Tag Archives: Michael Brown

Simply Degenerate

Date line: April, 2015.

My wife and I made a little getaway to Missouri this past February. If you’ve been there in winter, there’s a good chance you’ll understand why I often call it “the state of Misery.” Anyhow, en route from Saint Louis to Hannibal we spent time in the formerly not so well-known — but now very well-known — community of Ferguson, Missouri.

Two rounds of riots there in 2014 resulted in multiple cars and buildings being burned. Businesses were ruined. These riots were the aftershocks from (1) the killing of Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson, and (2) the Saint Louis County Grand Jury’s decision to NOT indict said police officer Darren Wilson.

Ferguson Brewery, Ferguson, MO

Ferguson Brewery, Ferguson, MO

We found the community of just over 20,000 to be really quite delightful. Churches and grocery stores and homes of all sorts: like you’d expect anywhere else. We stopped in at the Ferguson Brewing Company, a cheery micro-brewery with a full kitchen and pub menu. There we enjoyed lunch and a beverage. The place was hopping, and the beers we selected were hoppy too. The patrons were mostly pale faced, but scattered about were ebony and ivory-skinned customers, even sitting at the same tables.

We made it a point to drive through the sections of town where buildings and been torched – destroyed by fires from the riots. Laundromats, liquor stores, auto parts stores, restaurants. Pretty much without rhyme or pattern, concentrated mostly in two different parts of the city. Actually, some destruction spilled over into nearby Dellwood, MO.

We stopped at the spot where young Mr. Brown was killed. Even in February, six months after the shooting, there was still a memorial to him there, on Canfield Drive, near Copper Creek Court.

We felt it important to spend some time there: to contemplate the location and its significance. It’s only a few blocks from the Ferguson Market, on Florrisant Avenue.

[What city has TWO major streets near each other with the same name? In this case “Florrisant.” Oh yeah, Atlanta. Almost every other street is named

Michael BrownMemorial, Canfield Dr, Ferguson, MO

Michael BrownMemorial, Canfield Dr, Ferguson, MO

Peach Tree.]

The Ferguson Market is where the petty theft – and physical abuse of a 120-lb weakling store clerk by 290-pound Mr. Brown – occurred that resulted in Officer Wilson locking onto a young man of Mr. Brown’s description. That theft occurred about 10 minutes before their most unfortunate fateful rendezvous.

This was all brought freshly to mind for me a few weeks ago during the NCAA basketball tournament. March Madness.


Right. The College basketball national championship tournament. Why? Because white people riot too, and for really, really stupid reasons. Over and over again.

Kentucky was the odds-on favorite to win the championship. Basketball is religion in Kentucky. The Lexington-based school has won 8 National championship titles, including as recently as 2012. They’ve been runner up twice, including 2013, and National semi-finalists, an additional four times, to my counting at least, including 2011.

That’s a pretty impressive record, given that there are, oh, I don’t know, something like 400 colleges and university basketball teams competing at the Division-I level.

But this year they lost to Wisconsin in the National semi-final match. Which means if there are 400 schools, their basketball team is better than 398 of them. So what did their fans in Lexington, Kentucky do after the semi-final match? They rioted. Burned cars. Trashed buildings. Barricaded the streets. Fought Police.

Really? — Really.

And this is nothing new. Last year, 2014, Kentucky made it all the way to the National Championship game and lost to Connecticut. Guess what?

The fans in Lexington rioted.

Ah, precedence.

In 2012 Kentucky made it to the National semi-final. That time they defeated in-state super-hated arch-rival Louisville. Kentucky won the game. Win? They won? Yes, they won.

The fans in Lexington rioted.

Two nights later Kentucky was in the National championship match and won, defeating Kansas. This time another win!! A National Championship. Oh the glory.

The fans in Lexington rioted.

More precedence.

Back in 2011 Kentucky was defeated in the National semi-final by Connecticut (a bit of a nemesis) …

Yes, you guessed it …

The fans in Lexington rioted.

You know. Just the basic stuff. Burn cars. Tear down light posts. Throw rocks at police. Vandalize buildings. Mug passers-by.

You’d think the police and city fathers in Lexington would be a bit wise to the whole thing by now.

What is weird is that the fans are mostly well-lubricated white people rioting because the mostly black student athletes performed so well that their expectations were that they would win a Nation championship … or else. Or else what? We’ll riot either way.

