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Michael Brown is not a metaphor, Joe Klein

Host Melissa Harris-Perry delivers a stinging open letter to Time Magazine scribe Joe Klein in response to his column on Michael Brown, Ferguson, and race.

The injustices and unrest in Ferguson, Missouri have given us weeks of stunning images and in some cases, cringe-worthy analysis of the uprisings. That's why my letter this week is to TIME magazine's political columnist, Joe Klein.

Dear Joe,

It's me, Melissa. I'm writing to you today about your column, "Beyond a Simple Solution for Ferguson."

You write:

"At first, it seemed a perfect metaphor for 400 years of oppression: a white police officer shoots an unarmed black teenager multiple times. He is shot with his hands up, it is reported, at least once in the back."

Joe. When a community is reeling from an unarmed teen shot to death, when his body was left for hours in plain view of the community, when no arrests have been made for his slaying, when those who are protesting the killing are met with militarized local police force and tear gas--it is not a metaphor.

The people of Ferguson and the nation are mourning the death of a real person. They are responding to actual events and actions taken by the local government. That this death and those actions are consistent with a long history of similar deaths and actions makes them historically rooted. Not metaphorical.

"But the perfection of the metaphor is soon blurred by facts," you write. "The gentle giant, Michael Brown Jr. ... seems pretty intimidating in a surveillance video…."

Joe. "Seemed pretty intimidating" is not a fact.

The fact is the surveillance video shows an apparent petty crime--one that Officer Darren Wilson did not know about when he stopped Michael Brown and one that does not carry a death sentence even if a person is guilty of committing it.

"An autopsy, requested by Brown's parents, shows six bullet wounds; the kill shot is into the top of the victim's head-which raises another possibility, that the officer, Darren Wilson, fired in self-defense."

Joe. It is certainly a possibility, but let us traffic in facts: Officer Wilson was armed. Michael Brown was not. Officer Wilson shot Michael Brown. Michael Brown is dead. Officer Wilson has not been arrested. On the day that the Ferguson police finally made Officer Wilson's name public, they also released the surveillance video you mentioned despite knowing that it had no bearing on the officer's decision to stop Michael Brown. Those are the facts.

You cite these statistics:

"Blacks represent 13% of the population but commit 50% of the murders; 90% of black victims are murdered by other blacks."

Joe. If you want to just cite random crime facts that have nothing to do with this case, how about this one: 83% of white victims are murdered by other white people.

Your statistics about black homicide perpetrators have nothing to do with what happened August 9. We know who shot Michael Brown to death--and it wasn't a black man. And how about this stat: On average, between 2006 and 2012, nearly two times a week in the United States, a white police officer killed a black person. Two times a week. That fact would suggest Michael Brown had plenty of reason to be afraid of Darren Wilson. You go on.

"A debilitating culture of poverty persists among the urban underclass. Black crime rates are much higher than they were before the civil rights movement."

Joe. The American crime rate overall -- regardless of the race of the perpetrator or victim -- is higher than it was in 1960. And crime has dropped precipitously since its peak in the 1980s and 1990s. It is the poverty that is debilitating because it severely reduces access to sufficient nutrition, housing, health care, quality educational opportunities, and sustainable employment opportunities. As for the "culture of poverty" is that American jazz, blues, or hip-hop you are referencing? Because those are some of the cultural products of the black American poor.

In conclusion, you write:

"Absent a truly candid conversation about the culture that emerged from slavery and segregation, [these problems] won't be solved at all."

Joe. We have finally found a place of agreement. The culture that emerged from slavery and segregation does require a candid conversation. We need to lay bare the implicit assumptions, held by many, of white superiority and black inferiority that come from slavery and segregation!

Curfews, militarized police, tear gas deployed on people exercising their First Amendment rights, and public officials who insist there is no "race problem" and outside agitators are responsible for all the trouble? Definitely appears to be the residue of a cultural pathology bred by a legacy of segregation.

Joe, I would be very interested in having a candid conversation about that.

Sincerely, Melissa