Brown Vs. Boston

One of Leviathan’s white warriors shoots his gun, and a black man lies dead on the street.

The victim could be Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri last weekend (and scores of others, at different times and places)—or Michael Johnson, a.k.a., Crispus Attucks, in Boston’s “Massacre” of 1770. The two Michaels share more than just a name and color of complexion: both were also large and, some might say, intimidating. And each man is a less-than-perfect victim. Crispus Attucks, as most historians refer to him, had armed himself with a club as he raced towards the riot developing in Boston that snowy night in 1770. He clearly intended to cause trouble.

So did Michael Brown, who seems to have robbed a store just before he died—or so cops now claim. After a week of intense national pressure and contempt, during which the narrative that white police shot down yet another innocent black person has endlessly played, provoking so many “death threats” against the trigger-man that the cops refused to reveal his identity—after all that, the Ferguson Police Department suddenly changed its story [amazon asin=0988203227&template=*lrc ad (right)]Friday. It added information to its version of events that, if true, it should have provided from the beginning. The FPD now alleges—and surveillance tapes seem to prove—that Michael Brown and a friend walked into a “convenience store” where the former helped himself to almost $50 worth of cigars. When a clerk asked for payment, the unarmed Mr. Brown pushed and bullied the much smaller man. He and his friend then left. A cop arrived a few minutes later while details about the robbery went out over police-radio. Another cop soon spotted the thieves ambling down the middle of a street (rather than on the sidewalk) but didn’t realize who they were when he ordered them to stop blocking traffic. A few minutes later, he shot Mr. Brown dead.

But other than their names, their race, and their culpability, the two Michaels share few similarities. Michael Brown was 18 years old, born in the USSA and the lone fatality when the cop opened fire. Mr. Attucks was in his 40s, possibly a runaway slave (hence his alias), and one of five colonial casualties British Redcoats felled the night of March 5, 1770.

Some might assert a further distinction: a soldier killed the earlier Michael, a cop the later one. But those who love liberty know there’s no daylight between cops and soldiers: both protect the government that pays them, not the citizens paying that government. And those who love history recall that organized police didn’t appear until the mid-nineteenth century. The Redcoats patrolling Boston in 1770 fulfilled modern cops’ functions as they suppressed dissent and stole “revenue” for the State by enforcing customs duties. But unlike our craven countrymen today, eighteenth-century victims would have ridiculed the idea that such assaults “protected and served” them.

The differences continue. In fact, they grow exponentially when we examine the attitudes and interactions of the citizens in each incident versus Leviathan’s representatives. And in that divergence, we measure how far we’ve[amazon asin=0988203200&template=*lrc ad (right)] plunged down statism’s abyss.

The contrasts are stark from the inception. Michael Brown’s friend, “Dorian Johnson, 22, told CNN that he and Brown were walking in the middle of the street when a white male officer pulled up and told them, ‘Get the f*** on the sidewalk.’” (Mr. Johnson conveniently forgot to mention that they’d just left the scene of a robbery, a detail his lawyer has corroborated.) Notice that the cop accosted a couple of taxpayers, bullying and cursing them though, as Dorian Johnson put it, “we wasn’t committing any crime,”—at least at that moment—“bringing no harm to nobody…”

But citizens initiated the running argument that culminated in the Boston Massacre, and they did it by taunting Redcoats. Imagine goading a cop today: the only question is whether you’ll die from a beating or a bullet. Yet Bostonians in 1770 showed little fear of those policing them. Why? Because they themselves were armed. And fairly equally, too. It wasn’t as if they owned only pistols while the Redcoats cruised Boston in MRAPs.

Then, too, laws the diametric opposite of ours guarded citizens from soldiers. Off the battlefield, officers seldom authorized Redcoats to carry guns; when they did, those firearms were usually unloaded (and loading a black-powder weapon is so cumbersome that even professionals needed 15 seconds or longer to do so). After ramming a ball down the musket’s barrel, Redcoats still dared not fire without orders. Before issuing those, their commander must read citizens the Riot Act, warning them to disperse.

