Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Ferguson verdict

Well, the verdict's out at last.  Officer Darren Wilson will not face criminal charges in connection with the shooting of Michael Brown in August.  I'm not surprised;  for weeks, it's been clear that the balance of evidence was that it was a justifiable homicide.

It's also been clear for weeks - ever since the shooting, in fact - that protesters could not be trusted to demonstrate peacefully their opposition to the racial tensions in Ferguson, MO, and the events that led to Michael Brown's death.  Predictably, many of them were not interested in the facts of the matter, only in their perceptions of and emotions about the incident.  After the announcement of the grand jury's findings, the inevitable happened.

I have no problem accepting that racial tensions run high in the area.  I equally have no problem accepting that law enforcement there has serious problems that are as yet unaddressed.  When you have a community that's more than two-thirds black, but its police force is 94% white, that's prima facie evidence of an imbalance.  When investigations incontrovertibly reveal a long-standing culture of law-enforcement and justice-system discrimination against black people, it's even worse.  I urge you to read the following reports to understand the legitimate and very real anger of black people there.  These reports are fact, not fantasy - they're the reality of life on the ground there.

It's no good trying to write off those reports as liberal or progressive propaganda.  The facts have been checked by many different sources.  The problem is real.  That's why the reaction of the local black community to Michael Brown's death has been so visceral.  It's not primarily about Michael Brown as a person.  His death has become a symbol of what they perceive - and experience every day - as persistent, institutionalized racial bias in local law enforcement and the local justice system.

Unfortunately, the community's anger has been manipulated by those with their own agendas to pursue.  Activists are deliberately trying to inflame community anger to provoke outbursts of rioting, looting and insurrection - with considerable success.  When there's so much tinder lying around, it doesn't take much of a spark to produce a conflagration.  This, in turn, provokes even greater intransigence among local law enforcement, and among the white community.

Even those of us who strive to acknowledge the fairness of black grievances in the area are outraged when protesters set fire to vehicles and buildings, and loot stores.  Those are crimes, not protests.  As far as I'm concerned, anyone perpetrating such acts deserves to be treated like the criminals they are, not handled with kid gloves . . . but if the police do that, they'll be accused of being 'insensitive' or 'bullying' or 'racist', largely due to the perceptions to which their own actions in the past have given rise.  They can't win.  If I lived in Ferguson, and encountered a mob of protesters trying to torch my home or business, and used lethal force to stop them, I'd be just another Officer Wilson in the eyes of the mob.  They wouldn't ask whether or not I was justified in my actions - it would be all about their perceptions, which to them have the force of reality even if they're not factually correct.

Let's be blunt.  I'm not an apologist for Michael Brown.  Before he was shot he'd used marijuana and robbed a convenience store;  and the evidence presented to the grand jury indicated conclusively that he initiated the assault on Officer Wilson that led to the latter shooting him.  I agree with the grand jury's findings:  there's no evidence of wrongdoing in his death.  It's in similar vein to the shooting of Trayvon Martin - who openly boasted of his drug use, illegal possession of weapons, and 'thug' persona on social media - by George Zimmerman in 2012;  the evidence proved that Martin assaulted Zimmerman, who shot him in self-defense.  Two wannabe thugs - Brown and Martin - are dead, and our streets will probably be safer in the future as a result.

Unfortunately, the fates of Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin are now going to be inextricably linked and manipulated by the racial grievance industry.  It's already happening.  They're going to exploit their deaths for whatever gain they can wring out of them, and sweep their undoubted criminal proclivities and actions under the rug.  In turn, the 'thin blue line' of law enforcement and the local justice system are going to get their dander up about the 'unfairness' of many of the accusations against them, and resent the hell out of those making them . . . which may well prevent the authorities from recognizing, acknowledging, and dealing with the very real shortcomings they've demonstrated in the past.

There are no winners in this situation;  and, unless calmer heads prevail, there won't be any in future either.



August said...

I think there are winners. The problem of militarizing the police was successfully transmuted into a situation where a lot of impressionable people are going to think, hey, maybe we need militarized police- because, you know, these scary 'protestors' won't stop burning stuff down even after the autopsy report.
Someone picked this shooting to publicize rather than others.

Rev. Paul said...

Having lived in that area for 45 years, I can say that you've summed up the situation correctly. Most of the 90± municipalities in St. Louis County (including Ferguson) have tiny budgets, reinforced by writing literally thousands of traffic tickets.

