Summoning the Mockingbird Mob

Years ago, I was a small-town cop, working a steady twelve to eight in the morning and spending most of my patrol engaged with my Main Street’s eleven bars.  Combative drunks, runaways hitchhikers out on the State Route who’d duck into the woods when you rolled by, speeders, car accidents, vandalism complaints, hippie girls (this was the nineteen-seventies) turning tricks, and so on. 

And it wasn’t too long before I was confirmed in an opinion of Village residents as trash.

But then I relieved one of the officers guarding the polls on Village election day, and it reordered my conclusion.  Who were these people coming in to vote?  The nicely dressed couples with well-groomed, smiling children who’d be ushered into the voting booth ahead of their parents so they could be shown something important.  Where did all these ladies come from who sold cakes and pies at the Village Hall on election day in order to raise money for the Town Beautification committee, or volunteers driving senior citizens down to the polls?  The friendly grandfathers stomping in on canes, or the smiling fresh-faced eighteen-year-olds proud to vote?

I, who thought I knew all the people in the Village and what they were, in truth didn’t know anybody in the community who really counted.  And certainly not who they were.  Because these people, the overwhelming majority of people in the Village who lived off Main Street, worked nine to five and otherwise stayed busy, minding their own business, taking care of their children, going to church, and climbing into bed at home a couple of hours before midnight.

Which meant that if I had stayed with the Village police, working a steady twelve to eight, for fifty years, I still never would have gotten to know any of them.

Exactly the situation American police at large have with the black community.

Police follow their impressions – impressions not obtained by monitoring the queue at the polls, or watching little black girls troop off to church on Sunday in starched dresses and patent leather shoes, but instead accumulated night after night at the calls they answer in the black community.  And so you can lecture them about jumping to conclusions about black people until your tongue falls out of your mouth, but if a big percentage of the last one hundred young black males they encountered had an illegal pistol within reach, they’re going to be damned aggressive with the one hundred and first.

And justifiably so. 

But just as police have selective impressions accumulate into a playbook they follow, so do blacks who have to deal with these police.  Just like whites have their own narrowly drawn playbook about blacks in general, and vice versa.  Jews about the Goy, black and whites about Jews, and so on.  Which is why the Statue of Justice has scales in one hand, a sword in the other, and is blindfolded.

“Just the facts, Ma’am.”

Yet while most such playbooks are subject to reinterpretation, much in the manner mine was – or shall we say that people of essentially good will may grow over time – there are two which never get revised and so lead to endless antagonism.  Maybe even most of the racial antagonism in America today.  The first is the knowingly dishonest one used by professional race hustlers like Jackson and Sharpton, but the second is by far the more dangerous.

The intellectual point of view.

Being an intellectual doesn’t mean you’re smart – it simply means your worldview is entirely derived secondhand, from what you’ve been taught in college, from whatever public opinion is, from whatever conclusions you’ve arrived at on your own, from what is an intellectual exercise only.  And pointedly, not from having your Birkenstocks on the ground.  Most college professors are intellectuals within this meaning – no real-world experience.  But just as qualified for the label of intellectual is the Banana Spaceship woman in Minnesota, who could “prove” using her own version of logic that extraterrestrials descend onto the Earth in giant bananas, or the current president of the United States, intellectually committed to the theories of socialist/Keynesian economics long after they’ve been exploded.  Indeed, long after he wasted much of the nation’s treasure in yet another attempt to make them work and they still didn’t.

And the intellectual playbook about race relations in America, the theory intellectuals embrace, is and has been for a long time the novel To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee.  One of the most widely read books in recent history.  Assigned in thousands of college courses, endlessly debated and parsed by intellectuals.

It’s a great read, but the fact is that the novel was set in the nineteen-thirties and that segregation and most of its abuses – certainly its legal abuses – ended fifty years ago in the South and never existed at all in the West and North.  Yet despite that, despite the Voting Rights Act and the now numerous black officeholders everywhere, despite having an African-American elected president, the intellectual view of race relations in America is still that one book. 

A playbook which can never be revised because the college professors in love with it, the J school instructors, the talking heads on TV will never, not once ever submit themselves to any hands-on real-world up-to-date experience.  Put on a badge and a gun, ride along with black kids as they get stopped, hold a dying crime victim in their arms, or for that matter follow young blacks along as they credentialize in twenty-first-century America, apply themselves, and move on into an upscale suburb. 

Instead, trapped in their world of theory, all intellectuals can or will do is read To Kill A Mockingbird  again.  So whenever an unarmed young black man is killed by a white under debatable circumstances, the mainstream media, rigorously intellectual almost to a man, write the story by reaching down into the bottom-right-hand drawers of their desks for their well-thumbed copy of the novel, and then simply change a few names.

Which is why every one of these incidents – and I’ve even seen FOX News, do it, too – is in first reports always portrayed in the media as a nineteen-thirties-style racial injustice.  

Which in turn leads to what we have had going on in Ferguson.

Richard F. Miniter is the author of The Things I Want Most, Random House, BDD.  He lives and writes in the colonial era hamlet of Stone Ridge, New York, blogs at and can also be reached at

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