Thursday, November 27, 2014

Ferg without the Craigy

Man, I love the smell of racial unrest in the morning!

The situation in Ferguson, Missouri has been commented to death, but I thought I'd add my two cents before the dust of the riots actually settled.

My own position on this situation is a bit nuanced and is, admittedly, based on only a couple bits of evidence that I think are both important and relevant. Obviously, my thoughts are those of a complete non-expert in legal matters, so feel free to commit the genetic fallacy and dismiss what I say because of who I am. That dismissal might not be so fallacious in this case.

As I told my Golden Goose coworker yesterday, I don't think Officer Darren Wilson is completely innocent. This isn't like the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman case, which I found to be a clear-cut case of self-defense. True: Brown was much larger, and very likely was enraged, perhaps even to the point of murderous rage. I haven't examined the testimonies closely enough to form an opinion. What I do know, though, is that Darren Wilson undeniably shot Mike Brown six times, and that Wilson, in the hospital photos that finally showed up online, didn't really appear injured, except for a slight discoloration on his face that might have come from a fist or an open hand.

Mike Brown is as large and bulky as I am—maybe larger. If I were of small stature, and if someone like that came down on me like a ton of bricks, I'd probably fear for my life, too. But would I shoot him six times? I doubt it—especially if I had received police training and knew the necessity of keeping my head in a crisis situation. By my reckoning, firing six shots is excessive force, and there's just not enough photographic evidence of Officer Wilson's injuries for me to feel he was justified in emptying most or all of his gun into Brown (I don't know what sort of firearm Wilson had).

I'm not saying flat-out that Officer Wilson murdered Mike Brown in cold blood. That would be committing the fallacy of the excluded middle: going from one extreme notion to another without considering the middle ground. And the middle ground in this case—or maybe we should call it the muddled ground—is that the truth is very likely that neither party was a saint in all this. Officer Wilson could have exercised restraint, and Mike Brown is responsible for making the poor choices that led to his death. The injustice, as I see it, is that Officer Wilson has escaped indictment, thanks to a grand jury's decision that there is nothing to charge Wilson with. (Grand juries aren't the same as regular juries.) recently published an article, linked to by Instapundit, that I largely agree with. On Instapundit itself, plenty of conservative commenters have been expressing vehement disagreement with the article, but I think they're all letting their emotions cloud their ability to think. Most of the comments are along the lines of "putting Wilson on trial would simply be to appease the mob." That's not how I see it at all. I think there are legitimate questions about how Officer Wilson handled himself, and by rights he should take the stand in a court of law to answer them. His hands aren't clean, despite his claims that his conscience is clean.

There are, of course, larger questions of ambient and institutional racism in America that deserve civil, intelligent discussion. I'm not sure how likely it is that we'll ever see such discussion, alas: race in America always leads to the circus. This is Tom Wolfe's world, this bonfire of the vanities, and we're unlucky enough to be living in it.

One final comment: the riots and the rioters are idiots. My coworker pointed out that many of the rioters aren't even from Ferguson, which is sad when you think about it: people actually made the effort to come to another town to trash that town's property. Businesses will be crippled; damage will create huge financial setbacks; nothing remotely like "social justice" will materialize from all this sound and fury. Ferguson has become a cosmic joke, and all truly is moving according to Tom Wolfe's cynical plan.



Surprises Aplenty said...

One point. My father was a police officer and was involved in a shooting. I forget all the details but the man they were after -let's say an escaped murderer who was suspected of having a gun - was found sitting in a car. Several police officers were able to get close and when one officer told the man to 'freeze', his hand reached under a newspaper on the passenger seat.

Every police officer there emptied their pistols. These were revolvers so every shot required a separate pull on the trigger.

Why? Well, many people survive a gunshot or two. There might have been a post in the doorframe in the way or the windshield could have deflected a shot. You want to live, you don't fire only once. If you don't expect to need your ammo later, saving it is foolish.

I have heard somewhere that the Ferguson officer shot twelve times, which sounds crazy, just for the time involved. Maybe twelve is too many for one officer to shoot. Maybe.

I don't know any of the details beyond what Boingboing and The Daily Show have given so I won't defend any positions about the shooting, but it seems to me that the argument should be about why the officer fired, not how much he fired.

Kevin Kim said...

I imagine that a lot of people are indeed focused on the question of why the officer fired, and I agree that that is a central question, but I also think excessive force is a relevant topic to focus on.

What you say about the need to fire multiple rounds sounds at least plausible, I'll grant, although the need to expend so much ammunition also has to do with police insistence on using small-caliber weapons with little stopping power. If Wilson did in fact fire twelve times at Brown, that would seem to be overkill. From what I saw of Wilson's injuries and from the forensic conclusion that Brown was struck six times, though, my own feeling is that there's at least justification for questioning Wilson, his adherence to police procedure, and his professionalism while under assault. Such questioning won't happen now, and Wilson's conscience is, according to him, clear.

John said...

It sounds like you are arguing against the Grand Jury system. I'd sure hate to see prosecutors carte blanche to indict based solely on political or "social justice" considerations.

The Grand Jury did not find reasonable cause to indict after reviewing all the available evidence. Seems to me a trial with a higher standard of proof would have the same ultimate outcome, so what's the point?

Kevin Kim said...


I'm all for the grand-jury system, but I wish I could have been a fly on the wall during the deliberations. I feel something went awry.

The article I linked to says it better than I can:

"Assuming the jurors were acting in good faith (and there is no reason to think they weren't), the only explanation for their decision is that they lost sight of the task at hand and considered the evidence as if they were being asked to convict Wilson rather than approve charges that would have led to a real trial."

It's worth reading if you haven't read it.

Kevin Kim said...

Am not surprised by this: "The appropriate investigative procedures were not followed."

Sperwer said...

I think that speculating that multiple shots - that probably took all of 2-4 seconds to fire - might constitute excessive force is something that is only possible for people who have no experience of shooting a firearm in a charged situation when one's adrenalin is pumping - particularly when the target is so relatively big and obviously inclined to violence (a perception that would have been buttressed/validated by the forensic finding that Brown had a lot of THS in his system

Kevin Kim said...


You shot anyone?

Sperwer said...

Can I take the Fifth on that?

I did once beat someone into a coma before I got pulled off, and one would imagine stopping oneself in that sort of up close and personal would be much easier than interrupting a 2-4 second fusillade of pistol shots (from an automatic pistol, moreover)