published Friday, August 15th, 2014

Cook: To mourn, with no answers

Mementos are left on the steps of a residence in San Francisco which was used in the film of "Mrs. Doubtfire," starring Robin Williams, in this Aug. 12, 2014, photo.
Mementos are left on the steps of a residence in San Francisco which was used in the film of "Mrs. Doubtfire," starring Robin Williams, in this Aug. 12, 2014, photo.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

It was too soon for him to die.

The world was such a better place because of him.

No person should have to suffer like that. We have to start talking about warning signs so that this doesn't happen again.

Now, his family and friends are angry and knees-to-the-ground heartbroken, asking that most terrible question: why?


Why did a young black man named Michael Brown have to die?

Six days ago, Brown was shot to death in broad daylight by police in a St. Louis suburb where most residents are black and most police are white.

He was unarmed.

He was supposed to start community college on Monday.

"It was just horrible to watch," a friend of Brown's told NBC. "It was definitely like being shot like an animal."

The working-class town of Ferguson has since collapsed into rage and sadness: protests inching toward riots -- "the language of the unheard," Dr. King once said -- and police responding with a militarism that makes Jim Crow batons look limp.

"Armored personnel carriers and officers wearing body armor and carrying assault rifles greeted demonstrators," the Los Angeles Times reported. "When the crowd ignored orders to disperse, officers unleashed tear gas and rubber bullets, witnesses said."

But this week, our nation has been mourning elsewhere: over Monday's reported suicide of Robin Williams.

"Robin made me laugh so hard and so long that I cried. It seemed to please him no end," the actor Nathan Lane remembered. "Yesterday I cried again at the thought that he was gone."

So many of us have: Williams was cafeteria-milk-out-the-nose funny, the one we could always trust to make us laugh.

Yet Williams was even better, I think, as the mentor we all long for -- the beautiful Mr. Keating in "Dead Poets Society" and the saving Dr. Maguire in "Good Will Hunting," or as the wounded hero in "The Fisher King."

In some strange and cinematic way, we loved him.

But to concern ourselves more with his death over Brown's reveals the trappings of celebrity culture, which tantalizes us away from reality and into Hollywood pseudo-emotion.

Yes, Williams was brilliant and beautiful, yet dead celebrities (we felt this way just six months ago, when Phillip Seymour Hoffman overdosed) should not bring out more grief than the police shooting of unarmed black men.

"At least 136 unarmed African Americans were killed by police, security guards and self-appointed vigilantes in 2012," DemocracyNow reported, using a 2012 study from the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement.

Even the post-mortems are unbalanced. We know all the intimate details about Williams' death. The way he killed himself. The time. Who saw him last. Was there a note?

We know so much that some claim we know too much: Experts are concerned such an overdose of details may lead to copycat suicides. (There was a 12 percent increase in suicides in the month Marilyn Monroe died.)

Yet in Ferguson, police aren't talking. They've kept quiet the name of the officer who shot Brown, angering many; the tech-activist group Anonymous has threatened to get involved if more details aren't released. (Police, be warned: They've hacked far greater institutions than your municipal sheriff's department.)

Police claim that Brown physically confronted the officer, which led to the shooting. Witnesses say this is untrue, that Brown had his hands up, was shouting at the officer not to shoot.

(What would happen if Michael Brown had lived in Chattanooga? What would happen here when or if an unarmed black teenager is shot?)

Yes, we should mourn both men, for both men contributed to the world around them.

Yet in our dead men's society of America, we seem to grieve some bodies more than others.

"He was funny, silly. He would make you laugh. Any problems that were going on or any situation, there wasn't nothing he couldn't solve. He'd bring people back together," one man said of the deceased.



That's Michael Brown Sr. talking to reporters about his son.

Contact David Cook at or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP.

about David Cook...

David Cook is the award-winning city columnist for the Times Free Press, working in the same building where he began his post-college career as a sportswriter for the Chattanooga Free Press. Cook, who graduated from Red Bank High, holds a master's degree in Peace and Justice Studies from Prescott College and an English degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. For 12 years, he was a teacher at the middle, high school and university ...

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sagoyewatha said...

"The world was such a better place because of him." Where did that come from? "Big Mike" was a bully and a criminal. All that violence and destruction because of did not make the world a better place, it just helped destroy it, turn it into another third-world country look-a-like. "The voice of the unheard," is also the BEHAVIOR of the CRIMINAL! Rioting, looting, burning the business places of honest, hard working people who stay out of trouble and pay taxes and do contribute to society...what about them, David? "We should have a conversation about race." We've had that, over and over again. It did not work. The conversation needs to be about BEHAVIOR, and all the race baiters can stay away.

August 15, 2014 at 11:05 a.m.
zulalily said...

Now we know that the big kid in Ferguson, MO, was a thief and a bully. Not reason enough to shoot him, but possibly reason enough to have attempted to detain him in the street.

August 15, 2014 at 2:06 p.m.
Ki said...

