Cook: To mourn, with no answers

Cook: To mourn, with no answers

August 15th, 2014 by David Cook in Opinion Columns

Mementos are left on the steps of a residence in San Francisco which was used in the film of "Mrs. Doubtfire," starring Robin Williams, in this Aug. 12, 2014, photo.

Photo by Associated Press /Times Free Press.

David Cook

David Cook

Photo by Ashlee Culverhouse /Times Free Press.

It was too soon for him to die.

The world was such a better place because of him.

No person should have to suffer like that. We have to start talking about warning signs so that this doesn't happen again.

Now, his family and friends are angry and knees-to-the-ground heartbroken, asking that most terrible question: why?


Why did a young black man named Michael Brown have to die?

Six days ago, Brown was shot to death in broad daylight by police in a St. Louis suburb where most residents are black and most police are white.

He was unarmed.

He was supposed to start community college on Monday.

"It was just horrible to watch," a friend of Brown's told NBC. "It was definitely like being shot like an animal."

The working-class town of Ferguson has since collapsed into rage and sadness: protests inching toward riots -- "the language of the unheard," Dr. King once said -- and police responding with a militarism that makes Jim Crow batons look limp.

"Armored personnel carriers and officers wearing body armor and carrying assault rifles greeted demonstrators," the Los Angeles Times reported. "When the crowd ignored orders to disperse, officers unleashed tear gas and rubber bullets, witnesses said."

But this week, our nation has been mourning elsewhere: over Monday's reported suicide of Robin Williams.

"Robin made me laugh so hard and so long that I cried. It seemed to please him no end," the actor Nathan Lane remembered. "Yesterday I cried again at the thought that he was gone."

So many of us have: Williams was cafeteria-milk-out-the-nose funny, the one we could always trust to make us laugh.

Yet Williams was even better, I think, as the mentor we all long for -- the beautiful Mr. Keating in "Dead Poets Society" and the saving Dr. Maguire in "Good Will Hunting," or as the wounded hero in "The Fisher King."

In some strange and cinematic way, we loved him.

But to concern ourselves more with his death over Brown's reveals the trappings of celebrity culture, which tantalizes us away from reality and into Hollywood pseudo-emotion.

Yes, Williams was brilliant and beautiful, yet dead celebrities (we felt this way just six months ago, when Phillip Seymour Hoffman overdosed) should not bring out more grief than the police shooting of unarmed black men.

"At least 136 unarmed African Americans were killed by police, security guards and self-appointed vigilantes in 2012," DemocracyNow reported, using a 2012 study from the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement.

Even the post-mortems are unbalanced. We know all the intimate details about Williams' death. The way he killed himself. The time. Who saw him last. Was there a note?

We know so much that some claim we know too much: Experts are concerned such an overdose of details may lead to copycat suicides. (There was a 12 percent increase in suicides in the month Marilyn Monroe died.)

Yet in Ferguson, police aren't talking. They've kept quiet the name of the officer who shot Brown, angering many; the tech-activist group Anonymous has threatened to get involved if more details aren't released. (Police, be warned: They've hacked far greater institutions than your municipal sheriff's department.)

Police claim that Brown physically confronted the officer, which led to the shooting. Witnesses say this is untrue, that Brown had his hands up, was shouting at the officer not to shoot.

(What would happen if Michael Brown had lived in Chattanooga? What would happen here when or if an unarmed black teenager is shot?)

Yes, we should mourn both men, for both men contributed to the world around them.

Yet in our dead men's society of America, we seem to grieve some bodies more than others.

"He was funny, silly. He would make you laugh. Any problems that were going on or any situation, there wasn't nothing he couldn't solve. He'd bring people back together," one man said of the deceased.



That's Michael Brown Sr. talking to reporters about his son.

Contact David Cook at or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP.