On Monday morning, the New Yorker posted a lengthy piece on Darren Wilson, the former Ferguson police officer who shot and killed unarmed black teenager Michael Brown one year ago this month. The killing of Brown by the white Wilson touched off an anti-police brutality protest movement, #BlackLivesMatter, that continues on today. In November, a St. Louis County grand jury decided not to indict Wilson in Brown’s death, leading to riots in Ferguson. After a subsequent non-indictment in New York’s Eric Garner case, large #BlackLivesMatter demonstrations popped up across the nation.
New Yorker writer Jake Halpern met with Wilson earlier this year to provide his side of the story and give a detailed bio of the reclusive former cop. For the most part, the piece played it extremely straight with the facts of the case and the fallout that occurred in St. Louis and across the country. However, Halpern also cast Wilson in a very sympathetic light, providing anecdotes and a family background that humanized a man that is seen by many as a symbol of white privilege and power in law enforcement.
After the piece was posted online — it will be available in print in the mag’s August 10th issue — a number of people took to Twitter to openly complain about the nature of the article and the attempt to rehabilitate Wilson’s image.
Activist Deray McKesson sent out the following tweets saying that the New Yorker probably should have assigned a black writer to the story if they wanted it to be taken seriously.
Watch whiteness work is the only thing that came to mind after finishing the @NewYorker piece re: the humanized Darren Wilson.
— deray mckesson (@deray) August 3, 2015
If the @NewYorker were bold, they would’ve had a black writer do the story on Darren Wilson and not Jake Halpern, another white man.
— deray mckesson (@deray) August 3, 2015
ESPN’s Bomani Jones said he thinks the magazine wants him to feel bad for Wilson.
i think the new yorker wants me to feel bad for darren wilson. i think the new yorker got me messed up. http://t.co/upUGIntnyc
— El Flaco (@bomani_jones) August 3, 2015
Another activist, Johnetta Elzie, reiterated her feelings that Wilson is a murderer who is walking free.
There is nothing new to say. Ferguson is still a racist city inside a racist city. Darren Wilson is still a protected murderer.
— ShordeeDooWhop (@Nettaaaaaaaa) August 3, 2015
The Daily Kos’ Shaun King wasn’t impressed by Wilson’s statements in the profile.
Yeah. I read the @NewYorker piece on Darren Wilson. He denies racism left & right & states the Justice Department exaggerated it as well.
— Shaun King (@ShaunKing) August 3, 2015
The Nation’s Dave Zirin didn’t mince any words.
Hard to overstate how little we should care as a society what Darren Wilson has to say.
— Dave Zirin (@EdgeofSports) August 3, 2015
Comedian Akilah Hughes just said fuck it.
Things I’m not reading today: Literally anything with quotes from Darren Wilson.
— Akilah Hughes (@AkilahObviously) August 3, 2015
Author Saladin Ahmed felt the article was “contemptible,” especially considering the magazine could have focused its attentions elsewhere regarding police violence.
Of the millions of stories of struggle surrounding the issue of police violence, the New Yorker chose to tell Darren Wilson’s. Contemptible.
— Saladin Ahmed (@saladinahmed) August 3, 2015
TV writer Steve Marmel also brought in recent attempts to soft-peddle the Koch Brothers into his critique.
So today we’re trying to humanize Darren Wilson AND the Koch Brothers? No. Is that clear enough for you?
— Steve Marmel (@Marmel) August 3, 2015
Actor Lucas Neff took Halpern to task for calling the shooting an “incident”.
— Lucas Neff (@RealLucasNeff) August 3, 2015
Scientist Karen James urged her followers not to read the New Yorker piece but to instead check out one by Slate’s Jamelle Bouie.
— Karen James (@kejames) August 3, 2015
Meanwhile, you had the other contingent of conservatives, angry white folks and police supporters expressing their disdain that Wilson has to “live in the shadows” even though he did “absolutely nothing wrong.” So it is just inevitable before we start seeing those lines cross and social media wars erupt between the two sides.