It has been a week now since the verdict came from the grand jury in Ferguson, MO, not to indict police officer Darren Wilson. I watched the press announcement by the district attorney (video and transcript available through C-SPAN). He was clear; he was thorough. He also provided a packet of material, including pretty much every iota of information set before the grand jury (available here).
|Robert McCulloch, St. Louis, MO, Prosecutor|
photo from here
There were, in the streets, people waiting for the announcement without the details. They did not want to know why a grand jury would not indict; they wanted an excuse to riot.
We have here the contrast between civilization and savagery.
Civilization abides by the law, and when it sees unfairness in the law, seeks to change the law through the appropriate process at the appropriate level for that law.
Savagery breaks the law and blames society for the negative consequences, and breaks more laws in defiance of their civilizing purpose.
It is a tragedy that a young man had to die. But I haven’t heard a single good suggestion on how to change a broken system—or even anything broken about the system. A very large young man, on drugs, robs a store, shoving the (Asian) store owner on his way out with unpaid-for merchandise. Minutes later, when a report of the robbery is being sent to police officers nearby, he’s walking down the middle of the street, where he will attract the attention of law enforcement. He doesn’t take direction to get out of the street, but reaches in to a police vehicle, attacks the officer, goes for his gun, threatens his life.
When the officer shoots, still with the perpetrator looming over him within the police car, the man begins to run away. He has just represented himself as a threat; it is the officer’s duty to pursue to see where he goes, particularly because this is near residential areas; people could be harmed by this man. In Officer Wilson’s statement, he never intended to apprehend the big, dangerous man alone. He had called for backup and was just keeping eye contact. But Michael Brown turned around and started coming at the officer.
Considering the previous attempt on the officer’s life, just moments before, there were a lot of things the officer could fear: another physical attack that might knock him out; losing control of the weapon and having it used on him and on other innocent civilians. He fired several rounds at the charging man. He saw a flinch, so he knew he had hit him. He paused. Michael Brown didn’t do the normal thing—stop, hold up his empty hands, surrender. After being shot, he continued to charge at the officer. He kept charging, despite additional bullet wounds. Nothing stopped him but the final head shot—when he was within three yards of the officer.
Unarmed does not mean not dangerous. Clearly this man was dangerous and was exhibiting threatening behavior. Would it have been nice if we had some sort of instantaneous tranquilizer gun, instead of real bullets? Maybe. But when you’re up against a criminal with real bullets, you might not want to risk a slow response to his getting hit. And you might not know in the moment all the details that get examined after the fact. So officers carry guns, and I think we’re in agreement that’s for our protection and theirs.
What about Tasers? Good in some circumstances. But you have to be quite close, with all circumstances right. And there is always a chance they could still cause death. So I’m still waiting to hear what problem exists with the system.
There was one sure, certain way this tragedy could have been avoided: Michael Brown could have behaved less like a thuggish threat and more like a civilized human being.
He could have raised his hands to show he had no weapon. He could have respectfully obeyed the officer. He would probably still be alive if he had done everything wrong except for charging at Officer Wilson even after receiving bullet wounds. Stopping at any point would have saved his life.
The circumstances would have been the same if a man of a different color had behaved as Michael Brown did. It’s sad that this young man didn’t get straightened out in time to see a better future. But his choices that day made it so that any police officer simply doing his job would follow essentially the same procedures as Officer Wilson.
It would have been a travesty to put this officer on trial when all the evidence validated his version and discounted the contradictory eye-witness accounts. (Witness 10 corroborates, for example. Paul Cassell, for Volokh Conspiracy, a law blog, discusses that here.)
There has been discussion about how rare it is for a DA not to recommend an outcome for the jury. There’s some context for that. Usually a DA is certain he has enough evidence for probable cause—and probably for an eventual conviction. The grand jury is there to make sure there’s not corruption in the process; the DA must actually have the evidence. In this case the DA knew he did not have sufficient evidence to prosecute the officer. In normal circumstances (i.e., without the media circus and riot instigation), the officer would simply have been examined and dismissed, since he followed procedure. The grand jury was only used in this case to satisfy those claiming an injustice had been done. If the DA simply dismissed, the complaints could continue. (Paul Cassell again gives a good rundown of the grand jury procedure, here. Cassell has spent the week going through the reports. He also has good commentary on the self-defense argument and the supporting physical evidence.)
What is puzzling in the aftermath is to see, in the face of clear evidence, that a “tribe” of racist blacks, mainly, insist on demonstrating their displeasure through rioting, looting, burning—of unrelated business people. (We talked about “tribalism” last month, including mentioning this case. It’s worth a re-read.) One store taken down the first night was a cake decorating shop, owned by a young black woman, who had saved up after starting small and mobile, and had put everything into her business, opening up just in June.
First of all, the narrative about this case being anti-black is bogus; it’s about someone being prevented from acting savagely among civilized people. People who do what Michael Brown did don't get a pass just because of their skin tone. Second, how does it prove society is unfair and uncivilized to blacks when blacks go out afterward and savagely cause mayhem? It doesn’t. And third, targeting innocent businesses—even black-owned ones—is a particularly ineffective way of claiming society is unfair to these otherwise deserving blacks. “We’re more civilized than you, and that’s what we’re showing you by going out and destroying random property.” Hmm.
But one thing I’d like to point out here is that love of goodness—love of fellow human beings, love of civilization—will win. We have seen some stories this week.
As Mr. Rogers is quoted as saying, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’” That is true now, as in any civilization.
|image found on Pinterest|
One example concerns Natalie Debose, the cake decorator whose place was trashed. Online, people started gathering money to help her rebuild, and last report I read the crowdsourcing had raise $140,000 for her, without government help.
One example is a group of four young black men, who armed themselves and descended on a business—to protect it from the rioters. Some confusion ensued, and the business owner had to validate to police that they were there to help. So it took more than a little bravery on their part. But they saw good that needed doing, and they did it.
Another story mentioned a woman who stood up to armed thugs about to attack a Papa John’s pizza shop. She wasn’t the owner, didn’t even work there. She just saw where the thugs were headed and stood up to them. I don’t know her name (or even her race), but she’s very brave.
Standing up against tyranny—including the chaotic kind—is what civilized people do. Civilized people think, build, love, and stand strong. Savages gnash their teeth, hate, hurt, and destroy.
The civilized world is a better place to live. Anyone willing to live the rules that bring about civilization is welcome to live among the civilized.