The hamlet of Pine Lawn, for example, a neighbor of Ferguson, has 3,200 residents - and officers there wrote some 17,000 traffic tickets in 2013. Of course the residents are angry - but most stop short of burning & looting.

dan said...

Well done, my friend .
It's easy to see why thy stirred this seething pot of hostility....
they had plausible deniability for local LEO's and the means to shift the blame after violence was instigated by provocateurs.
They also had leverage on the corrupt local Leo's to force cooperation with the operation.

B said...

Thing is, the number of tickets written means little. Most of them were likely justified. Folks living in areas like Ferguson (some, not all) generally fail to follow the law as much as other demographics.

If one looks like acts like and drives a car that looks like a ghetto trash's car, one gets treated like ghetto trash. If you get pulled over and you smell of pot, then you get searched. If you act suspicious, you get more scrutiny.

It isn't always about race. It is how you dress and act and interact with the officer that affects the outcome too.

Act like a criminal, get treated like one. Likely there aren't too many in the area that can qualify to be a police officer either. Criminal records and education affect your qualification.....

A large part of the issue with aras like Ferguson is the people living there. No one wants to deal with that truth, but is is the truth. No one, especially blacks will admit that, and if they do, then they are excoriated for saying it.

Until people admit that their culture leads them into poverty and crime, they'll never get out of the mess they are in.

Do I think that those folks are treated differently than you and I? Yes. Is it unfair? Probably not. Failure to follow the laws gets you what you get. Choices are made every day, and some choose poorly. Sad, but true.

Comrade Misfit said...

Nobody can drive over a couple of miles without breaking some traffic law. Your tires touch the median line, or the lane marker without signaling. Maybe too close t the car ahead, or a little over or a little slower ("blocking traffic").

If a cop wants to pull you over, the cop'll have a reason. That's the way it is. The data on racial profiling in traffic stops is there. It's real.

Peter B said...

B, that's all true but if you're poor, have a lousy car, work a couple of jobs it can be hard to find the time and money to get that taillight lens or whatever. Some people can get it together, some have a harder time. If you're one of the latter and you have a bit of money, you can go to the dealer and pay the premium prices. If not, it'll be more time and hassle. Sometimes more than you can manage.

Yes, it's a legit violation, yes, its a public safety issue. That doesn't make it easier if you're hanging on by your fingernails.

Of course, the crime and now the riots make it hard to run a business and will keep property values low, so a city like Ferguson won't have much property tax revenue. It's a hard cycle to break out of. Between the poverty pimps and things like asset forfeiture, it's getting harder, too.

The broken windows policing might be the surface rationale for all the traffic stops but like any human concept it's corruptable and subject to abuse.

Anonymous said...

They accepted government "hell-p."
They were destroyed by the do-gooders, rewarded for poor choices and penalized for good ones- the welfare state created Ferguson's problems- it wrecked education, commerce, self worth, and replaced it with ignorance, envy and malice.
These folks had a pernicious psychological warfare used on them-one which as it destroyed them, also called for a police state to control the wreckage.
race has nothing to do with it- apply the same formula, get the same results-regardless of color-England is replete with examples.

B said...

Peter: You may be right about the broken taillight. Not what I am talking about however....

If you are driving a "Ghetto Cruiser", you'll be looked at as a thug. Especially if it is blaring rap music and is full of men dressed as thugs. And if it is weaving in and out of traffic. And smells of pot.....at midnight...

Are you more likely to get pulled over then? YES. Are you gonna be treated differently from the person driving home from work at 6 pm? dressed like a normal human being? YES.

If you get pulled over and are decent and respectful as opposed to belligerent? Think that makes a difference? Bet on it.

Much of the young black males problems are those that they make for themselves. Again, choices. They don't have the money to fix the taillight, but they have a grand to spend on rims and another grand for the stereo....Choices, again...

While race may play a part of how you are treated, so does appearance and the ability to be decent when you interact with cops. Nt groveling, but not being an asshole, either. And how you look does play a part.

If you dress like a ghetto thug, and drive a ghetto car, you'll get treated like a ghetto thug. And if you act like an asshole, you'll get treated worse.

Peter B said...

B, agreed. But if you see that first 2 links, they weren't all thugging. Of course, with the poverty pimps and anti-cop agitators, the cops will be leery of going after the thugs.

B said...

Never said they all were thugging.... But the thing is, how can the cops tell? When 50+% of a given population in the area is of the criminal class, then they are gonna assume that everyone is and act accordingly.

The sad part is that most of the rest of those people just want to go to work and come home and eat and sleep....they don't want trouble. But they live in, and associate with (and dress like and look like)the thugs. Cops have a hard time telling the difference.

