Just a day before the funeral services for the teenager whose death sparked one of the biggest protests in the recent history of the United States, a New York Times writer described Michael Brown as “no angel.”
Predictably, the controversial passage prompted a firestorm of criticism, adding to the outrage over how young black men are portrayed in the news.
Brown was an 18-year-old member of the African-American community in Ferguson, Missouri. He was unarmed when he was shot six times by a white police officer named Darren Wilson on Aug. 9.
While the police initially said the boy was a suspect in a robbery earlier that day, further investigation revealed that Wilson initially stopped Brown for jaywalking, and not for the alleged robbery.
The uncertainty surrounding the events caused a great deal of frustration among the locals who claim the shooting was a result of racist violence.
Later, some of Brown’s supporters noticed and protested against the unfair treatment of the teenager in the media – which was probably influenced by the allegations that he may have been a criminal.
And just when the African-American community of Ferguson was preparing to lay Brown to rest, a reporter, John Eligon from The New York Times, described the slain teenager as "no angel" in an article published on Sunday.
Here’s what Eligon wrote:
“Michael Brown, 18, due to be buried on Monday, was no angel, with public records and interviews with friends and family revealing both problems and promise in his young life.”
“Shortly before his encounter with Officer Wilson, the police say he was caught on a security camera stealing a box of cigars, pushing the clerk of a convenience store into a display case. He lived in a community that had rough patches, and he dabbled in drugs and alcohol. He had taken to rapping in recent months, producing lyrics that were by turns contemplative and vulgar. He got into at least one scuffle with a neighbor.”
“When asked whether she thought that "no angel" was a loaded term in this context, Mitchell said she didn't believe it was. "The story ... talks about both problems and promise," Wemple reported.
Following are some of the reactions that followed:
If I had time on my hands today, I'd poke around and find out what makes the NYT's John Eligon #NoAngel— tony (@tone_def) August 25, 2014
If you're asking "what were they thinking?" about the "no angel" paragraph, they THOUGHT they were advertising their non-aligned status. 1/2— Jay Rosen (@jayrosen_nyu) August 25, 2014
A user, Sean McElwee, research assistant at Demos, was so infuriated that he compared the Times' description of Brown to the newspaper's previous descriptions of white men who were criminals – from the archives.
Here is the NYT description of Michael Brown compared with NYT description of Unabomber. pic.twitter.com/HHHLy9PFta— Sean McElwee (@SeanMcElwee) August 25, 2014
Eventually, after two days of backlash, Eligon – who is also an African-American – apologized for his article.
While speaking to the Times' public editor, Margaret Sullivan, he admitted “no angel” was not a good choice of words.
“Hindsight is 20/20. I wish I would have changed that,” said Eligon, according to Sullivan.
Although he has said he regrets his choice of words, it looks like social media users are not going to forget the article anytime soon.
Check out the hashtag #NoAngel on Twitter and see it for yourself.