Protest Slogan Ethics, Lies As Enlightenment, And “Hands Up! Don’t Shoot!”

Witness 128...

Witness 128…

Today’s Washington Post Fact Checker column finally weighs in on whether of not “Hands Up! Don’t Shoot!” is a lie.  I won’t keep you in suspense: Of course it is.

As I had no ideological reason to pretend that it was otherwise, I identified the phrase as such last November. Since then, it has been wielded by athletes, journalists, members of Congress, protesters, talking heads, professional athletes, and pop stars, while contributing to getting some police officers shot. There was no need for this verdict to take so long. “Better late than never,” you say? How about better responsibly on time, as in when the facts were available to anyone with the integrity to reject a useful catch-phrase that was without basis in fact?

For some reason this is not the regular Post Fact Checker. Maybe Glenn Kessler, a partisan who makes a reasonable  effort to overcome his biases, couldn’t get around them this time, or is sick or dead or something. This Fact Checker is Michelle Ye Hee Lee, and she hardly leaves any room for doubt as she lays the blame for the whole scam squarely on the head of the late Mike Brown’s pal, Dorian Johnson, a.k.a. Witness 128. To be fair, “Hands Up” was not a lie for those who used it profligately after Johnson’s false accounts, for they sincerely, if recklessly and negligently, believed it to be true. This was Johnson’s lie, and though it was obviously self-serving, and though he was as unreliable a source as it was possible to be, confirmation bias allowed all of these good people—well, some of them are good—-beginning with Brown’s parents, to accept it as truth. It was easier for them to believe that white police officers gun down unarmed, gentle giants in the street for no reason other than their color than to question the word of Brown’s scuzzy, criminal friend.

Now that we have relative consensus that the “narrative” was fiction, we need to consign another misconception to the ash heap of history. Lee writes:

“It is important for us to note that the initial “Hands up, don’t shoot” chant after Brown’s shooting has evolved into a message that is no longer connected solely to the Ferguson event.”

No, it hasn’t. This is a popular argument, and it is an endorsement of perpetuating lies and the damage they do long after lies have been exposed. It is a lazy, unsupportable position, and at least some of those advocating it want to keep using the lie because they want as many people as possible to keep believing it.

If no young black man  did and said “Hands Up! Don’t Shoot!” before being shot by the police while he was clearly surrendering, then any protest suggesting otherwise by using the slogan deserves no respect or credibility. What does “no longer connected solely to the Ferguson event” mean? The slogan must be connected to Ferguson. Its Ferguson connection is a lie. Remove Ferguson from the equation, and the catch phrase and hashtag is moored to nothing, and makes no sense. Its power and ability to evoke emotion is entirely based upon Ferguson, and the horrible injustice, indeed, cold blooded murder, that eager civil rights activists assumed, and because of the political leverage it gave them, wanted to have been committed there.

That catchy slogan has accomplished nothing but wrong. It has ruined a young police officer’s life; its has caused riots that cost lives and the businesses of innocent people; it has divided the races and the nation; it has confused and misled the public and the news media. There is nothing good, useful, fair or responsible about “Hands Up! Don’t Shoot!” The use of the slogan for any purpose other than to teach the lesson of how rumors and lies can cause unimaginable injustice and tragedy is indefensible.

I was recently making this point to an African American friend who violently disagreed. At one point I asked her, “How would you feel if opponents of President Obama used “Born in Kenya” as a rallying cry, and if challenged, replied that they didn’t believe that the President wasn’t a natural born citizen, but that the Truther reference no longer was related to question over the President’s birth certificate, and was now a catchy rallying cry for those who believe that his policies are not in the nation’s best interests?” She sputtered that it wasn’t the same thing. “How is it different?” I asked.

She could not find an answer, and that’s because there is none. Both are lies that biased activists wanted to believe. Now that the lies have been debunked, using them as a rallying cry for  alleged “broader causes” is a cynical and sinister way to plant distrust and anger, and to keep the germ of the lies alive, like the preserved Spanish Flu virus.

You cannot use a lie to advance the truth, and regardless of a crusade’s validity and importance to society, if it begins with and is sustained by lies, the crusade is fatally corrupted.

“Hands Up! Don’t Shoot!” was a lie, is a lie, and will forever be a lie that cannot be untethered to the Ferguson tragedy that spawned it, and that was made worse as a result of it. No activist, organization or protest that continues to employ the slogan is worthy of attention or respect.

35 thoughts on “Protest Slogan Ethics, Lies As Enlightenment, And “Hands Up! Don’t Shoot!”

  1. What an inventive way to keep using any slogan you want!

    A: “Women earn only 77% of what men do!”
    B: “Actually, the study that came from was debunked years ago.”
    A: “Don’t you know that statement has evolved into a message about equality in general, you sexist pig?”


    • Hey, but a large number of lefties on this blog have all pushed the notion that by some sort of magic the “bigger picture” narrative is what is important. Except that black guys aren’t being shot and killed willy nilly after surrendering in this country….

      • I am still shaking my head about the guy I just banned, who said that the “hands up” narrative was a trivial “factoid” compared to the report on Ferguson police practices. Because of the lie, Ferguson was made into the national scapegoat for practices that are rampant all over the region, as we discussed here months ago, in September. Because Holder is a racialist, the whole matter was distorted as a racism problem, when it is far, far more complex than that. Making the issue just racism makes “the base” happy but also makes solutions even more elusive than they already are. I wrote:

        “The systems of municipal funding, justice and law enforcement are virtual dictated by the poverty and demographics that make an ethical system impossible…indeed, any ethical system would be irrational and guaranteed to fail. Balko describes a toxic, horrific recipe for social dysfunction composed of poverty, ignorance, conflicts of interest, desperation, incompetent city planning, unethical police work, law enforcement quotas, white flight, distrust, public apathy, exploitation and more. Nothing makes sense, except the fact that the system doesn’t work, because no such system could. The living conditions Balko describes make those condemned to them angry and on the verge of a breakdown or violance. I felt like I was risking my sanity just reading about what they must live through.”

