It began with a report that a young, unarmed black male was killed after being shot six times by a white police officer.

Ferguson, Missouri, population slightly more than 21,000, became the new epicenter for the nation's latest absurdity.

While absurdity plagues the human condition in myriad forms, this particular brand moves with impunity.

It revealed itself at the Fruitvale BART station in Oakland, tragically symbolized by ice tea and Skittles in Sanford, Florida, prompted overreaction to loud music at a convenience store in Jacksonville, Florida, and like Ferguson, transformed these communities into places synonymous with the death of young black males that on face value, reasonable people would classify as absurd.

It also carries multiple narratives. The primary narrative was the shooting death of Michael Brown. This is why those concerned about the plight of justice have descended upon Ferguson.

While information is freely transmuted as fact, the only aspect that is indisputable is the shooting death of Brown.

But the secondary narrative is an unending saga that began officially in 1787. Too large for any single event, it easily and conveniently engulfs the primary narrative.

It welcomes opportunists, be they political, criminal, anarchist, or racist, to be part of the story. In Ferguson, we also witnessed how those whose sworn responsibility to protect and serve the community turned the aftermath into a military exercise, the very embodiment of what not to do during crowd-control exercises.


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In the secondary narrative, the court of public opinion takes precedent, the rush to judgment replaces judicious deliberation, and emotion, preconceived notions and rapidly changing information overshadow fact.

This is where cheap historical comparisons are freely used to validate the position already reached. It is designed to titillate rather than inform, to incite rather than edify. There is a narcissistic instinct in the secondary narrative as it makes itself primary. It renders the facts surrounding the death of Brown a subordinate consideration, while it tells itself and others it wants "Justice for Michael Brown."

But that understandable mantra is for a justice most likely based not on a system but on an outcome that has been decided before facts are known.

This phenomenon is not exclusive to one side. Those who support Darren Wilson, the officer who killed Brown, are equal partners in the secondary narrative.

This is not to suggest the secondary narrative does not have a place in the public discourse -- it does. But it is so consuming that it quickly puts individuals in a reactionary emotional overload long before facts are available.

It does remind us, tragically, that America is a place pregnant with competing histories, oblivious to anything that does not correspond. This has been an ongoing tension in America since the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

The gallant pushback against America's failed promise of "We the People" toward its citizens of color resulted in the creation of fear among many whites who could not understand the contrarian viewpoint.

America has long been hamstrung by a perception gap. In a Pew Research Center Poll released this week, blacks, by a 4-to-1 ratio, said events in Ferguson did raise important racial issues. Whites were more closely divided, with 37 percent saying the case raised important racial questions, while 47 percent said they thought race was "getting more attention than it deserved."

As long as the perception gap exists, what can really be gained in Ferguson beyond a faction achieving its desired outcome? The current tension that is part of the secondary narrative will temporarily go into remission.

In this context, the secondary narrative that dominates news coverage not only diminishes the value of the primary narrative, it works against it own interests. Regardless of the facts that spawned the tragic event that necessitated its appearance, the secondary narrative is invariably forced to post a "To be continued" sign as it patiently awaits its next opportunity.

Byron Williams is a contributing columnist. Contact him at 510-208-6417 or byron@byronspeaks.com.