There is only one injustice, thus far, that has occurred in Ferguson, Missouri. And it’s not the shooting of a boy, because the jury is still out (actually, it hasn’t even gone to a jury yet) on the events surrounding the shooting of Michael Brown. The injustice is being perpetrated by those who take it upon themselves to be judge, jury, and executioner against the innocent citizens of the town.
Two weeks ago, on August 9, 2014, Michael Brown, a 6’2” 300 pound 18 year-old, was shot and killed in the middle of the road in front of an apartment complex in Ferguson, Missouri. Police officer Darren Wilson, who shot the young man, has been placed on paid administrative leave as the investigation continues. No charges have been filed so far against the policeman.
“Eyewitness” accounts vary greatly about what transpired that hot afternoon on the Ferguson street. But we do know that Brown was stopped for jaywalking, not because he was suspected in a nearby store robbery. It is also clear that the youth was unarmed, since no other weapon was found at the site, and all six shell casings were from officer Wilson’s gun. One casing was found inside the squad car. The final, and apparently lethal shot, was about 35 feet from the car. Dr. Michael Baden, former chief medical examiner for New York City, who conducted an autopsy on behalf of the Brown family, said “This one [the fatal shot] here looks like his head was bent downward. It can be because he’s giving up, or because he’s charging forward at the officer.”
The response to the shooting has been understandably disturbing to many, and has resulted in two weeks of demonstrations, riots, as well as destruction and looting of local stores in and around the small Missouri town of 21,000 residents. What is not understandable, or condonable, is the violence that has dominated the news cycle 24/7 since August 9.
I would be willing to wager that nearly everyone in the nation wants to see justice served. The problem is, at this point we don’t know what justice will look like. If Brown was shot while charging and threatening the officer, justice will look quite different than if Wilson shot the youth while surrendering with his hands in the air.
Neither judicial outcome justifies the idiocy of violence and destruction perpetrated against the town and its residents. The fact that charges have not been filed against Wilson heretofore is due to the judicial process being played out behind the scenes and gathering evidence for grand jury consideration, not because of prejudice or racism. Emotionally charged racial considerations should have no bearing on the expediency of due process, especially with the eyes of the nation so focused on the rulings made in the case.
While the cogs of justice are meshing forward, demonstrations are perfectly acceptable. In America, any demonstration, however fervent, should be the unabated right of any citizen. The impetus behind the demonstrations is inconsequential since it is a constitutionally assured right, whether protesting a cop shooting, or demonstrating against war or excessive government taxation. As an aside, the word “cop” is not a pejorative, which may come as a revelation to some, as it’s an acronym for “constable on patrol.”
But when demonstrations lead to riots, violence, and property destruction, law enforcement is justified in utilizing whatever force is necessary in quelling the mayhem, and restoring law and order. To deny them that function is to deny the most fundamental requirement of our constabulary.
Those closest to the victim have called for sanity and peace, while denouncing the perpetrators of violence and destruction. The father of the deceased said a few days ago, “We don’t want no violence. Michael would have wanted no violence. We need justice for our son.” His cousin likewise called for order to return, saying, “I just want everyone to know and understand that the stealing and breaking in stores is not what Mike would want, it is very upsetting to me and my family. Our family didn’t ask for this but for justice and peace…. Please let my family grieve in Peace (and) stop the violence in the street tonight, we don’t want this happening when we protest for justice for my cousin Mike Brown, please get this message out to the people that the Mike Brown family do not want this.”
The violence has nothing to do with justice being served, but everything to do with a level of moral depravity in the country that seeks to rationalize illegal and violent behavior as a proxy for real justice. In what sort of twisted sense of judicial propriety can violence be condoned or encouraged as a rational response to a perceived wrong having been perpetrated? In what bankrupt belief system is the destruction of property and attacks on others justifiable for a wrongful death? It would appear we as a society have learned nothing in the 22 years since the Rodney King Los Angeles riots. This is despicable behavior regardless of the age, orientation, or skin color of the perpetrators.
The days of leaping to irrational and unwarranted conclusions, based on the age or color of the victim, before justice has completed the investigative process, should be far behind us. Assumptions of guilt and innocence of all involved might justify demonstrations, but never riots and provocations to violence. For they are, after all, assumptions made without all of the facts on the table. The calm voices calling for peace and justice should always prevail over those whose lawlessness is an excuse for moral degeneracy.
Associated Press award winning columnist Richard Larsen is President of Larsen Financial, a brokerage and financial planning firm in Pocatello, Idaho and is a graduate of Idaho State University with degrees in Political Science and History and coursework completed toward a Master’s in Public Administration. He can be reached at [email protected].