Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Ferguson shooting, in the end, is about excessive use of lethal force by police

Despite intense media scrutiny and pressure from the street, a majority—not all—on the grand jury in the Ferguson, MO police shooting case decided that there was insufficient evidence to charge white police officer Darren Wilson with a crime in the shooting death of an unarmed black man, Michael Brown. What followed immediately was not necessarily “predictable”; after all, there was no rioting after the George Zimmerman not guilty verdict, probably due to a sense that a guilty verdict would have put many people in “danger” if self-defense against even a 17-year-old “child” beating your head against the pavement was suddenly a crime. In the Brown case, rioting occurred in the aftermath of the “surprise” verdict, in part due to long-standing enmity toward police who seem to get away with anything, and that Brown’s own criminal behavior was not disseminated by the media.

Many have blamed the media for over-hyping the case, without context or a fair examination of the facts. However, this was much more true of the Zimmerman case, in which the shooter was demonized unrelievedly while the victim (Trayvon Martin) was falsely characterized as an “innocent child.” Unlike the Ferguson case, the prosecutor saw political opportunity to charge Zimmerman with murder herself when it became clear that it was unlikely that the grand jury then in session would find sufficient cause to charge Zimmerman with a crime. Yet at trial, it was the defense—not the prosecution—who provided the only plausible version of the facts and convincing testimony. 

But in heavily Republican Missouri, there was no desire to make the Ferguson case an “example” of racism is condoned in the state. The prosecutor seemed quite satisfied with the grand jury verdict—a process which was forced upon him against his will to begin with. Since there will be no trial for Wilson, we will never know to what extent his explanation of himself once under cross-examination would fare in a public forum.

To be honest, I thought that from the beginning that the proper action was simply to fire Wilson and ban him from a law enforcement career. Michael Brown certainly did not have any respect for standard rules of behavior, he did (like Martin) make a “career” of delinquency, and he did commit a crime just prior to the shooting incident, and he did apparently believe that he could “strong arm” people into submission; acting “tough” might have worked with miniscule convenience store clerk, but not with a police officer with a license to kill.

But that last is the rub. After numerous witnesses gave conflicting testimony to what they saw, the so-called most “credible” witness—who normally would not have testified in a grand jury hearing, whose only purpose is to evaluate the evidence and see if a charge can be sustained—was also the officer who shot those 12 bullets at Brown: Darren Wilson. Wilson own testimony at the very least revealed himself to be incompetent police officer, which made him a dangerous one who didn’t belong on the street with a badge.

Wilson’s testimony was not entirely trustworthy and obviously well-coached (like Ian Birk’s “account” of the John T. Williams shooting, which did not square with any witness testimony). According to an examination of the testimony by an NPR reporter, “After the initial shots, Wilson says, Brown runs. And, as has been reported, Wilson fired the fatal shot to Brown's head after getting out of his car, when Brown was facing him, several feet away." One wonders how Point A led to Point B. 

In the end, the issue here is excessive use of lethal force. Of those 12 bullets fired (already far in excess of an “adequate” response), at least a half dozen struck Brown at close range, including a headshot. This is what many people don’t understand and find difficult to tolerate. In most instances in confrontations between police and civilians, it is the police who initiate the action, and cause it to escalate. They are like the playground bully who suddenly becomes paranoid and fearful when unexpectedly confronted with “pushback.” 

In most physical confrontations in daily life, one might expect the use of fists, but police are armed with means of combat that make it in most cases an “unfair” fight. And Michael Brown in all likelihood had no intention of “killing” Wilson, particularly given that he was unarmed. Wilson’s claim that he “feared for his life” is a refrain we hear far too often from police with no justification whatever. Even if he feared physical harm, blazing away like a madman goes far beyond what is necessary. This isn’t the “Wild West,” after all.

Too many people in this country die because of paranoid people carrying guns; we don’t need them wearing a badge. If there is a lesson here, it is about the continuing excessive use of lethal force by police. I doubt the lesson was learned.

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