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ANGER: Fatal shooting of teen resurrects time-worn tale

The fatal shooting of a black teenager by the police is an old tale, archetypal in its power to tap into a trauma never far beneath the surface of black American life.

The latest version of this old wound opened up in Ferguson, Missouri, a predominantly black town of 21,000.

Black people were once a minority there, but the demographics have shifted in the past decade as white families moved farther away - known as "white flight".

While blacks make up 63pc of the population, Ferguson's leadership and police have remained predominantly white. Out of 53 police officers, three are black.

The details of Michael Brown's death are in dispute. Witnesses say he and a friend were walking home when they were stopped by a police officer for walking in the middle of the street; that the teenager's hands were in the air when the last of several shots was fired.

The police say he was shot during a fight over the officer's gun. The following day, the St Louis County Police said Michael was unarmed but that he physically assaulted one of the police and during the struggle the teenager reached for the officer's gun.


And so the old tale plays out. Michael's parents demand justice; a candlelit vigil erupts into violence; the FBI opens a civil rights inquiry into the shooting; St Louis County Police begins an investigation; the president calls for calm; a moment of silence is held all over America with people, transcending race and class, city and suburb, all in this moment standing in silence with their hands up behind signs that read: "Hands Up! Don't Shoot!"

And there is the oldest, most poignant part of this tale: a black mother, this time Michael Brown's, recounting her version of "black male life is cheap".

"Do you know how hard it was for me to get him to stay in school and graduate? You know how many black men graduate? Not many. Because you bring them down to this type of level, where they feel like they don't got nothing to live for anyway," she said.

Black men are criminalised in America from the moment they come into contact with the powers-that-be, whether they are schools, work or other institutions. It doesn't matter.

The Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights has said that black and Latino students in general are more likely to have less experienced and lower-paid teachers and are more likely to be suspended from school.

Black boys and Latino boys are more likely to be accused of "attitude". This bleeds into the criminal justice system.

And if you think that's an overstatement, just look at the treatment meted out to the president of the United States by Fox News, whose campaign of hatred and vitriol began when it appeared that Mr Obama might actually defeat Hillary Clinton in the primaries in the summer of 2008.

As the Obama presidency proceeded, Fox News became more comment than news.

And why not? Comment is its bread and butter, its reason for existing. In the beginning, the First Lady was attacked for saying - somewhere - that white people were "downright mean". They played that tape over and over until it dawned on them that Michelle Obama was actually quite popular.

You would have thought the killing of Osama bin Laden, America's Public Enemy No 1, would have been given some sort of kudos from Fox. Instead, it accused the president of taking the glory away from the Navy Seals who did the actual deed; an absurd comment to make, but one that found traction with viewers.


Fox is repo rting on the Michael Brown shooting, making sure that "unarmed" is on the screen whenever his name appears. But what you get in the background on continuous loop is the night the town erupted; shots of a group of largely pompous prats calling themselves the New Black Panther Party; who can assure one and all that "guns are not the problem" in relation to the growing militarisation of the police in America.

And so the ground is laid; the template set, a picture drawn of an America out of control and black people in general as part of the problem.

If the police of Ferguson are Fox News watchers, they'd see the world around them, the growing black population, as something that needed to be controlled, contained, culled.

Fox News is not the fount of all evil, but it looks the other way as America's darkness emerges and it gives that darkness succour and space.

It has made that night in November 2008, when a young black man and his family stood on a platform and thanked the nation for the "American Dream", into a kind of lie.

Bonnie Greer is a US writer and critic