Inertial Frame

How the Hunt Went In Ferguson, MO

Posted in Uncategorized by GL on December 25, 2014


On August 9, 2014, Officer Darren Wilson of the Ferguson Police Department encountered a dark fate – a grim, unrelenting, vigorous Fate – in the person of Michael Brown, aged 18. Brown wasn’t yet a man, really, at that age. But he possessed a physical strength capable of emasculating even big men like Wilson; and he had in him an evil vast enough to blot out his own humanity, a murderous shadow over all the human qualities people in his life thought they saw in him. Wilson stumbled under that shadow, almost found his death there…

This is all more or less as Wilson described it in his potboiler pitch to the grand jury.

“You know in Africa…no white man ever bolts.”

“I bolted like a rabbit,” Macomber said.

Ernest Hemingway published his short story “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber” in 1936. The story’s yet another précis of Hemingway’s bullshit pursuit of blood spoor and virtu, with the Macomber of the title pinched, on his African safari, between the ruddy pro white hunter he’s retained (Wilson’s the name) and his own hard, cruel wife.

Mrs. Macomber wears the hard and cruel virtues of the“Memsahib” well, on their trip. But Mr. Macomber is armed primarily in the bush with his cowardice–no matter whether the gun-bearer loads him with the Springfield or the big gun.

But of course Macomber can’t stay the man who was punked by a lion on his Vacation of Shame: he needs a redemption from cowardice, to enter the shadow and to be tried.

“How far is he?” asked Macomber, raising his rifle.

“About seventy-five. Get out and take him.”

“Why not shoot from where I am?”

“You don’t shoot them from cars,” he heard Wilson saying in his ear.

Macomber fires on the lion with “muscles fluttering,” and he hits him a few times. The mighty beast stalks off into the tall grass:

All of [the lion], pain, sickness, hatred and all of his remaining strength, was tightening into an absolute concentration for a rush. He could hear the men talking and he waited, gathering all of himself into this preparation for a charge as soon as the men would come into the grass.

Macomber hauls ass, when the grass stirs; and white hunter Wilson kills the beast. In the refractory period between the shooting, Hemingway makes a little fetish of the way a shot beast keeps coming:

That was the story of the lion. Macomber did not know how the lion had felt before he started his rush, nor during it when the unbelievable smash of the .505 with a muzzle velocity of two tons had hit him in the mouth, nor what kept him coming after that, when the second ripping crash had smashed his hind quarters and he had come crawling on toward the crashing, blasting thing that had destroyed him…

Then the white hunter cuckolds Macomber.

And finally they fall in pursuit of buffalo:

…Macomber fell forward onto his feet, slammed his bolt forward and fired as far forward as he could aim into the galloping, rounded black back, aimed and shot again, then again, then again, then again, and the bullets, all of them hitting, had not effect on the buffalo that he could see. Then Wilson shot, the roar deafening him, and he could see the bull stagger. Macomber shot again, aiming carefully, and down he came, onto his knees.

…and so on. Entering the shadow, the trial of hard experience, involves firing weapons at creatures whose vital murderous energy won’t let them drop–which even draws them to the source of the attack. Bloodthirstiness of the shooter is offset by his limp humanity, when compared with the preternatural, armored drive of the beast/prey. These murderers weigh fear and courage in the act, and thus are truly human.

The narrative of Darren Wilson’s brush with “a demon” in Michael Brown is one for the history books, now. It’s a twice-told tale that is tedious and dehumanizing for many of us, and yet seems compelling for the bodies in culled juries and for folks in white-flight bedroom communities all across America.

The probity of fiction – and not of sworn testimony regarding a fatal shooting as offered to a grand jury – lies in its having been told before: its rehearsal, development, elaboration; the ways in which it has sprung and meandered from its source. A tale springs, meanders, develops…and in this way becomes a better tale. Certain details of common experience proliferate in the tale, come unmoored from time and our senses as true experience never allows, to become timeless objects of contemplation. And the fisullae of true experience, the bits we’ve missed (how do we even know we’ve missed them?), widen to become poetic enigmas evoking awe, fear, regret, etc.

From Officer Wilson’s yarns, we know now that Michael Brown was more vital force and armor than he was human; that he was a weapon in himself. (And in this way Brown is disarmed of his having been unarmed.) Brown’s aura of menace hovered higher than his 6’4″ of bone and muscle–How old was he, exactly? Couldn’t tell. How big? No taller than me, you say? Seems impossible–if only you’d been there…How many times did I fire? I dunno – but he just kept coming…

The human quality rests in fallibility, in fear of death, in fumbling with the Sig Sauer .40 on one’s belt…in shuttling between panic and fear and the resolve to kill. That quality rests in Wilson. The shooter is all-too-human–not least because our species is the one that spins stories, like the weird and counterfactual tales of powerful evil Darren Wilson presented to the grand jury. And these stories encase their own special conditions, their own valuations; and urge moral judgments peculiar to what’s come before in the story.

Officer Wilson’s act of murder blossoms into the tale of Officer Wilson’s Survival Against Evil. The narrative spins Wilson’s acts of bullying, stalking, harassment and assault leading to his fatal violent attack on Brown into…a battle with a Very Bad Guy, the ineffable Michael Brown, uncovered in confrontation with Wilson as a menace. In the story, Michael Brown is essence – his physical destruction is the means for the survival of Darren Wilson. Brown is a wraith of bigots’ bad faith. Human fear is thereby reified. This is the source of thrill and satisfaction some get from the story Wilson has told to a grand jury and to media.

The formerly undistinguished former-Officer Wilson, provincial ne’er-do-well and son of a convicted thief, has distinguished himself.

His testimony is hunting lore.