Friday, November 28, 2014

Ferguson This, Ferguson That

I have ignored this simmering pot and its frequent spillovers up until now, but I think it's time to make a few points, which should be clearer than they are from all the attention being given to the case:*

1)  Mothers (and fathers), you need to tell your children not to pick fights with armed police officers.  Not just black kids, all kids should understand that.  Whatever irrelevant details about Michael Brown and his life are thrown around, one fact is clear:  he made a big mistake challenging the police officer, and he ended up paying with his life.

2)  The DA is being totally disingenuous with his "all of the evidence" line.  A grand jury exists to indict the people the DA wants indicted, end of story.  I don't need to examine the reams of evidence to figure out that his strategy was to baffle them with b.s. so they would not return an indictment.

As an aside, I recommend watching the film "Q and A" (1990, good performances from Nick Nolte as the bad cop, Tim Hutton as the conflicted Assistant D.A., and others as well).  It was written by a State Circuit Judge named Edwin Torres, who knew what he was talking about from experience. (I actually had the occasion to be a juror in his courtroom roughly around that time--a typically lousy case, the only kind that actually goes to a jury these days.)  The movie's fictional case was quite different from Ferguson's, but the principles which apply to the Ferguson case are the same that are spelled out in the movie (though, slight spoiler, the case is not resolved in the courtroom):  the DA selects the facts that are presented to the grand jury, and thus the outcome.

3)  The cop was genuinely scared--maybe angry, somewhat legitimately--and overreacted with excessive use of force.  He didn't have the right equipment to subdue Brown in a non-lethal way, nor did he have a partner who would have balanced out the power relationship in the incident.  So, yes, the officer is to blame, but no, the blame is hardly exclusively on him.

4)  It's not over.  There will be a civil case, and the officer may lose it.  Cops in the US are almost never criminally indicted for bad policing, and that's true whether the cop is black, white, or brown, and also with regard to the victims of it.  A civil case is a different matter, and it will largely depend on the skill of jury selection, to which both sides are likely to apply high-priced legal/statistical muscle.

5) The real issue hasn't seemed to come up lately:  Why is a town with a black majority being run by a bunch of prejudiced whiteys?  There was an election between the actual incident and the current crisis:  did the blacks show up and vote them out?  Why or why not?

Final, heavily-opinionated note:  I am taken back in my musings to the days of the late '60's/early '70's, when "pigs" was a name often applied to the forces of law-and-order (police, also the National Guard).  That kind of epithet drew a strong counter-reaction, one which was entirely successful for some 30-40 years.  That extreme action/reaction produced a synthesis which basically has left any kind of police behavior beyond reproach from the judicial system.  Violent reaction is, of course, not the right answer, but a little bit more translation of healthy skepticism into policies which reduce lethal use of force and put review of police actions in the hands of more independent authorities would be worth a sober examination.   It's hard to imagine the Ferguson hysterics leading to that, however.

*Way too much attention, in my view:  for me, the Florida Trayvon Martin case was a clearer case of unusual injustice--this is just the "normal" kind.

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