Today Fox News commentator (and occasional Reason contributor) Jim Pinkerton speculated that Michael Brown may have been on PCP when Ferguson, Missouri, police officer Darren Wilson shot him dead on August 9. "Eyewitnesses said that Brown was charging the cops," Pinkerton said on Fox's Happening Now show. "Ask a Secret Service agent what would happen if an individual who's six foot-four, 290 pounds, went charging anywhere near the direction of the president. I suspect they'd put a lot more than six bullets in him….We'll know more with a blood test. If he was high on some drug, angel dust or PCP or something…it's entirely possible you could take a lot more than six bullets and keep charging." In other words, if Brown was high on PCP, firing just six rounds into him would be a mark of restraint.
It should be noted that witnesses disagree about whether Brown was moving toward Wilson when the fatal shots were fired. Another point Pinkerton overlooks: Angel dust and PCP are the same thing. By either name, the drug does not live up to its fearsome reputation. While its anesthetic effects might help someone endure pain that would otherwise be disabling, PCP is not a magical potion that allows people to survive "a lot more than six bullets," especially if any happen to strike the head, the heart, or a major blood vessel.
In any case, Pinkerton has no evidence whatsoever to support his suggestion that Brown was under the influence of PCP. His reckless speculation to that effect is especially regrettable because this sort of pseudoscientific explanation has a long and shameful history in this country, going back to the "cocainized Negroes" whose fearlessness, aggressiveness, and superhuman strength supposedly forced Southern sheriffs to start using larger-caliber guns.
The theme of drug-crazed black men has been periodically revived since then. In the 1980s people worried about irrationally violent crackheads, although the vast majority of "crack-related homicides" actually grew out of black-market disputes. The Los Angeles cops who beat Rodney King in 1992 justified the assault partly by arguing that his behavior suggested he was high on PCP, which everyone knows gives you "Hulk-like strength." King tested negative for the drug that supposedly made him act the way he did. So did Rudy Eugene, a.k.a. the Miami Cannibal, whose horrific 2012 assault on Ronald Poppo was widely (and wrongly) ascribed to "bath salts."
The message of these false narratives is pretty clear: Illegal drugs are scary, especially when mixed with the blood of African-American men. Commentators should think twice before reviving this ugly stereotype in an attempt to exculpate police for killing an unarmed black teenager.
Addendum: The Washington Post, citing an unnamed source, reports that "Brown had marijuana in his system when he was shot." It's not clear whether that means he was actually under the influence at the time, which would depend on the level of THC in his blood. In any case, I am not sure whether Pinkerton would want to claim that pot made Brown a menace, although there is precedent for that too.
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