Monthly Archives: November 2014

Darren Wilson’s Demon

“I then looked at him and told him to get back and he was just staring at me, almost like to intimidate me or to overpower me. The intense face he had was just not what I expected from any of this.”

Reading Darren Wilson’s testimony about his encounter with Michael Brown, you can’t help but notice two things. First, not just how implausible the whole story sounds, and, second, how important faces are – and aren’t – to it.

For starters, there’s the fact that when Darren Wilson supposedly received the report of the theft of some cigarillos from a local market, he apparently didn’t get a description of the perpetrators beyond that one was  wearing a black shirt. Next, there’s the fact that, when he later encountered Michael Brown and his friend Dorian Johnson, he didn’t notice anything about them other than that they were two individuals walking in the street and that “either the first one was really small or the second one was really big.”

But then faces, and descriptions of faces, get really important. Seeing how and why requires summarizing Wilson’s account. Encountering Brown and his friend walking in the street, Wilson pulls up on them in his car and demands that they move to the sidewalk. When Johnson tells him that he and Brown are almost at their destination, Wilson presses them to get off the road, and Brown, according to Wilson, replies with “Fuck what you have to say.”

Wilson finds this response “unusual” and begins to scrutinize Brown. Earlier, all he claims to have noticed was Brown’s size and the fact that his socks had images of “marijuana leaves as a pattern on them.” Now, Wilson says, he sees that Brown is holding some cigarillos; he connects that observation and Johnson’s shirt with the description of the young men from the gas station incident.

Wilson cuts the young men off with his car, and then demands of Brown, “Come here.” Brown refuses – well within his rights, as he’s not being arrested and hasn’t been told that he’s being detained. When Wilson tries to open the door to his vehicle, Brown supposedly then slams it shut. Wilson’s reaction to this is telling:

 “I then looked at him and told him to get back and he was just staring at me, almost like to intimidate me or to overpower me. The intense face he had was just not what I expected from any of this.”

What happens next unfolds quickly, is hard to parse, and harder still to believe. Wilson claims he tried to get out of the car yet again, but that Brown closed the door on him once more and then began to pummel him through the open window, hitting Wilson’s face. According to Wilson, while still leaning into the car, Brown then calmly handed the cigarillos to Johnson (“Hey, man, hold these,” Wilson recalls), at which point Wilson grabbed him.

Here Wilson begins to sound a theme he will hammer away at again and again: Michael Brown was some species of superhuman monster, somehow possessed of both an ominous cool yet consumed with an animal rage, and nothing short of deadly force would stop him. The vocabulary and imagery Wilson uses to paint this picture are nothing short of ludicrous.

“And when I grabbed him, the only way I can describe it is I felt like a five-year-old hol ding onto Hulk Hogan.”
“Holding onto a what?”
“Hulk Hogan, that’s just how big he felt, and how small I felt just from grasping his arm.”

By his own description, Wilson is 6’4, and somewhere around 210 pounds; Brown was 6’4 and 292. And yet Wilson, an adult man, a trained police officer, describes making contact him as like clinging to a professional wrestler.

Desperate to save himself – and specifically to protect his face – Wilson realizes that none of the several weapons at his disposal will save him from Brown’s assault. His collapsible baton won’t open in the car; his heavy flashlight is too far away – reaching for either, Wilson says, would require him to drop the hand he’s using to protect his face. And although he’s trained to use one, Wilson isn’t carrying a Taser, incidentally, because he finds it uncomfortable. Instead, he has Mace, but he can’t use it, because, if sprayed in his car, it will potentially incapacitate him (he’s wearing contacts). And so Wilson goes for his gun. “It is kind of hard to describe it, I turn and I go like this. He is standing here. I said, “Get back or I’m going to shoot you.”

Having already invoked the World Wrestling Foundation, at this point Wilson goes full Hollywood, making Brown into an action movie villain. “He immediately grabs my gun and says, “You are too much of a pussy to shoot me.”