In 2013 Kentucky’s record was not good enough to even get into the championship tournament (a fate that befalls the vast majority of teams). So, Kentucky pretty much sucked that year … at least by Kentucky standards. Guess what? NO RIOTS! Go figure.

White people rioting for stupid reasons (or no reason) is nothing new. Even in my current “home” metro area – Denver, CO – fans rioted when the Colorado Avalanche won the NHL’s (National Hockey League) Stanley Cup in 1996. Sure this was the first major championship in Colorado. That warrants a riot. (#sarcasm).

The next year the football Broncos won the Super Bowl. No riot. But then they won their second straight Super Bowl, 1998, … more riots. Really? Yeah. Let’s get really pissed and burn some sh*t. No riots when the Avalanche won the Stanley Cup again in 2001. A whiff of sanity.

They don’t riot for no reason in Milwaukee. Or in the whole state of Wisconsin.

I do remember the summer riots of 1967: Barricades in the street. Our humble suburb blocked off at the municipal city limits. Restrictions on gasoline sales: it had to go right into auto tanks; not into portable tanks. People who wanted to mow their lawn (pre-electric mowers) had to bring the grass-cutter right to the gas station.

A permanent scar on our country and on our memory. Newark, NJ, 1967

A permanent scar on our country and on our memory. Newark, NJ, 1967

It was a time of tremendous social unrest – upheaval – and Milwaukee was not spared. Those ’67 riots were not senseless or without reason. They were tied in with the civil rights movement, disappointment with lack of progress from the ’64 Civil Rights Acts, and the move toward freedom of expression, and of course the anti-war movements of the ‘60s. There were a shocking 159 riots in the United States in 1967. One Hundred and Fifty-nine. Mostly race related, they broke out in LA, Cleveland, Minneapolis, everywhere it seemed. The most violent were Detroit and Newark. Too vivid. Too vivid. I remember this gruesome Life Magazine photo from the Newark riots. Burned into my RAM.

The causes, racial participants, locations and provocateurs of these riots were far ranging. From Encyclopedia.com:

“… the year 1967 ended with a final act of violence in late October, when antiwar protesters from around the country moved on Washington, D.C. Those who gathered at the Lincoln Memorial on 21 October were largely white, largely middle class, largely educated, and formerly mainstream in their politics. But, when U.S. Army units met them with fixed bayonets, they took to the streets of the capital in an out-break of destructive rioting and constructive confrontation, and 650 were arrested.”

Fixed bayonets for those expressing freedom to assemble? Freedom of expression? Hell yeah, riot. We don’t turn the military on the public in the US. Riots!

Still, I don’t think that places like Wisconsin or Minneapolis have experienced totally pointless riots, like Lexington. And Denver. Maybe I’m wrong. But I doubt it.

I’ll get in trouble for this, but I can’t help but wonder if this behavior doesn’t carry some sort of genetic pass-me-down from each area’s ancestral settlers.

Wisconsin was mostly settled by the “quiet disciplined” sort. Mostly Germans. Many Poles and Norwegians. Some English, with their stiff upper lips. Work hard. Don’t make a fuss. Stick to your own business and do it well. Get it done and move quietly along to the next thing. “Don’t rock the boat” type of settlers.

Early Irish and Scottish immigrants to the New World were largely unwelcomed by the English and moved west, settling in the rugged Shenandoah and Appalachian Mountains. When the Cumberland Gap popped open they began moving into the territory that would become the states of Kentucky and Tennessee.

I’m not calling the Scots and Irish “rioters” (in fact, I love them, their culture and sense of humor), but they probably don’t have a reputation for spontaneously breaking into (a) drink, (b) song, (c) dance, and (d) fight for no reason. Germans, Poles, Norwegians … they just don’t do that. Ok, maybe they do the drinking part. ☺

Before I get in any more trouble, I’ll close with saying that Wisconsin lost in this year’s (2015) NCAA championship match to Duke University – after defeating Kentucky in the semi-finals. I’ll admit to being partial, but there were many questionable calls during the second half. It seemed that every 50/50 out-of-bounds ball was awarded to Duke, and Wisconsin frequently fouled Duke players with their chins, foreheads and eye-brows.

Nevertheless: There were no riots.

Wisconsin fans did not riot when they beat Kentucky in the semi-final, nor when they lost to Duke in the final.

