On CNN last evening, law enforcement officers in full riot gear were seen on the streets of Ferguson, MO—a mostly black neighborhood where a man had been shot by a law officer—apparently awaiting for something to happen. I didn’t hang around the television set to find out if anything did happen. After all, there were no businesses were left to wreck, and any actions by police would seem overkill, and Al Sharpton and company would certainly know that any more violence on the part of the part of neighborhood resident would dampen any public empathy for their cause.
I don’t want to appear to be cynical. I have stated many times before my distaste for private handgun ownership, and my anger at the fact that police always seem to shoot to kill, rather than to wound. The incident in Ferguson has an all-too familiar ring to it: An “unarmed” black male is shot by a police officer during an abortive attempt to arrest him. The community is outraged, the police respond in a manner that reminds people of scenes from civil rights protests in the streets of Selma, Alabama in the 1960s.
On the other hand, in this world nothing occurs in a vacuum; for every action, there is a reaction. People who do bad things seem to believe that they are immune from the consequences of their actions; they don’t think that given the right time, place and circumstance that something can go terribly wrong that they did not foresee, acting the wrong way to the wrong person. Cops don’t start their day thinking that they are going to find “punk” and shoot him dead, although there may be few who are susceptible to the gun than their judgment. From the video evidence from the Quicktrip convenience store that was subsequently burned down by a mob of “protestors,” Michael Brown robbed—apparently to satisfy the need of someone who appeared to be female—a carton of cigarettes. Brown (called a “good kid” by those who “knew” him) simply reached across the counter, picked one out, and handed it to his companion.
The clerk—a short man who appeared to be Indian or Pakistani—confronted the large figure of Brown, who in turn shoved him aside several times and menaced him as if he was the Incredible Hulk. Brown did not “respect” the normative rules of behavior that society has set, nor that of the man he robbed. The story afterward was that police, responding to the robbery, “arbitrarily” detained him, attempted to force him into a squad car, he ran away and was then shot. The police claim that after he was forced into the car Brown struggled with an officer and attempted to take his gun before escaping, upon which the officer then shot him down. Unfortunately, too many inquest juries and city attorneys have found such action “justified,” so the blame has to be shared by society as a whole.
Here we are again, confronted with a certainly reality: “Fate” has a cruel way of doling out punishment for wrong acts—and let’s not kid ourselves any longer, Michael Brown committed a crime (however "minor"), and although he was “unarmed,” that doesn’t mean he was incapable of causing serious injury or even killing someone because of his “tough guy” behavior. Here in Seattle there was the incident a few years ago when a group of black females got into an argument with an older white male who was tending to flowers in a traffic circle; they called a male friend for “help”; When he arrived he responded by punching the man in the head, the latter who subsequently died from brain injuries. His assailant was also technically “unarmed.” He was later found guilty of second degree murder, although I personally blame the uncharged “girls” for instigating the whole scenario—again proving how one seemingly “innocuous” incident can trigger a tragic end; I wonder if this three females feel any “remorse” about their role in the tragedy for the two people—one dead and the other in prison for many years.
I also wonder about the nature of “protest.” In Ferguson, after a night or two of rioting which saw the destruction of a number of businesses—including the one that Brown robbed—the media was amazed by the “festive” atmosphere of subsequent “protests.” The media focused more on police in riot gear, dogs and tear gas, not cause and effect. I recall the night of the Rodney King verdict—in which a Simi Valley, CA jury acquitted the four police officers who beat King—“protests” went on in many cities across the country, including Seattle. I happened to observe this particular disruption: a crowd of young people gleefully watching a small number of punks breaking windows.
But I didn’t see anyone decrying the incident that sparked these “protests,” in was just an opportunity to have “fun” and act crazy. Now the “participants” can impress friends and tell their kids later about how they engaged in social protest and “civil disobedience” over a “righteous” cause. But from my perspective, all that was accomplished was irresponsible activity that dampened any empathy for the “cause.” It would take the U.S. Justice Department over 20 years later to address similar issues in a more substantive way in regard to abuses by the Seattle Police Department, in the wake of the John T. Williams shooting.
The people “outraged” at the Brown shooting have good reasons to be; the police are far too free with the use lethal force. But on the other hand, Brown was not the “good kid” he has been portrayed as—just as Trayvon Martin was not a “good kid.” How do you reconcile the fact that crime occurs, yet is not viewed as an act of irresponsibility that may have consequences that one may not have foreseen—consequences that could have been avoided had the crime not occurred, or the criminal trying to avoid responsibility for his actions, especially in the presence of armed police officers? Brown didn’t “know” that committing a crime and then tangling with a police officer was a potentially dangerous tact?
Unfortunately, to me it’s just like the issue of domestic violence; it won’t “end” unless people recognize that in most cases there are two sides to every story. If you only focus on the faults of one side, and ignore the actions of those who often instigate and engage in violent behavior—and then take on the “passive victim” pose when they lose the “upper hand”—and the cycle simply continues, allowing the social “activists” to justify their existence. These problems simply won’t end until all people—regardless of how society is told to view them—are held responsible for their own actions.