Random musings on #Ferguson

The #1 result in Google Images for a search of "Ferguson Missouri Police Department."

The #1 result in Google Images for a search of “Ferguson Missouri Police Department.”

I’ve been thinking about recent events in Ferguson, Missouri. I’ve been trying to control my brain and avoid leaping to conclusions.

I preface the following thoughts with this disclaimer: I’m a big fan of law enforcement. They have a tough job. They have my empathy. They have an extremely necessary function in a society that is populated with far too many assholes. We need them.

I’ve never been a cop but I know a few. I have never walked a mile in their shoes. To those who say that means I’m not entitled to my opinion or that I’m somehow unable to form cogent (but possibly erroneous) conclusions from a different vantage point, I only say this: It is possible to form conclusions without having been there first. If that wasn’t true, humans would have never been able to leave Earth and visit outer space.

Therefore, opinions and conclusions about police by non-police shouldn’t automatically be rejected out of hand on that basis alone. That would be a logical fallacy. If you want to reject ideas, find a better rebuttal than that.

Thought #1

“It is a failure of civilization when an armed person kills an unarmed person.”

Thought #2

“When police arrest someone who, by definition, is innocent until proven guilty, they do not hesitate to publicize the person’s name regardless of the consequences.”

Do police occasionally arrest the wrong person? Yes. I’d accept this as axiomatic. Maybe in a day or two the charges are dropped and the person is released. But, by then, the innocent person has been named in press releases (a police POV narrative) that have been fed to media outlets who gobble them up and publicize based on how sensational they are. To be sure, words like “suspect” and “alleged” are always used to cover asses, but this doesn’t mean that damage hasn’t been done. People have had their lives turned upside down this way, sometimes based on a completely honest mistake. (And, sometimes, not so honest.)

Is there a magical fix-it fairy who flies in to right the wrong? Public apologies? More press releases explaining how mistakes were made? Not too much in my experience. I personally know of a case where a person’s reputation was damaged by the initial press frenzy. When the charges were dropped there was nary a peep from the police and the media. They don’t like to emphasize their mistakes and it’s just not as sensational.

Yet, after initially promising that they would reveal the name of the officer involved in the Michael Brown shooting, the Ferguson Police Department has changed their mind. It would be too dangerous, they say, because threats have been made against the officer on the internet.

Oh, really? Since when is that the deciding criteria? I’m just asking since vile threats and behavior are rampant online, but when directed against regular persons, the police don’t usually do jack shit. Now all of the sudden it matters?

Thought #3

“The police take a very dim view if, after an incident, a suspect doesn’t immediately come forward and tell them what happened.”

I watched a video of an unedited police interview of a suspect who had shot and killed someone and claimed self-defense. In this case, after the shooting, the suspect went to a hotel and didn’t present himself to police until the following morning. A murder suspect was dictating to police how the process would unfold.

The police were, understandably, very agitated about this. Why didn’t he come to the police sooner? They wanted his access to his immediate comments, not some message that had been spinned during the extra time he had to “get his stories straight.” That seems obvious and logical to me.

So why then the double standard if the shooter is a law enforcement officer? As I followed the reports coming out of Ferguson following the shooting, one thing was becoming clear. The police had circled their wagons and locked down information regarding the incident. They weren’t talking. And, in some ways, they still aren’t talking, even four days after the fact.

Why?

Are they taking the extra time to “get their stories straight” first? Should we evaluate police shootings based on the duration of time before they are forthcoming with the public?

Thought #4

“It’s a dangerous job but not one entitled to absolute security of person at any cost.”

I don’t want to see police officers in danger. I saw an incident where a car was pulled over for a minor traffic infraction and as the officer walked up the driver jumped out and started shooting with kids in the car. I can’t even begin to imagine that kind of hell. Luckily, in this case, the officer took cover, returned fire and got the bad guy. The kids were okay. I understand it doesn’t always work out so well.

Because of omnipresent dangers like that, police departments across our country are increasingly militarizing. They are receiving militarized weaponry, tactics and vehicles from the federal government. They have weaponized drones designed for use against citizenry.

It’s increasingly becoming “police like it’s a war” rather than “protect and serve.” I think Ferguson is a symptom of this.

There was recently a sensational viral video about a police response to an indigent person in the rocks. A large number of police, in tactical fashion, circled the man who clearly had mental issues. The police appeared to be a safe distance away, perhaps 20 or 30 feet. When the man clumsily reached for a “pocketknife,” they opened fire and plugged him full of lead. (According to Wikipedia a total of three times including once in the back.) To me this feels like “too much” officer safety. An FBI investigation is still in progress but after an internal investigation the police department determined the shooting was “justified.”

I believe that the militarization of police is based on the belief that any action which reduces dangers they face must therefore be justifiable. In theory it sounds good but the ends don’t always justify the means. “Any” is too broad of a word. It should be followed by “reasonable.” If we acknowledge this then we are forced to admit that risk is part of the job and there is no way to ever totally eliminate it. That’s the ugly reality.

Conclusion

Thanks for considering my words, the lame thoughts of a regular idiot. I appreciate it. There are no easy answers within the breathtaking breadth of human behavior.

2 responses

  1. Often times, it’s us regular idiots that make the most sense.

    Like

  2. I agree with you on this. We were away when the shooting occurred and came back to read about the upheaval. I keep trying to come up with scenarios in which an officer kills an unarmed suspect.

    I also feel for law enforcement officers, but the military-like response of this particular police department (actually it reminded me of the martial law imposed on Boston when they were searching for that bomber guy) is really disturbing. The people protesting are not your enemy. They are your constituents, the ones you’ve SWORN to protect and serve. WTF.

    Of course, police probably legitimately feel (and fear being) out-gunned in what otherwise might be “normal” situations, but there we are with unregulated access to guns being an issue…

    Like

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