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When Darren Wilson dropped his secretive mask in an exclusive interview on ABC, the world saw an unremarkable face. Wilson is a common man with a forgettable face and build; he is elevated by his police uniform, badge and gun into someone who “matters.” This is the greatest power of the police uniform—the ability to transform a small man into someone important.
When asked about his deadly encounter with Michael Brown, Darren Wilson told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos that he “has a clean conscience” and no regrets.
Some might respond to those comments with the conclusion that Wilson’s confidence in his deeds is a sign of sociopathy. Others might read Wilson’s comments on ABC and his grand jury testimony as evidence of his racism and a casual disregard for the lives of black people. That conclusion is much more compelling, as it is factually grounded in Wilson’s expressed beliefs that Michael Brown was a “giant negro,” a “demon” with superhuman speed and strength who grunted like a feral beast and possessed the ability to resist bullets.
Ironically, Darren Wilson’s answers to Stephanopoulos that “he was doing his job,” and would do nothing different if given the opportunity, are the most honest claims in an investigation and jury process riddled with impropriety, conflicts of interest and corruption.
Police officer Darren Wilson is not a monster; he is the mundane and day-to-day face of white supremacy as experienced by people of color in the United States.
Liberals would love for Wilson to be a monster or some beast from the beyond, a caricature of deranged whiteness, because he could be vanquished, one more shadow of the past forced into the light and out of the public square.
Conservatives would also love for Wilson to be a monster. He would be an outlier that the white right could use as proof that racism is largely nonexistent in American public life and that people of color are unreasonably obsessed over the uncommon and rare.
Darren Wilson, who is not a monster, is the human embodiment of an institutionally racist society that devalues the lives of black and brown people. The criminal justice system is one of the primary means through which white supremacy is maintained, furthered and enacted. Wilson, like many millions of fellow officers, is a mere cog in a system of institutional racism and white supremacy.
Monsters can be killed with relative ease; dismantling centuries-long racist social norms, bureaucracies and laws is a far more difficult task.
The mundane truth that Wilson “was just doing his job” of enforcing a white supremacist racial order when he killed the unarmed Michael Brown, is a constant in American history.
In the United States, modern police departments can trace their origins to the slave patrols whose job was to intimidate, bully, capture, and if necessary kill black slaves who dared to flee the plantation and forced servitude. Police were the strong-arm paramilitary forces of Jim and Jane Crow and its system of racial terrorism. After the end of the formal slavery regime in 1865, African Americans were subjected to imprisonment in slave labor camps under the convict lease system, through which white industrialists and the state benefited from stolen labor.
During the post-civil rights era and the age of Obama, black and Latino youth are subjected to racist (and unconstitutional) stop-and-frisk harassment searches by police.
As Michelle Alexander and others have documented, the American criminal justice system is racist and class-biased at every level from the initial police encounter through to trial and parole. As Yale University’s Vesla Weaver has demonstrated in her work on “custodial citizenship,” black Americans who are innocent of committing any crimes are much more likely to be stopped and harassed by police than white Americans who are actual criminals.
In continuity with the above examples of white supremacy and racism as historic and contemporary features of the criminal justice system, Darren Wilson—like the convict lease system, prisons that hire out black and brown labor at below-market prices, and private property confiscated by police from innocent citizens and others—has shown that black life is cheap, but killing and exploiting black people is remarkably lucrative.
Darren Wilson received hundreds of thousands of dollars in blood money. The homicidal ideation of Darren Wilson’s supporters for his killing of Michael Brown, and their racist paranoia translated black flesh into lucre and financial security. The mundane nature of that transaction is central to American political, economic and social history along the color line.
White Americans are seemingly aghast at, and shocked by events like the killing of Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, and so many other unarmed black men and boys by police and white-identified vigilantes. White privilege allows them to feign surprise and shock in response to what are the lived experiences of black and brown people in the United States. And by design, white privilege is a bubble that allows its owners and participants to live in a fantasy world of their own making.
Research suggests that even when white people are made aware that the criminal justice system is racist against black people, their support for those policies remains intact. White support for a racist criminal justice system is a function of a deeply held beliefs that black people are a unique race of criminals and a profound threat to white society. Here, the human rights of black and brown people are made secondary to white racial paranoia and old-fashioned bigotry.
Who made Darren Wilson and his quotidian racism and violence against Michael Brown? He is the product of a white America, drunk on law-and-order fantasies, and with a deep historical and cultural bias toward black people’s humanity. Darren Wilson and cops of his ilk are the guard dogs for White America. White America worships them as public servants who are there to protect and serve.
But what happens when that prized guard dog turns and mauls a white child? White America will have no excuse for surprise and upset. The Darren Wilsons of the world are their creation.