        A good reporter had looked into the context of Ferguson and found a systemic problem, but the media, civil rights activists, race-hucksters and Holder had to demonize a young police officer and push to have him tried for a murder he did not commit to get around to paying attention.

        It’s really a disgusting story. It alone makes a 50% “We LIKE how the country is being run” poll result a reason for despair.

  2. I point you to the real story where “hands up, don’t shoot is real”

    I’ll point out one other item not brought up in the article coverage – the DA who handled the case never once indicted a police officer in 25 years in office. He was the son of a police officer. If you read the grand jury transcripts the DA lead the jury away from an indictment. The officer was following ‘policy’ and it was the department’s fault because of the policy.

    • I think it’s necessary to point out that in order for the system to function we need to give the police the benefit of the doubt, except in cases where the proof in overwhelming and obvious. You have to remember, these are people. And they are people we have tasked with getting up in the morning, strapping on gear, and putting themselves into the middle of (often) violent situations. If they had to face fear of recrimination every time someone was hurt, it would completely negate their ability to do their job. It’s why I’m in favor of body cams, it would remove a whole lot of uncertainty. My point is that your inference that the DA is biased because of a lack of charges brought against officers probably isn’t fair.

  3. I would question your judgment in accepting ANYTHING the Portland newspaper publishes as fact. Their notable bias is known and indisputable.

    • I’m not basing it on what the paper is reporting, I’m basing it on what is in the grand jury report. I read it. Have you?

      I’m confident that there should be several cops who went to jail in this episode.

      • Confident as you might be, a Grand Jury and the Department of Justice disagree with you in both cases. An arbitrator in Portland even gave the fired cop his job back. I am not defending that particular decision, but it at least suggests tempering confidence with humility before condemning “several cops” to jail.

  4. Whenever I go back East, I can’t talk politics or social issues with any of my college era friends who still live in the Northeast. If I don’t toe the line, I’m regarded as if I come from outer space. It’s very depressing. I’m an idiot because I don’t despise everything conservative or non-Democratic and dutifully embrace all things “progressive.” So when I hear someone say “We have to have a conversation about fill in the blank,” I know it’s not going to be a conversation, it’s going to be either a lecture or a tent revival. If an opposing view is proffered, the conversation is going to be so brief it will be virtually non-existent. My most recent experience ended with “You mean you don’t believe in global warming????” being screamed at me when I said I had some serious questions about human caused global warming. End of conversation.

    Jack, I’m amazed you call people out on these sorts of goofy “narratives” and so forth in face to face conversation. I just don’t any more.

    • It’s like the old joke about the goofy guy in the bar. A beautiful woman comes in, and he immediately sidles over to her. Soon, leering, he whispers something in her ear. She gasps, slaps him, throws her drink in his face, and breaks the glass over his head. She stalks out. He’s still dazed and bleeding when another woman comes in. He repeats his routine. When he whispers his proposition in her ear, she jumps to her feet, knocks him off the barstool, and stomps on his face. She’s a bodybuilder, it turns out, and uses all of her muscles to waste him. Bruised, beaten, bleeding from his ears, he crawls into a corner.

      Yet a bit later, when another lovely woman comes into the bar, he’s at it again. This time, his impertinent question enrages the woman, a martial artist, that she beats the poor fool almost into unconsciousness. He sits slumped against the wall.

      “That happens every day,” marvels the bartender.

      “Why does he keep doing it?” asks a patron in amazement.

      “Well, sometimes a woman says “Yes.” the bartender shrugs.

  5. … regardless of a crusade’s validity and importance to society, if it begins with and is sustained by lies, the crusade is fatally corrupted.

    Where on Earth did you get that idea? Don’t the world’s many successful revolutions and successful religions, many of which have mutually incompatible bases (so they can’t all be right), show that at least some thrive despite such foundations? That also applies to those that eventually fell, if they fell for unrelated reasons; Nazism and Communism are examples of such things.

    • So exactly why did Nazism fail? And Communism?

      Didn’t Nazism fail because the Allies bludgeoned it to death and liberated all the countries Germany had occupied? And Communism because it doesn’t work?

      • We don’t have to get into that question, we only have to look at whether those came from their having a basis of lies. But Nazi lies didn’t get Nazism defeated, and ditto for Communist ones. We can see the former from the way that fall came from outside without lies contributing to making outside enemies, and the latter from how long it lasted until things changed (but the lies didn’t change for the worse – if anything, they got fewer).

        • Didn’t Nazism fail because it was based on the preposterous idea that Germans were an inherently superior race destined to rule the rest of the world? And didn’t Communism fail because (like modern day liberalism) it’s based on the lie that it’s leaders are only interested in the well being of others and are not merely self-interested humans? (Which, by the way, is the genius of capitalism: it stands comfortably on the premise that the only reliable predictor of human behavior is self-interest.) In any event, Nazism and Communism: Two big lies, two big failures.

          • Which I think is Jack’s ethical point: campaigns and movements based on bad facts are unethical and inherently flawed and contain, from the outset, the seeds of their own failure.

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