August 15

Just when we thought the news out of Ferguson, MO was getting more hopeful, the Ferguson PD, apparently trying to confirm their reputation as America’s worst police department, has now endeavored to make this situation even more rancid than it already was. As expected, they finally released the name of the officer who killed Michael Brown on Saturday. They did not, however, release any information on the shooting. No description of the officer’s story, no synopsis of accounts of the multiple witnesses, nothing about the shooting at all.

But there was something else they released: a report on a robbery that occurred at a convenience store some time before. They now claim that Michael Brown was a suspect in that robbery. That they are saying this for the first time is more than a little strange. But it threatens to pull this case back into a familiar pattern, just when it looked like liberals and conservatives could agree on some things.

If you watched the news last night, you would have seen something incredibly heartening in Ferguson. After nights of tear gas and rubber bullets, law enforcement officers stood amid protesters, talking to them, listening to them, even hugging them. There was no violence. And it happened because the Missouri governor told the inept Ferguson police to stand the hell down, and brought in the state highway patrol to bring a little sense to the situation.

Meanwhile, there were signs that a cross-ideological effort to address some of the problems the case highlighted might be a real possibility. Even some conservatives were talking not just about the militarization of law enforcement, but also about the unequal treatment of black people by the police. Rand Paul wrote an op-ed about it. Conservative pundit Erick Erickson, not ordinarily anybody’s idea of a conciliator, wrote a piece essentially pleading with his white audience to care about this (“just because Michael Brown may not look like you should not immediately serve as an excuse to ignore the issues involved”).

That isn’t to say that some conservatives out there weren’t taking a different tack. Fox News’ coverage offered clips of looting on the first night after the shooting running on an endless loop, along with plenty of talk about “riots” and “violent protesters.” However, there was a division among conservatives, with more than a few rejecting the storyline of violent, threatening black people out of control.

But today, after the geniuses at the Ferguson PD put out their new information, plenty of conservatives on Twitter are saying, essentially, “See? Michael Brown was no innocent kid!” (If you want to read some, Jamelle Bouie has been retweeting them.) The same message is no doubt going to show up on talk radio this afternoon. The implication is clear: he had it coming.

We don’t yet know whether the person who took the cigars from that convenience store was Michael Brown. The police officer didn’t know either — if indeed the reason he confronted Brown was because Brown matched a description he had been given of the suspect. But the point is, that’s utterly irrelevant. Being suspected of shoplifting isn’t grounds for a roadside execution.

We have to give credit to the conservatives who were able to step out of the usual divide we so often see in cases like this one, and say clearly that we all should care about the pathologies that affect policing in America. Now that some of their brethren are going to be trying to convince the country that Michael Brown was a thug who got what he deserved, they’ll face a test. Can they stand up for the principles they’ve already articulated, even as the debate gets uglier? Let’s hope so.