For emphasis: Last year, 2014, Wisconsin made it all the way to the semi-finals, losing to Kentucky (by one point!, 74-73).

There were no riots.

Meanwhile, in late 2014, while overwhelmingly mostly peaceful riots were going on around the entire country in sympathy with the mostly peaceful protests in Ferguson, something weird was going on in Keene, New Hampshire. Keene State College – mostly white, upper class privileged kids – had their annual Pumpkin Festival.

Yes. You guessed it. … Riots broke out.

Riots broke out.

Drunken brawls. Random fires and mayhem. Burned and overturned cars. Vandalized buildings.

The media are deluding us.

Well, New Hampshire is the “Live Free, or Die” state.  Love the motto.  Hate the riots.

Wishing you peaceful, riot-free and headache-free spring, summer and fall.

Joe Girard © 2015

[1] Encyclopedia.com: 1967 Riots. http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3401803621.html

Lee’s Gift

Forward to this 2015 release.

This essay was originally published on my earlier website (which is still up, but not maintained) to commemorate a 50-yr and a 83-yr anniversary, in January, 2012. Given the recent announcement that a sequel may come out this coming summer … [New York Times — Author to publish second novel] well, I thought it appropriate to re-publish the essay on this site. You, dear reader, will note that it will be in need of some factual updating. That is, if reports of a sequel turn out to be true.


A shy bookish gal from a small town in Alabama, Nelle Lee, is trying to “make it” in the big city of New York in the 1950s.  Her dream was to make it as a writer.  Now, seven years later, she struggles with an odd collection of unpublished short biographical sketches while working various menial jobs, including employment as a reservationist for Eastern Airlines.

Introverted and reserved, she has managed to make a few friends, including a Broadway composer, Michael Brown, and his wife, Joy.  Magic was about to happen.  But they didn’t know it.




Nelle was born to attorney Amasa Lee and Frances (nee: Finch) Lee, their fourth and last child, in Monroeville, Alabama, in 1926.  Always an outsider and a tomboy, she took to the books and fell in love with literature at a young age.  She was convinced that she could become a writer, although she tried her hand at law school and a year at Oxford in England before deciding for sure what she would try to do.  Everywhere she went, she was ever the loner and individualist, focusing on her studies and showing no interest in being anything like a southern belle.

One can only imagine how difficult it was for such a girl in New York.  Despite steady encouragement from her friends, the Browns — and from another emerging writer who had achieved some renown and happened to be from her home town and same school, “Bulldog” Persons — young Miss Lee had not yet completed any work of significance.  She shared her character sketches with her friends, and they were impressed.  But her regular day jobs got in the way of making significant progress on a complete story.

The Brown’s major gift to Miss Lee came at Christmas, 1956.  Michael Brown, who had written the tune Lizzie Borden for a play a few years before, had earned a sizable fee for getting some scores accepted.  His wife suggested that they use part of the money to allow Miss Lee to take a year off from work and focus on her writing.  And so he did.  And so she did.

Lee got a literary agent and got to work, completing a manuscript oddly titled “Atticus”, a somewhat autobiographical story centered around characters and events of a small southern town, not unlike her own hometown of Monroeville.  One of the major characters in the story, a boy named Dill, was based on her old hometown friend “Bulldog” Persons.

Through multiple rejections Lee grew more and more frustrated and unsure of herself.  She soldiered on, with the support of her friends the Browns and Bulldog, and the encouragement of her agent.  She continued to work on the script and waited through multiple publisher reviews … and rejections.

Finally, the book was published in 1960, by Lippencott & Company.  For a shy girl from a small town in the south, the reaction of the country was overwhelming.  She was stunned into numbness.  As one of the most moving and appreciated books in American history, it immediately resonated with readers across the country and around the world.  Millions and millions were sold.  In short order she won the Pulitzer Prize for literature, and the book was made into a movie which won three Academy Awards … and still ranks as the 25th best American movie of all time.

The novel itself has since been named the Best American Novel of the 20thcentury by Library Journal.

Miss Nelle Lee is known to us as Harper Lee, as she has gone by her middle name since mid-adulthood.  Her only novel was renamed by the publisher: “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

In a fortuitous historical coincidence, the book and the movie burst onto the national and world scene at the same time as the civil rights movement, led by Martin Luther King, Jr and others; it coincided with the brave voting registration drives and the Freedom Riders.

