Hands Up – Don’t Think!

EditorialBy Phil Erwin

You couldn’t turn on a news broadcast anywhere without running into a video clip of crowds marching up this city block and down that one chanting, “Hands Up – Don’t Shoot!” It’s what Michael Brown said to Officer Wilson in Ferguson mere moments before he was shot.

Oh, wait a minute. It’s not what Michael Brown said… It’s what his partner-in-crime, Dorian Johnson, told the news media that Brown had said. It was soundly refuted in Grand Jury testimony by multiple eyewitnesses, most of them Black.

As I have written previously, Brown’s movements may have been misinterpreted by some observers, thus yielding conflicting testimony. But even Brown’s companion changed his tune. Johnson, the originator of the “Hands-Up-Don’t-Shoot” myth, described events much differently when testifying to the Grand Jury.


Congressmen: Twitter post

So: Testimony makes clear that the notion of a hapless Black kid pleading from his knees, with hands raised, is a strictly false claim. Completely made up. Brown was combative, resisting, and ultimately charging at the cop who shot him. That is most definitely not consistent with a “Don’t Shoot” posture.

And yet, the mantra persists. And spreads. And fuels the flames of protest. And shows up on the field for Monday Night Football. And even makes its way onto the the floor of the United States Congress, where ill-informed public servants make it national public record.

How can a misrepresentation of the truth become such a pervasive rallying cry?

Actually, that’s easy. It’s just a variation of the old parlor game, Whisper-in-the-Ear-of-the-Person-to-your-Left, written on to the national stage. “I heard he had his hands up” becomes “He had his hands up! We demand JUSTICE!

I think, if you could sit each of the protesters down and ask them, in a moment of calm reflection, whether they thought it useful to predicate their daily actions on lies and misunderstandings, most of them would say, “Of course not!” And yet, that is precisely what they are doing, en masse.

And that’s exactly what the Al Sharptons, the Jesse Jacksons, the Shiela Jackson Lees, the Bill de Blasios, and yes, the Eric Holders and Barack Obamas are counting on. They don’t want public policy predicated on common sense and truth; they want public policy predicated on Mob Misunderstanding. On Crowd Power.

And the way they manage it is by focusing national attention on manufactured memes – cultural analogs to the bio-science concept of a gene.

Genes are the biological mechanism for organizing and transmitting survival information from one generation to the next. Genes are packages of DNA, the biological blueprint for survival characteristics. Genes determine which characteristics get passed on and which, by their absence, disappear.

In a somewhat analogous way, memes are mechanisms for encoding what cultural characteristics are passed along from culture to culture, from generation to generation, and from time to time. Memes have no physical foundation. They are ideas that have some symbolic representation making their presence, their persistence, their distribution possible.   You can’t just have an idea by yourself and have it last; you have to pass it along somehow. Memes are the how by which ideas get packaged and passed along.

Memes are a way to explain a valuable aspect of human existence – the distribution over distance, and the persistence over time, of behaviors that help humans improve things. Fire, the wheel, steam and combustion engines to do work – these are concepts, memes, that helped humans figure out how to make things work better.

But those memes were based on fact. On Truth. No uncertainty, no interpretation, no he-said-she-said about it. They worked, they helped humans progress, because they were true.

But some memes are predicating on untruth; and therein lies a real danger.  Memes persist. Memes snake their way into the culture. True or not, they color judgement, they mold thinking, they shape conversation and alter interactions. Ultimately, they can change lives, for good and for bad.

When they’re based on truth, they help humans progress.

When they’re based on lies, memes stand in the way of progress.

support.mike.brownHands Up – Don’t Shoot! is a meme that is based on a lie. The purpose is to convince people that the police are racist White bastards who just want to kill Blacks, and maybe other minorities, too. The fact that the meme derives from a clear case of resisting arrest, one where several felonies were committed and where the victim was obviously a party to his own demise, makes no difference to the progenitors of this meme. They don’t care that it’s predicated on a lie. They only care that they can use it to further their agenda, which is to cast doubt on the fundamental trustworthiness of our justice system, and especially, on its enforcement arm – the police.

Which is why, when a Black man is restrained with force on a New York street a thousand miles away from Ferguson, and no gun is used in the incident, the crowd-baiters still use the “Hands-Up-Don’t-Shoot” meme to whip up the crowd. And when it comes to ginning up the public’s ire, the true applicability of a meme to a given situation really doesn’t matter. Reason is not in charge, emotion is.

Reason has nothing to do with it.

It never does, when it comes to Mob Rule.


Phil Erwin is an author, IT administrator and registered Independent living in Newbury Park. He has admitted to a visceral distaste for Lies and Damn Lies, as well as a serious distrust of Statistics and Statisticians. Pollsters are also under a cloud of suspicion. At the risk of repeating himself repetitiously, Mr. Erwin reminds you: If you don’t watch FOX, you don’t know sh*t.   And if his writing depresses you, he recommends you visit Chip Bok’s site for a more lighthearted perspective.


Ferguson Grand Jury Transcript http://www.cnn.com/interactive/2014/11/us/ferguson-grand-jury-docs/

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