I will never forget Ferguson. I spent about 20 minutes of my 90 minute labor listening to coverage outside the birth center.
I get pretty infuriated about excessive police force, especially when it results in severe injury or death. If you follow the news, you know SPD was investigated by the DOJ for discriminatory policing. The DOJ found the SPD indiscriminately used excessive force. Most officers rarely or never used force, and never used force unnecessarily. A minority of officers, however, habitally used unnecessary excessive force. The report is a very interesting read:
I would like to know why it took a concern about discrimination for an investigation to occur. Why is unjustified use of excessive force acceptable until it’s discriminatory? Excessive police force should never be OK.
What happened in Ferguson? I really like this series of pictograms in the Washington Post:
And this article in the New York Times:
Based on reading those, it seems to me that the officer was possibly or even probably justified in firing his gun while he and the youth were tussling in his vehicle. After all, Brown’s DNA was found on his gun. However, those were not the shots that were fatal. They didn’t even cause significant injury, if you read the articles above. Then Brown ran away, and the officer pursued him. Couldn’t he have waited for backup? Wouldn’t backup have allowed him to bring Brown in safely? Brown then moved toward the officer. I think it’s unjustified to kill him, but I can see why the officer felt he was in a dangerous situation. The key is that if he hadn’t exited the cruiser, Brown would likely have just run off and could have been apprehended later. Is there a good reason why he should have exited the vehicle and pursued? No matter how you slice it, the matter seems far from cut and dried.
The NYT article brings up a number of differences between the way this grand jury proceeded and the way they typically proceed. This seems odd to me.
However, while there do seem to be oddities about the grand jury, I would have been shocked if the officer had been indicted. In Seattle, we had a particularly egregious case a few years ago. An officer shot a Native American woodcarver. The carver was only carrying a knife (for carving wood), was a good distance from the officer, and the entire thing was caught on video. The police department themselves described it as “egregious.” However, as the Seattle Times states:
Yet no charges were filed. Our outgoing U.S. attorney, Jenny Durkan, this week compared that case to Ferguson in an article she wrote for The Washington Post, headlined: “As a federal prosecutor I know how hard it is to charge officers like Darren Wilson.”
An officer has to have malice or willfully bad intent to be convicted, she wrote. It’s an incredibly high bar. “Accident, mistake, fear, negligence or bad judgment is not sufficient,” Durkan wrote when declining to charge Birk.
The Seattle case was completely clear, in my opinion. The behavior of the officer was absolutely unnecessary and unacceptable. Everyone agreed. And yet – no indictment. The Missouri case is far less clear, so of course there is no indictment.
There’s a fantastic article in the Seattle Times describing an additional two other cases here in which police violence resulted in loss of life or severe injury. Basically, the police can do whatever they please.
I grant you, at long last, there was a DOJ investigation, as I linked at the top. But again, the investigation was only called based on concerns about discrimination. Fortunately, whatever, the reason, it seems likely there will be some changes in the department. But until there are consequences for going around and shooting people, I can’t see there being real change.
In Ireland and the UK, most police do not carry firearms. I don’t want to go on at length about the pros and cons of this, but it seems to me that in general, we have way to many guns in this country. Isn’t it ironic that the only life-threatening risk Brown posed to the officer was because of the officer’s own gun?