“Bulldog” Persons’ real first name was unusual: Truman.  For his last name he took the nom de plume Capote.  When the book was published, but before anyone knew how popular it would become, Lee traveled to Kansas with him to do research for a story that would turn into one his most famous works: In Cold Blood.  For all practical purposes, it was the closest she came to writing again.  Only a couple of essays.

Lee’s last public interview was March, 1964.  Only one story, yet she left us with so much.  The story still moves us today.

The role of Atticus, played by Gregory Peck, gave him the singular role for which he will be remembered forever.  The American Film Institute named the role of Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird  the top film hero of the last 100 years.  Lee and Peck remained close the rest of his life, until he died in 2003.  Several of his grand children have Lee in their names.

The movie’s character young Scout Finch (the autobiographical Lee, with the same last name as Lee’s mother) was played by 10-year old Mary Badham.  At the time, she was the youngest ever to be nominated for Best Supporting Actor or Actress.  Like Lee, she remained largely out of public view since then.  During the movie she formed a lifelong friendship with the warm father-figure of Gregory Peck.  They stayed in regular communication until his death; she always called him “Atticus.”

The movie gave us the first screen appearance of Robert Duval.  Near the end of the movie, an odd looking young man appears, and Scout says: “Hey Boo.”  Duval’s smile is touching.  He played mentally challenged and kindly Arthur “Boo” Radley.

How do you write a sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird?  Unimaginable that such an oeuvre could be a first effort!  How do you write another story, another novel?  Harper Lee tried a few times, but the bar was too high.  All those efforts are filed under “U” for unfinished.  Harper Lee was a shooting star, a comet who lit up our sky, and gave us a tremendous story for the ages.  And then she was gone.  She has lived a relatively reclusive life since then, privately splitting her time between New York with her sister, and her old hometown, Monroeville, Alabama.

Thank you to the Browns, whose gift of friendship, encouragement and financial support made Harper Lee’s manuscript completion and publication possible.  And Thank you Harper Lee.  Thank you for overcoming your shyness and insecurity long enough to hang in there to give us the gift of To Kill a Mockingbird, which allowed us to see ourselves so much better.


“I remember when my daddy gave me that gun. He told me that I should never point it at anything in the house; and that he’d rather I’d shoot at tin cans in the backyard. But he said that sooner or later he supposed the temptation to go after birds would be too much, and that I could shoot all the blue jays I wanted — if I could hit ’em; but to remember it was a sin to kill a mockingbird.
— Atticus Finch (in Haper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird”)


Joe Girard © 2012


[1] Lizzie Borden, by Michael Brown: http://www.guntheranderson.com/v/data/lizziebo.htm

[2] This essay was to jointly commemorate the 50th anniversary of the release of the movie and the 83rd anniversary of Dr King’s birth.

January 2012.

February 2015 note: I hope this is not a hoax.  How surprising that this “new” book was actually written first!  No wonder it took Ms. Lee so long to come out with “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

Provocative, Ignorant Erin – A Reply


Oh Erin. Really? A Measured Reply

Erin Burnett of CNN is pretty.  But she’s also petty and ignorant. That’s no crime.  And she has a lack of intellectual curiosity that would even make George W Bush blush.  Again, no crime.

But tonight (11/21/2014) she used these “qualities” in a way that brings even more shame to the news “information industry.”

First, she breathlessly covered the unfolding events regarding the Grand Jury review of the Ferguson Officer Darren Wilson’s shooting of – and possible murder of – 18-year old Michael Brown. Nearly panting, she seemed all out (combined with “neutral” guest, Van Jones) bent on justifying whatever protests may come.

  • There are only three blacks on the Grand Jury; and nine whites.  This was stated over and over.
  • And why is the Grand Jury meeting in Clayton, which is ten (10!!!) miles away with different demographics and income levels?
  • At the end of the one of several segments on the shooting and Grand Jury she closed with “Why Clayton?”, as if this would be answered later.

She did not answer it later. Her show returned to, for all practical purposes, promoting protests (but not violent protests) and justifying them.  Not only is the Grand Jury mostly white, meeting 10 miles away from Ferguson, but also they are meeting in secret.  Oh the horror.

Second, in her next major story she and several other guests went on and on (breathlessly) about what an evil man Bill Cosby is, how his career is over, and more women were coming out with credible claims of being victims of his sexual abuse.


