When I was 17, working a summer job at the track in Saratoga Springs, New York, some co-workers and I managed one night to illegally purchase a case of beer.  We took it out back of the local high school, into a dark area where we thought we’d be hidden, and started drinking.


A police cruiser, on a routine patrol or perhaps alerted by people living near the school, pulled up into the parking lot by the side of the school and spotted us.  We ran, climbing an 8-foot chain-link fence behind the school.

When I got to the top of the fence I heard the police firing shots into the air and commanding us to stop.  I didn’t stop — I vaulted the rest of the way over the fence and ran though a succession of backyards until I’d put the school far behind me, eventually making my way to where I was living without further incident.


I was breaking the law in several ways that night — I’d helped buy beer while under age, I was consuming it in a semi-public place while under age, and I was trespassing on city property.  If this had all happened in a black section of town, if I had been a young black male, I wonder if the police might have felt empowered to shoot at me instead of into the air as I was failing to abide by a lawful police order.


Michael Brown had apparently broken the law in several ways on the day he was shot in Ferguson, Missouri — swiping some cigars from a convenience store, walking down the middle of a street, perhaps failing to abide by the lawful order of a police officer.

You could say he was acting like a thug on that day, just as you could say I was acting like a thug that night in Saratoga Springs — except that no one would have said it of me.  Because I was white, I was just a teenager doing something stupid and irresponsible.  It never occurred to me that I might get shot for running away from the police, for acquiring and consuming beer illegally.


It was a youthful indiscretion, which probably amused the police more than it outraged them — a youthful indiscretion that I was proud, at the age of 17, to have gotten away with.  I knew it was wrong, but at 17 I didn’t care.

Michael Brown paid for his youthful indiscretion with his life — because he was seen and treated as a thug . . . and it’s hard to doubt that he was seen and treated that way primarily because he was black.

6 thoughts on “THUGS

  1. You could say he was acting like a thug on that day, just as you could say I was acting like a thug that night in Saratoga Springs — except that no one would have said it of me.

    I pretty much agree. Buying beer illegally (I tried) isn’t thuggish. Neither is shoplifting (I did, at age 15). Shoving a female store clerk doesn’t rise to that level either, but it makes you wonder what the shover was capable of, and think that the behavior must have come from thuggish role models, of which black teens unfortunately have many.

    But he was still a kid, and the cop who shot him didn’t even know he’d committed that petty crime. What’s a white version of “thuggish”? Maybe shooting a black kid because he’s bested you in a physical confrontation?

    • One of my friends that night in Saratoga ran the wrong way and got caught by the police. When they found out he was just trying to sneak some beers behind the school, not break into it, they let him go with a warning, without pressing charges. Would they have treated a black kid the same way? Doubtful. They would more likely have thrown the book at him, on the theory that he’d probably done or might do other, worse things.

  2. The police over reacted to the first wave of protests with military tactics and created a much worse situation. Now everyone seems to be ready to lynch the police officer as a racist murderer without the benefit of any evidence other than an autopsy. None of us have any evidence of what actually happened between Brown and the officer that led to the shooting. None of us have even heard the officer’s side of the story. All we have heard is a mob screaming for the guy’s head. So, hell, let’s just join them and execute the guy…after all he is a white police officer and he shot an unarmed black kid. Isn’t that all we need to know?

    • It will of course be interesting, and crucial, to hear the officer’s side of the story.

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