November 25, 2014

Some Thoughts On Ferguson

Some may notice that I've said very little about matters in Ferguson, Missouri. Such reticence may surprise some people, since I voice my opinion on so many controversial issues. Others may assume it is due to cowardice, fearing that I would say the wrong thing.

But there are a number of reasons I've been quiet about the shooting of Mike Brown by Darren Wilson.

One of them is that my brother is a cop -- albeit in another part of the country far from Ferguson -- and I hope and pray there would be no rush to judgment if my brother ever had to fire a shot in the line of duty. I would hope and pray that there were not charges filed against him simply because a howling mob demanded them.

Another is that I teach in a school where my students are poor and minority (though more likely to be named Miguel Moreno than Mike Brown). I wasn't ready to rush to judge Mike Brown without evidence. Even as late as last night, when we began to officially receive details about what the evidence showed, I was prepared to accept that Mike Brown had not tried to grab Darren Wilson's gun and that he had not turned around and come back toward Wilson in an aggressive manner.

A third is that I used to live not far from Ferguson, and used to regularly shop and visit friends in that community. I know it has changed in the last 25 or so years, but that area still holds a special place in my heart. I wished to day nothing to dishonor that community.

Lastly, during my St. Louis days I knew a number of folks involved in this ongoing drama. A couple of old friends work in the DA's office in St. Louis County. I'm acquainted with Brown family advisers Erick Vickers and Anthony Gray -- indeed, I recall one particularly intense argument with Vickers over beers in which we expressed sharply differing views over race relations. Congressman Lacy Clay and I have shared a meal together, and I know him to be an honorable man even if I do find myself in disagreement with him here.

As you can see, I have had reasons for holding my tongue.

But after last night's announcement, I have a few words to say.

First, I think that Robert McCulloch got things right when he decided to give the grand jury the evidence without recommending charges. That is historically how grand juries have been used, and we would do well to go back to the days when grand juries made decisions rather than simply rubber-stamping the District Attorney's recommended charges. A group of citizens heard the evidence -- all of it -- and made the decision, not one politically motivated government official.

Second, I think the decision not to charge Darren Wilson was correct. We know know that he did know about Michael Brown's earlier robbery and that he did have his description at the time Brown and his accomplice were confronted. We know from the forensic evidence that shots were fired inside of Wilson's car and that this was due to Brown's effort to get Wilson's gun. We know that the eyewitness testimony most in line with the forensic evidence unambiguously states that Mike Brown did not have his hands up and that he was advancing on Officer Wilson. One can argue whether or not shooting was the best course of action, but one cannot deny that it was legitimate and lawful for Wilson to do so.

Third, I believe that there has been a systematic attempt to foment violence since August 9. From lying witnesses and fake witnesses in August to rabble-rousing "community organizers" and activists over the last three months to camera-hungry politicians today, there has been a false narrative constructed designed to make it appear that Ferguson in 2014 is the Jim Crow South that is six decades in the past. The sad thing is that despite their being morally responsible for the violence that has taken place, there is no way to hold them legally responsible for the directly foreseeable consequences of their words and actions.

And then there are the parents of Michael brown. On August 9 I felt great sympathy for them -- and I did for a very long time afterwards. It is a terrible thing to lose a child, all the more so when that child dies due to an act of violence that was preventable. However, they have spend the last 100 days pushing the false narrative that their son was an innocent and that he bore no responsibility for his death. the reality is that their son's last minutes were spent engaging in acts of theft and violence that led directly to his death. Rather than condemning Darren Wilson, they should be apologizing to him for their son's actions and for their own words vilifying him. Instead, they continue to engage in a course of conduct that shows that the apple did not fall far from the tree as they continue to make threats to "make Darren Wilson pay" for shooting their son. No wonder their son had no morals and no respect for authority -- it is apparent that he was raised by parents who lacked those character traits.

So in the end, we have a tragedy. A community lies in ruins for the second time in three months because of the misdeeds of a thug, the lies of his accomplice and a few fame-seekers, and the incitement of activists. My prayer is that Ferguson recovers -- but one has to question what sensible business owner would rebuild their business there, and how they could afford the insurance premiums necessary to protect their investment after the last few months of violence. In the end, it will be the innocent, non-violent people who suffer the consequences of these last weeks. And that is the real tragedy, not the death of a young thug at the hands of a police officer who he decided to attack.

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