The Ferguson, Wilson and Brown tragic story first.  Ferguson is a small community, embedded within a much larger community.  Like nearly all municipalities, Ferguson does not have the resources to conduct the full operations required in capital crimes.  For this reason, in Missouri (as I believe in nearly every other state) major crimes are prosecuted by District Attorneys.  Each county has its own prosecutor, and District Attorney Staff.

A short detour to history in apropos here.  The city of Saint Louis is not in the county of Saint Louis.  They removed themselves from the county in 1876; this is often referred to the “original sin”, and has led to many problems, and made this issue of multiple small municipalities in a single metro area worse.  Saint Louis County has nearly 100 municipalities. [1]

Saint Louis used to be the county seat.  That ended 138 years ago. So that’s where the County Courthouse was (it later became a Federal Courthouse), near the riverfront where the famous arch is now located.  That’s where the Dred Scott case was heard. That courthouse is now a national historical site.

The County Seat of Saint Louis County is in Clayton.  Thus it is home of the County Courthouse, as well as – ironically – the majority of Washington University in Saint Louis.

Now, since the District Attorney’s offices are in Clayton, and the County Administrative offices are in Clayton, and the Court House is in Clayton … well, that’s where the Grand Jury is seated.  The Grand Jury hears and sees evidence in the County Courthouse.  Is it 10 miles from Ferguson? Yes, I suppose it is.  Most counties are pretty geographically large and diverse.

Members of a Grand Jury are chosen the same way members of a regular trial jury in a jurisdiction are chosen: at random from among registered citizens.  Overall, Saint Louis County is 70.3% White; it is 23.7% Black. [2] So the 9-3 racial split on the Grand Jury is quite a good representation of the County of Saint Louis.  If a Black officer had killed a Hispanic or Asian teenager?… well, what would we expect the Grand Jury to look like? About the same. Yes, those percentages are pretty much reversed for Ferguson, just 10 miles away.

Finally, the presentation of evidence and testimony to a Grand Jury are required by law to be done in secret.  If we need to ask why, it’s because we’d like to protect jury members from blow-back.

Couple thoughts about Saint Louis County District Attorney Robert McCulloch.

He could have decided to go ahead with prosecution based on his own (and his staff’s) choice.  He did not.  I think it’s an understandable decision: this is certainly a highly conflicted case and proceeding to full prosecution almost certainly would be (or will be) a very long, painful and expensive process; apparently they did not think they could likely get a conviction.

He could have withheld the case, and the opportunity to indict, from the Grand Jury.  He did not. From the very duration of the sitting (since August), we can be sure that the Grand Jury is hearing every bit of culpatory evidence possible.  And just to be sure, McCulloch appears to be preparing the release of all testimony and evidence after the Grand Jury renders its decision. That’s very unusual, but in this case it is justified.

I have to say, the system is imperfect.  It’s what we have.  If Darren Wilson is guilty, I hope they get him.

But Erin Burnett, your ignorance, lack of intellectual curiosity, laziness in finding any answers to your own protest enraging questions, and your urge to inflame emotions, is most detestable. At least you’re pretty. Apparently a bit of research or waiting for answers is too time consuming for you … when there’s racial conflict and racially charged protests to incite.


I won’t go on nearly as long about the revered man with so many credible charges of sexual abuse against him.  He should be shamed.  Apparently he is not.  Juanita Broaderick.  Paula Jones. Gennifer Flowers. Monica Lewinsky. Kathleen Willey. Dolly Kyle Browning. Eileen Wellstone. Carolyn Moffet. Elizabeth Ward (Gracen).  Still we are forced to listen to him ….

Oh sorry, I’m supposed to be talking about Bill Cosby, not … oh … what’s his name?  … Clinton. Right.

Yeah, same thing.  Except Clinton has admitted to the Jones, Lewinsky and Flowers encounters.

Suppose we could add that one perp is white – and getting off scott-free – while the other perp is black – and catching all kinds of crap. But that would be race baiting.

Keep it safe out there.

Joe Girard © 2014


[1] Ferguson and Saint Louis’ Original Sin: http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2014-08-15/how-st-dot-louis-countys-map-explains-fergusons-racial-discord

[2] Saint Louis County (Missouri) demographics: http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/29/29189.html

Note: this essay has been gently edited (the author, 11/22/2014 – JFK assassination day).