Not necessarily, zula. That grainy video only shows what appears a large black male allegedly stealing and assaulting. It doesn't even remotely suggest where or when the allege event took place. Reminders of Katherine Johnston, the 90+ year old, gunned down by Atlanta police and murdered during a no knock raid on her home. They even went as far as planting drugs at her home and chasing down one of their confidential informants and tried forcing him to say he'd purchased drugs at her home to cover for them. If he'd not come forward with the truth their lie woukd have stuck. In fact there are still people out there to thus day who continue to believe the first false story Atlanta police put out, that Ms. Johnston was selling drugs from her home. It's a tactic police depts.across the nation sometimes use to protect rogue cops they want to retain, because they know the first story they circulate will stick for years even when later proven untrue.

Even if the store video later proves to be true Mr. Brown is said to have had his hands raised in a defenseless/surrender mode, which would still mean the cop shot him down in cold blood. It would be interesting to if there's another file on thus cop and if he's worked at other agencies prior to this one and if so, why did he leave? Some police depts. have been known to keep two files on the cops they hire. A dirty time and a clean one. The clean one is used to present to the media when a cop screws up and the dept. wish to retain them. The dirty file is only pulled out when the dept. has had enough or the cop become such a liability to the dept. that theyre more then eager to get rid of them.

August 15, 2014 at 6:33 p.m.
VisaDiva said...

"yet dead celebrities...should not bring out more grief than the police shooting of unarmed black men." I think this statement implies that one life is worth more than another, and we (I think) all agree that this is not true. The reactions to the two deaths are different. The circumstances were different. How do you measure grief?

August 15, 2014 at 9:34 p.m.
stefan said...

Thank you Mr. Cook for mandating when, and for whom, I may mourn. Obviously I didn't have enough sense to figure this out for myself. All this time, I was sad about the death of Robin Williams, but thanks to you, I realize that was a waste of time. Where would I be without your divine guidance. Please continue to make important choices for me. I now have no idea what to have for breakfast in the morning. I'll be waiting for your directive.

August 15, 2014 at 9:44 p.m.
SPQR said...

Really? What a simpering waste of ink. Brown was a dime a dozen piece of crap.

August 16, 2014 at 12:25 a.m.
Walden said...

David - you talk of the tantalizing sway of Hollywood, and it's propensity to lure us into a state of "pseudo-emotion." I agree. But isn't there also a tantalizing sway at work in the aftermath of the unfortunate shooting of young Michael Brown? I will be the first to admit I do not know the facts involved in this case, who really does, other than the officer(s) and the witness. Perception of facts and actual events has a way of a changing very quickly after an event transpires. Do we honestly believe that this white officer wantonly shot this young man in cold blood while the victim's hands were in the air? Ask yourself, do you really believe he did that? Or are you just hoping that it happened so that your pseudo-emotion can win you some sort of ground in the unfortunate, ongoing struggle between the races that still exists in this country.

August 16, 2014 at 8:17 a.m.
LibDem said...

Ki said..."Some police depts. have been known to keep two files on the cops they hire. A dirty time and a clean one."

It's essential to get plenty of rumors going. We all know the cops are the bad guys.

August 16, 2014 at 8:45 a.m.
Ki said...

Actually, libdem, I learned that years ago from an insider in the field.

August 16, 2014 at 3:39 p.m.
sagoyewatha said...

ki, wish your "insider" had informed you that'THERE IS NO CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHT TO RESIST ARREST' no matter how tall,6'4", how fat, 300+ lbs.,or how stupid, or how tough you think you are. People who think they can just steal cigars to make up the blunts because they don't have a job to earn money do not fit into this society and most have bad endings. You can bs all you want about how criminal is good and cop bad, black good, white bad etc., which is what all race baiters do...we think you should just grab that extra large bag of Cheetos, return to your couch, and watch how tonight turns out. I feel sure the good people of Ferguson will be there to fend off the "OUTSIDERS" who are coming in there to cause all the crime,violence,injury and destruction...none of which is doing anything for Big Mike. The police are obligated to protect and serve, they do not surrender any rights by going through training, and they WILL do that. Anyone who doubts that risks ending up dead in the dirt. Reality is a hard taskmaster...

August 16, 2014 at 6:49 p.m.
Ki said...

Don't know where you get your facts saggyo,, but there's no evidence the victim was even the one who allegedly struggled with Darren wilson , the cop who shot him. And the chiefly is stumbling all over himself trying to backtrack on that store video he released to the media, which had absolutely nothing to do with why Brown was stopped by Wilson.

It would be interesting if the media would do their jobs and ask all the right questions. Such as why did Wilson leave the Jennings Mo. police dept. after only two years with that agency, and was he under investigation for anything at the time he left? If so, what was he under investigation for? When a cop is under investigation by I.A. for some wrongdoing they are advised to resign. That will normally end the investigation and nothing will go in the cop's personnel file that may prevent him from working at another agency or sometimes even being rehired at the same agency at some later date.

August 16, 2014 at 9:43 p.m.
Ki said...

by the way, saggyo', never could stand the taste of cheetos. Can't cops come up with a better phrase than that? Seems all of'em use that phrase.

August 16, 2014 at 10:07 p.m.
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