirt with his son’s name emblazoned on the chest and an image of the boy’s face spread across the back, helped load the items into the back of a U-Haul.
At one point, Brown Sr. held up a large bronze plaque dedicated to his son.
It read, in part: ‘I would like the memorial of Michael Brown to be a happy one. He left an afterglow of smiles when life was done.’
‘This is permanent for the memory of Mike Brown and what happened to him at Canfield,’ Brown Sr. said, staring down at the plaque. ‘Today is his birthday so it really means a lot.
One can’t help but to feel sympathy for Brown’s father, who appears to have at least something of a grip on reality. However, it would have been far more helpful to the Brown family if they had exercised parental supervision over Mike, who ended his life as a daily pot smoking thug, and felon. The Brown family, by violently fighting over the meager revenues of Michael Brown merchandise, is not necessarily setting a worthy example for helping other young men “to go forward in life.”
Jeff Small, a spokesman for the city of Ferguson, said the removal of the memorial on Canfield Drive was a result of months of planning and discussion between the city, the owners of the apartment complex and Brown’s family.
‘This was not the city saying move this stuff,’ Small told msnbc. ‘This was all done after months of ongoing discussion… with all those involved saying this makeshift memorial in the middle of the street was not something that anyone wanted to see for a very long time.’
Small said the removal of the memorial was done with the family’s blessing.
‘It was done in a dignified way so I thought that was respectful,’ said Tony Rice, a veteran activist of the Ferguson protests, who watched the memorial be taken down piece by piece. ‘But I don’t think the plaque is enough. The old memorial symbolized the epicenter of where black lives actually matter. If you ever needed to question how much people care about an 18 year old black man’s life you could point to that memorial.
The “black lives mater” slogan has proved to be a racist rallying point. No one has said that black lives don’t matter, but those observing that all lives matter have been viciously excoriated. According to Mr. Rice, a “veteran activist of the Ferguson protests,” “the old memorial symbolized the epicenter of where black lives actually matter.” If I had any idea what that meant, I could comment on it. What is, however, particularly ironic is that such slogans argue for social justice, which is the antithesis of the rule of law, of equal justice for all.
Rice said the sheer size of the old memorial offered a symbol that mothers and fathers of young black children could use as a teaching tool.
‘When you didn’t see people out there protesting they could say this is what they left behind,’ Rice said.
Since this is MSNBC, I can only imagine they thought Rice’s comments to be particularly profound. As a teacher of high school English, I’m relatively adept at interpreting what students intended to write but fell short in actually writing. I confess I have no idea what Rice intended to say with his last comment. Who, for example, are “they,” and what did they leave behind? Teddy bears? Candles? Baseball caps?
We are left with trying to understand exactly what is being memorialized. Michael Brown did nothing at all noble or memorable. He was a drug-addled thug who, after robbing a convenience store of cheap cigars he intended to use to smoke more pot, assaulted and tried to kill a police officer, who lawfully defended his life and killed Brown. Brown lay in the street for about 4.5 hours as the police did precisely what they should have done: protected the scene and collected all possible evidence, as idiotic, uneducated mobs harassed and threatened the officers doing their best to ensure the criminal justice system worked as it must if the rights of all are to be upheld. In fact, it was their racially-fueled harassment of the police that prolonged the process.
A massive local and federal investigation conclusively demonstrated that Officer Darren Wilson not only did nothing wrong, he acted entirely within the letter and spirit of the law, and for that he lost his job and career, and continues to face death threats as he lives in hiding with his family. Those investigations also demonstrated something that should embarrass and shame any community: far too many members of Brown’s race were willing to tell any lie to send an innocent man to jail, even potentially to see him put to death for the crime of upholding the law and defending his life. Why? Hatred of the police, particularly white police officers, and an unthinking identification with the worst criminals of the same color—their color.
Those investigations also conclusively demonstrated, as did the many photos suffusing the Internet of Brown making obscene gestures, flashing gang signs and smoking pot, that Brown was anything but a role model. His death inspired nothing but violence: rioting, looting, arson, even attempted murder. It was an excuse for lowering the black community to barbaric levels, and attracted professional racial grievance mongers and criminals from around the nation. Among its lasting images are local young black men angrily demanding jobs from the same businesses they burned to the ground lest they burn even more to the ground.
Within months, Ferguson’s property values dropped more than 50%, and the overall financial loss to the community remains incalculable. Even today, agitators regularly try to relive the glorious and self-righteous anger of the days after Brown’s entirely justified death, by keeping alive the many lies it spawned.
What then, as Rice suggested, will black parents use as a “teaching tool” for their children, and what will they be taught? What does the example of Michael Brown hold for future generations of children, black or any other color?
Child: Mommy, what’s this?
Parent: It’s a memorial plaque for Michael Brown.
Child: Who was Michael Brown?
Parent: He robbed a convenience store, tried to kill a police officer, and got killed.
Child: Oh. That’s bad.
Parent: Yes it was.
Child: So why does he have a plaque?
What is being memorialized in Ferguson is the attempt to keep alive racial hatred, “hand ups; don’t shoot,” and futile attempts to blame a white policeman for daring to enforce the law on behalf of everyone, and to defend his life. Surely those that loved Brown can’t be faulted for wanting to memorialize him, but the proper place for that is a cemetery. For some, admitting they were wrong and that Michael Brown, and those who tried to turn him into a racial martyr, were fools and racial grievance agitators is impossible, so they seek to manufacture something noble and memorable out of an incident that demonstrates only the inevitable, destructive results of drug use and criminal stupidity.
That’s a fate to which all races may fall prey. None deserve a public memorial, a monument to a lie.