In better neighborhoods, there is less profiling. The poor have a culture which leads to their being treated differently. Their behavior (no matter what their color or race) leads to that.

I think we are gonna have to disagree here. Is there bias? Yes.

Is there a reason for that bias? Yes.

And that is the sad fact that no one is willing to admit or deal with.

Anonymous said...

Don't worry - Holder is still determined to nail Wilson on civil rights charges. This is not the end of it by a long shot.


~Katherine~ said...

Peter, I'm genuinely curious about something pertaining to this case, and was wondering if you might answer it as a former LEO.

As I understand it--please correct me if I'm wrong--the facts of the case as per Officer Wilson's testimony are that following a verbal altercation, Michael Brown reached into the police car, hit him a couple of times, and then grabbed for his gun. At that point, he shot him. During the verbal altercation, Officer Wilson saw Michael Brown holding the cigars he stole from a nearby convenience store.

My question is this:

Why was this shooting justified?

Hear me out.

Michael Brown seems to have been an obnoxious, lawbreaking, thieving little punk. However, Being an obnoxious, thieving little punk isn't punishable by the death penalty in this country. Assault--which he committed on the officer--isn't either, though anyone does have a right to defend himself against assault. (More on that in a moment.)

I think that an argument can be made that an officer has *more* responsibility than the average citizen when it comes to altercations for the same reason that a citizen carrying a gun has more responsibility than another person does. In both instances, the person carrying the gun (I think, unless I'm confusing you with someone else, you've even posted something to this effect on this blog) has the responsibility to try to walk away from unnecessary violence. (Do note I say "unnecessary.") If shooting a person stealing a handful of cigars is justified, is shooting someone who refuses to show up to court for a speeding ticket justified?

If Michael Brown reached into the car for Officer Wilson, I have two questions. First, why was the officer's window down in the first place? Second, why didn't he just drive away and wait for backup? The store owner rightly would have been convicted of murder if he shot Brown, whether he was a few feet away or 150 feet away from his store, as Brown was from Officer Wilson after the first couple of shots. Why not the officer?

The answer, I suspect, lies in hubris and abuse of police power: Brown, according to witnesses, told Wilson that he was too much of a "f****** p****" to shoot him, and Wilson decided to show him that that wasn't true. The police have been given much too much power and much too much leeway in this country, and for far too long.

Brown is hardly a loss to the world, I suspect, but that's not a decision that we (or Officer Wilson) have the right to make.

For whatever context it's worth, I thought that George Zimmerman was an idiot, but that he was, in the end, justified in the shooting of Trayvon Martin because Martin had him on the ground and was beating his skull into the pavement. He had no other reasonable way to stop that violence on his person. Officer Wilson could have closed his window and/or driven away. (If Brown was a violent felon, I'd have supported Wilson in any effort to apprehend him, but a handful of stolen cigars doesn't make a person a felon.)

Peter said...

@Katherine: There are a few factors that make the shooting almost inevitable after Brown's initial assault on Officer Wilson.

1. Wilson, as a cop, did not have the option of just walking away, or letting things go. He's there to uphold the law, and that means confronting those breaking it. He might have called for backup if the situation had initially appeared threatening, but of course it didn't. He did ask for backup when things began to look difficult, but it couldn't reach him in time.

2. Brown charged Officer Wilson after already physically assaulting him and trying to get his gun away from him. Wilson was entitled to assume that Brown was trying to get his gun again; and if he'd got it, he would probably have used it against the officer. Under similar circumstances, I'd assume the same thing. That, above all else, is what entitled Wilson to use deadly force: he was defending himself against Brown's threat of deadly force. I'm sure that's how the grand jury saw it.

3. Attacking a police officer in the course of his duties is in itself a felony offense, over and above such offenses as assault, battery, etc. Brown indicated by his actions that he didn't give a damn about the law, or about law enforcement. In a sense, he made his own death inevitable because it was the only way for Wilson to stop him in the very short time available (a matter of only a few seconds). If the distance had been greater, allowing more time for the deployment and use of non-lethal options, I hope Wilson would have done so (in his shoes, I would have, and I think most cops would have done so). Unfortunately, there wasn't enough space or time available.

It's easy to second-guess these things after the fact; but in the heat of the moment, with only a second or two to make a judgment call and act on it, things can look very different. Again, the grand jury would have taken that into account. It's the foundation of the 'reasonable person' doctrine: what would any reasonable man have thought, and done, under the same circumstances? See:


I hope this helps.