What Killed Michael Brown?

Michael Brown was killed in Ferguson, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis, on August 9, 2014. He was shot by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson. Michael Brown was black. Darren Wilson is white. The shooting led to widespread protests, some of which turned into riots. The incident prompted two federal investigations by the Obama administration and contributed to national discussions about policing. (Wikipedia article)

The killing of Michael Brown led to the protest slogan “Hands up, don’t shoot.” Wilson said that he shot Brown in self-defense. Some witnesses said that Brown had his hands up and said “Don’t shoot” before Wilson shot him. Other witnesses contradicted this account and said that Brown charged Wilson. A grand jury declined to indict Wilson. The federal investigation concluded that Wilson’s claim of self-defense was supported by considerable credible evidence and refuted by no credible evidence. (source: the Wikipedia article linked above and the U.S. Department of Justice report)

The documentary film “What Killed Michael Brown?” analyzes this shooting, including what led up to it and the aftermath. The film’s tag line is “When Truth Becomes A Lie & When A Lie Becomes Truth,” referring to the false narrative of “Hands up, don’t shoot.”

What Killed Michael Brown?” was produced and directed by filmmaker Eli Steele, and written and narrated by his father Shelby Steele. They are both black. Dr. Shelby Steele is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. The film was released in October 2020 – in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, a little over four months after the death of George Floyd, and a month before the 2020 presidential election.

What killed Michael Brown? Was it racism? Shelby Steele spends the first half of the documentary making the case that it was NOT racism. In the remainder of the film, he makes the case that it was liberalism. The last 12 minutes or so bring it all together. Quote from 1:38:15:

The liberalism that came out of the 60s has proven to be a more insidious oppression than either slavery or Jim Crow segregation. Those oppressions confined your person. Liberalism wants your very soul. It wants you to be a grateful and mindless captive, but a captive nonetheless.

“The liberalism that came out of the 60s” refers to President Johnson’s Great Society and similar government programs, including the “war on poverty,” public housing programs, and affirmative action. Others might use a different word or phrase than liberalism, perhaps social justice movement. Whatever the label, the idea that Shelby Steele conveys is that government programs that were intended to help black people, in fact, had the opposite effect. Instead of raising up black people, they diminished black people – to the point where Michael Brown felt little self-worth.

In other words, Shelby Steele says: yes, it is “the system” that killed Michael Brown. But it is not the historical system of racism that existed in this country. It does not go back to 1776 or 1619. It manifests in government programs that began in the tumultuous 1960s. It is a modern system built in my lifetime primarily by well-meaning white people.

After you have watched the documentary, I recommend watching two episodes of “The Glenn Show” about the film. Glenn Loury is a professor of economics at Brown University. A frequent guest on his show is John McWhorter, a professor of linguistics at Columbia University. Both men are black, but not of the same generation. Dr. Loury is 72 while Dr. McWhorter is 55.

  • What Killed Michael Brown? | Glenn Loury & John McWhorter – in this episode, the two men discuss the documentary by Eli and Shelby Steele which had just come out. Several topics are covered during the show; the discussion about “What Killed Michael Brown?” is from 28:39 to 46:00.

“What Killed Michael Brown?” and “The Glenn Show” present views on race and racism that are not talked about much in today’s mainstream media. Recommended.

You can stream “What Killed Michael Brown?” on Amazon Video here and on Vimeo here. DVD and Blu-ray discs can be purchased on the film’s website here. The image above, showing 28-year-old Darren Wilson and 18-year-old Michael Brown, is from the DVD case. Used with permission.

See the trailer for “What Killed Michael Brown?

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