I am a large black man. I’m 6’6” and big enough to play lineman for an NFL team—well… an extremely desperate NFL team who had exhausted all other options. According to former Nixon speechwriter and sometimes actor/creep Ben Stein, that alone is enough to get me killed.
In an interview on NewsMax, Stein stumped for the increasingly popular right wing trope that 18-year-old Mike Brown, who was killed by Ferguson, Mo. police officer Darren Wilson while walking to his grandmother’s house 19 days ago, was a weapon in and of himself, weaponizing the young man’s very existence. The interview was brief, but he managed to say at least five really stupid and problematic things that speak to much larger issues of race, perception, and police brutality in America.
1. Ben Stein thinks Michael Brown was incredibly strong and scary
Every picture we’ve seen of 18-year-old Michael Brown so far shows a young man with a rounded face and slightly pudgy build, but Ben Stein, with absolutely no proof to back up his claim, described the deceased teenager as “full of muscles” and “incredibly strong and scary.” How scary you ask?
2. He compared Michael Brown to Sonny Liston and Cassius Clay, and before you ask, yes, he said Cassius Clay instead of Muhammad Ali.
I don’t have access to the same evidence or research and Ben Stein but, in addition to his superhuman strength, Michael Brown was some sort of world-class prizefighter? That would explain why, according to Stein, calling Michael Brown unarmed is the same as calling “Sonny Liston unarmed or Cassius Clay unarmed.” In his eyes, a doughy, teenaged, boy has the same capacity for physical violence as two of the greatest heavyweight boxers of all time. When the using the name Cassius Clay in 2014 is not the stupidest thing you said over the course of one interview, you know you’re in trouble.
3. He seems to think that Brown’s alleged marijuana use matters.
Stein also noted that Brown was “apparently on marijuana” before he was killed by Darren Wilson. My favorite quote from a recent study that indicates that marijuana usage could actually lead to less violence states that “chronic [marijuana] users exhibit blunted emotional reaction to threat stimuli, which may also decrease the likelihood of aggressive behavior.”
The emphasis in the previous quote is mine, but I see what you did there researchers. Well played. Even in the face of scientific data, and exactly zero proof that Michael Brown had been using marijuana on the day of the shooting, Mr. Stein still thinks weed turns all you hep jazz musicians into psychotic murderers a la Reefer Madness.
4. He compared the trials of police officers who kill unarmed teens to the lynchings of African-Americans.
With a terrifyingly “those were the good old days” tone of voice, Stein reminisced on the times where African-Americans were lynched only for the color of their skin, and then compared it to trials of police officers who have to face the music after killing people.
In addition to being unbelievably offensive, the statement completely disregards that how many high profile cases involving the police and their use of force have resulted in the officers being acquitted or convicted of much lesser charges than those sought by the respective prosecutors. Apples and oranges doesn’t quite cover how far off Stein is here.
5. He also had some idiotic and false things to say about Trayvon Martin as well.
To add a little mustard to this sh*t sandwich of an interview, Stein compared the Michael Brown killing to the equally tragic 2012 slaying of Trayvon Martin. Stein, doesn’t let the facts get in the way when stating in both cases “it’s the very large, so-called victim attacking the policeman who winds up dead.”
Most current accounts of Michael Brown’s shooting have him about 35 feet away from the spot of the original confrontation. Even with his large size, he became much less of a threat as he tried to escape from his eventual killer. Let’s also disregard the fact the George Zimmerman was not a police officer, since it was so easy for Stein to do. How huge was the hulking menace, Trayvon Martin? He was 5’11” and less than 160 lbs. Terrifying.
Given Stein’s stance, which has been echoed on several other media outlets over the past few days, black people must be very careful how they behave to ensure their safety. If you can help it, try not to be black in public, don’t ever do anything wrong ever–including shoplifting, being suspended from school, making questionable hand gestures, and wearing gold teeth, and pull up your pants. Police and vigilantes can sense these things and may be more inclined to kill you.