The New York Times produced a long profile on Michael Brown Jr., the young black man shot by a white policeman in Ferguson, Mo. It's a deep, sensitive, nuanced piece -- except, unfortunately, for you-know-what.
The story opens with a tantalizing "ghost": a spiritual experience by Brown, who was laid to rest on Monday:
FERGUSON, Mo. — It was 1 a.m. and Michael Brown Jr. called his father, his voice trembling. He had seen something overpowering. In the thick gray clouds that lingered from a passing storm this past June, he made out an angel. And he saw Satan chasing the angel and the angel running into the face of God. Mr. Brown was a prankster, so his father and stepmother chuckled at first.
“No, no, Dad! No!” the elder Mr. Brown remembered his son protesting. “I’m serious.”
And the black teenager from this suburb of St. Louis, who had just graduated from high school, sent his father and stepmother a picture of the sky from his cellphone. “Now I believe,” he told them.
In the weeks afterward, until his shooting death by Darren Wilson, a white police officer, on Aug. 9, they detected a change in him as he spoke seriously about religion and the Bible. He was grappling with life’s mysteries.
Wow, that kind of lede could go almost anywhere. Did Brown become a born-again Christian? Maybe a mystic or new ager? Or one of those visionary Catholics who see the sun dance and hear from the Virgin Mary?
Nope, nope and nope. The story segues into a part biography, part recap of the shooting, part analysis of Brown's personality. Nothing more on the spirituality that got us reading in the first place.
To be sure, there's a lot to the story of this short, checkered life and tragic death. The Times quotes Brown's friends and family but doesn't ignore his other side: poor grades, dabbling in weed and alcohol, writing rap lyrics "that were by turns contemplative and vulgar."
Brown alternated between living with his parents and maternal grandmother, and he "occasionally hinted at frustration with his family," the Times says without clarifying. But his main trouble apparently was pushing an assailant in the face. Didn't punch, according to a friend.
His grades flagged, but he took a "credit recovery program" and graduated high school shortly before the fatal shooting. He began producing rap songs with friends and wanted to attend trade school, the Times reports.
And, as we know, he was said to have had a kind of spiritual revelation: first a symbolic vision, then a profession of faith, then discussions about "religion and the Bible." That should have raised a host of questions:
* What did the vision mean to Michael Brown Jr.? Did his father ever ask him? What did he think? Did the Times ask?
* What did the younger Brown mean by "Now I believe"? Exactly what did he believe?
* So he "spoke seriously about religion and the Bible." What did he talk about? Did he indicate he was reading the book? If so, which parts?
* Did he ever talk to a pastor? Did he attend church? Did he pray?
* He grappled with life's mysteries? Like what?
* Finally, did his new interest in spirituality affect his everyday behavior? If so, how to explain the surveillance tape that appears to show him robbing a store?
We may never know, because the Times loses interest after the opening anecdote. Closest is when it says Brown was sometimes philosophical, quoting one of his last Facebook remarks: “Everything happen for a reason. Just start putting 2 n 2 together. You’ll see it.”
Maybe some reporters and/or editors won't see it. Even when prompted with visions of angels and Satan and the face of God.