Meanwhile, unlike modern cops, Redcoats deserved pity as much as they did scorn. Uneducated, indigent, they generally hailed from society’s lowest rungs. Their immediate officers were usually middle-class, but the higher up the echelon, the wealthier and more titled they tended to be—and the more disdainful of the ordinary private. One character in my novel, Abducting Arnold, describes this phenomenon: “The officers are arrogant and rude, but the soldiers, if you call them ‘sir,’ will sometimes answer [citizens], so starved are they for respect. Their commanders treat them worse than dogs.” Along with that abuse went paltry pay rather than the luxurious salaries and benefits sponges-sorry, cops soak up today. Ergo, the occupying Redcoats were always looking for odd jobs to eke out their wages.

One day in March 1770, employees of a ropewalk were at work when one named William Green decided to have some fun. He asked a Redcoat passing by if he wanted to earn some money. When the soldier nodded, Green delivered his punch line: his outhouse needed cleaning. He used a term less polite than “outhouse,” however.

The soldier replied as you might expect, then returned with reinforcements. A fistfight—since the Redcoats lacked permission to carry their muskets—erupted.

Three days later, after other citizens commenced similar exchanges with Redcoats, a group of boys cornered a sentry, pelting him with snowballs and insults in the coming night. They repeatedly dared him to fire on them, knowing he could not. The sentry called for support; British Captain Preston and eight Redcoats marched to his rescue. Like Michael Brown in Ferguson a few centuries later, Nathaniel Fosdick was walking down the street as Preston formed his column. Mr. Fosdick recalled that he “perceived something pass me behind. Turned round and saw the Soldiers coming down. They bid me stand out of the way and damnd [sic] my blood. I told them I should not for any man.” Despite such bold defiance, Preston’s men seem not to have answered verbally or physically. Rather, they simply continued on their way into history. They soon confronted a mob so angry that they fired on it—without orders to do so, most onlookers insisted. Three Americans, including Crispus Attucks, died instantly, while two more sustained mortal wounds.

Fast-forward to Ferguson. Dorian Johnson says he and Michael Brown responded more mildly when the cop ordered them out of the street and onto the sidewalk: they explained that they were “’not but a minute away from our destination, and we would shortly be out of the street…’” Yet the cop replied to this face-saving compromise with “as many as 10 shots,” according to “some witnesses.” (The FPD’s account of this exchange varies dramatically from those of Dorian Johnson and bystanders. I’m siding with Mr. Johnson et al., given how routinely cops lie.)

But perhaps their respective aftermaths are the saddest of the deviations between Boston 1770 and Ferguson 2014.

The former demanded that the Redcoats depart. Entirely, completely. The governor conceded that the situation was indeed explosive—but that meant he could spare only half his force; the other half must remain to keep the peace. Bostonians weren’t buying it. They threatened to expel the soldiers themselves if the governor didn’t. Not surprisingly, they prevailed. That steely determination to live free would launch a Revolution for liberty five years later—and win it, too.

How does Ferguson react? There are the riots, of course, thugs without badges using Mr. Brown’s demise as an excuse to rob and loot. And there are the vigils, ostensibly in memoriam but doing double duty as protests of “police brutality.” While Bostonians understood that “police brutality” was the whole point, modern Americans fantasize that cops can enforce Our Rulers’ whims gently and with deference to us, if only they have the right training and personnel. They persist in whining for reform despite the heaps of corpses after thousands of previous reforms. And they want “justice” with “the officer who did this [to Michael Brown]…prosecuted by the law.” Boston did, too. The soldiers stood trial; John Adams famously (or infamously, depending on your view) defended them. But no one mistook so small a step for curing the problem. They knew they must rid Boston of all its predators, not just those that happened to shoot during the Massacre.

We depend on police to get our problems solved not to start them,” said a woman at one of Ferguson’s vigils. No wonder Americans continue to die.

Read more about the Boston Massacre and the American Revolution in Becky Akers’ historical thriller, Abducting Arnold.