This supposed reaction strikes me as having all the plausibility of George Zimmerman’s claim that, making a play for Zimmerman’s gun, Trayvon Martin screamed “You’re going to die tonight!” But it doesn’t matter, because these young men aren’t here to tell their side of the story, and the men who killed them are. And in Wilson’s case, the man putting words into the mouth of the teenager he shot also has a suite of visual aids and a very helpful pair of assistant prosecutors on his side. Because it’s at this point that the grand jury is shown pictures of the gun, and of Wilson’s face – his threatened, fragile, damaged face.

“Does it look like swelling?,” Wilson is asked. “You know your face better than we do, does that look like swelling?
“I can’t tell with that angle with the ruler.”
“You can’t tell on that one? What about this one?”
“That one I can tell from down by my, down in this area looks swollen to me.”
“Okay.”

Wilson’s face is in danger. The photos show it. “[There was] a significant amount of contact made to my face.” Wilson stresses this vulnerability. “I mean it was, he’s obviously bigger than I was and stronger and the [sic], I’ve already taken two to the face and I didn’t think I would, the third one could be fatal if he hit me right.”

And so Wilson fires, or at least tries to – there is a series of apparent “clicks” where the gun doesn’t discharge. But one round eventually does go off, shattering the window. At which point Brown undergoes yet another metamorphosis, this time into a “demon.”

“And then after he did that, he looked up at me and had the most intense aggressive face. The only way I can describe it, it looks like a demon, that’s how angry he looked.”

Brown, rendered here not just “no angel” but now fully in league with the powers of darkness (all senses of that phrase intended), readies another charge at Wilson. “I just saw his hands up, I don’t know if they were closed yet, on the way to going closed, I saw this and that face coming at me again, and I just went like this and I shielded my face.”

That face coming at me…I shielded my face. Covering his face, Wilson fumbles with his weapon and fires blindly, finally striking Brown. Wounded, Brown flees; Wilson pursues. And then, for no apparent reason, Brown turns on him.

“He turns, and when he looked at me, he made like a grunting, like aggravated sound and he starts, he turns and he’s coming back towards me. His first step is coming towards me, he kind of does like a stutter step to start running.”

After supposedly yelling at Brown to get down, Wilson opens fire, but Brown continues to come at him. And now Wilson relates Brown’s final transformation: from Hulk Hogan into the Incredible Hulk, a man-beast who can shrug off bullets like raindrops, ready to charge through them and rip Wilson to shreds.

“At this point it looked like he was almost bulking up to run through the shots, like it was making him mad that I’m shooting at him. And the face that he had was looking straight through me, like I wasn’t even there, I wasn’t even anything in his way… like he was going to just tackle me, just go right through me.”

Wilson continues to fire, twelve shots in all.

“I remember looking at my sites [sic] and firing, all I see is his head and that’s what I shot. I don’t know how many, I know at least once because I saw the last one go into him. And then when it went into him, the demeanor on his face went blank, the aggression was gone, it was gone, I mean, I knew he stopped, the threat was stopped. When he fell, he fell on his face.”

There is much that could be said here. We could observe that Wilson’s testimony is orchestrated with an almost cinematic eye for drama, that he seems also to be attributing to Brown a near-textbook example of so-called “Excited Delirium Syndrome,” in which, as Rei Terada has brilliantly written, “superhumanity functions as subhumanity; it allows the nonhuman to be eliminated while releasing the perceiver from having to answer for seeing someone as nonhuman.” We could also note how Wilson’s warped usage of quasi-religious vocabulary, and his apparent fear of Brown as simultaneously demonic-and-magical yet sociopathic-and-bestial, harken back to some of the oldest, vilest tropes in the American racist imagination.

For all the attention shown in court to Darren Wilson’s face, to its cherubic gleam, to its lamented injuries, and to his own preoccupation with saving it, there appears to have been quite as much, if not more, emphasis on denying, erasing, and distorting Michael Brown’s.

Defiant youth, stone-cold gangster, jacked-up wrestler, demon: Michael Brown never had a human face for Darren Wilson. He was a space of projection for Wilson’s worst fears, insecurities, and prejudices. And what face Brown did have – Wilson had to shoot the life out of it, to leave it blank, and finally to obliterate it altogether. “When he fell, he fell on his face.”