To the extent I’ve gotten any respone to my postings here and on Facebook about Ferguson, it has mostly been private (which is fine), and a common theme has emerged: I need to listen to the cops’ side because I know nothing about being a cop.
And as I’ve pointed out, although I don’t, in fact, know what it’s like to be a cop, I have an idea, based on having spent several years of my career around them, often in cases in which the threat of deadly force was justified and at least once when deadly force had to be used.
It’s only been a few years but seems like a lifetime ago. I would come in to work and feel like I could make a difference in this world. Back then when I lined up for roll call, I would look around me and see a squad room full of diverse personalities and experiences that I knew made us all more effective. I trusted these men and women because I believed in the good we could do and the bond of brotherhood we shared. But a little over a year ago something happened that forced me to take a hard look at the realities of the system that I had been a part of. When I did I learned a lot about myself and finally had to accept some hard facts.
I learned that justice is not blind and there is a very thin blue line that unifies cops. I learned that Americans are not just divided by red and blue, when it comes to the law we are divided by black and white. I accepted that sometimes we have a justice system with two sets of rules. I had to accept that no matter how well I raise my son he will grow up in a world where I still have to be afraid for him. Not just from criminals, but from my brothers and sisters in blue. For most of his young life all my son has ever seen is me in a uniform with a gun and a badge. He doesn’t know to fear the police because I have always told him he didn’t have to. The police are the good guys and he is a good kid, so no worries. I guess I was naive. I never thought that I would have to explain to him that despite my years in law enforcement, I’m still a second class citizen in the eyes of the law.
For his sake I have to tell him no matter how professional he looks, no matter how well he carries himself, no matter how much education he obtains, as a black male he has to meet a higher standard of submission to authority or his life is at risk. Even if he chooses to raise his right hand and swear to protect and serve this country with his life it doesn’t change that fact. It hurts to know that I’m going to have to give my son that talk. I tell myself that things are still like this because of ignorance and fear. I blame it on politicians who turn fear in to resentment and the wealthy elites who exploit those resentments to satisfy their own agenda. The hopeful part of me thinks that our differences are not really as bad as they seem. My head tells me that time will change things. Time. But my heart tells me that right now I just need to protect my son.
This is one of the saddest damn things I’ve read in years — years that have not lacked in sadness.
But Sean Hannity will open his big thug mouth to argue, and a good 30% of the country doesn’t give a damn about this guy’s problems anyway. And it’s not About Race, because as Charlie Pierce has pointed out, in this country, Nothing Is Ever About Race.
I know that diversity makes an organization more efficient and more credible. The fact that the Ferguson Police Department cannot recruit or retain more than 3 black officers in a city that is almost 3/4 black speaks volumes. It takes a lot of effort to maintain that kind of imbalance.
Oh, sure, it might be coincidence. But, like Jethro Gibbs, I don’t believe in coincidences.
And yet that young man, Michael Brown, he stole some cigars from a store, didn’t he?
As a cop I learned that it’s usually best to wait until you know as much information as possible before you go on the record so I’ll be completely honest;
I don’t know why an unarmed 18 year old was shot multiple times.
I don’t know what that police officer felt in the seconds before he pulled the trigger.
I don’t know why the Ferguson Police chose to withhold details about this shooting.
I don’t know why this police chief decided to have SWAT teams on foot patrols.
I don’t know why this police chief deployed Armored Vehicles and Snipers to this area.
I don’t know why police officers were locking up reporters.
I don’t know how a community that is 67% black has a police department that is 96% white.
But here are a few things that I do know. … I know that a robbery in any jurisdiction is a felony. That means when that call comes in to 911 it should be dispatched as a high priority call. That dispatcher should alert everybody that the crime has just happened and give a BOLO with a detailed description of the suspect, and what direction they were last seen headed. If an officer sees a person fitting the description of the suspect that officer should advise dispatch what they have, THEN make a FELONY stop. If that is what happened the day that Brown was killed then there should be a dispatch recording of the robbery call and of the officer stopping Brown.
Now I know this having never set foot in Ferguson Missouri. Whatever their intent was, the way that the Ferguson Police department has handled this situation has seemed incompetent, petty, and disrespectful to the community that they are supposed to serve. I don’t even live there and I feel insulted. You can’t just drop into black churches during the day and then drop the hammer on black people at night. It’s ridiculous to believe you can withhold details about an officer involved shooting victim then release a video of that person committing a crime and believe nobody will figure out what you are doing. Even from an investigative standpoint the decision to release that video served no logical purpose. If it was Brown, the robbery case was solved the minute they positively ID’d him. You don’t prosecute a crime when the suspect is deceased, you just close the case. Other than just sheer vindictiveness I can’t see the legal purpose in releasing that video. So either this chief has no clue, no control of his command staff or he doesn’t care.
But he was 6 feet 4 and resisted arrest! At least, that’s what I heard!
If I saw two guys walking in the road when there was a perfectly good sidewalk, I would probably have told them to get out of the street. If they were knuckleheads they might tell me to [expletive] off. Now I could choose to either ignore it or I could engage them. At this point I’ve got enough probable cause to charge them with pedestrian in the roadway but that’s pretty much it. If I decided I wanted to make that charge I could give them each a ticket and a court date or I could put handcuffs on them and take them to jail. Either way I would have had to physically get out of my patrol car and make contact with them. Once an officer decides to make contact in a situation like that things can go from OK to very bad in seconds. Right now we don’t know what happened once that officer got out of his patrol car. We don’t know what Brown did or what the officer thought he was about to do, but going from a pedestrian traffic charge to lethal force is a very steep climb. Once that officer’s gun comes out it’s hard to climb back down from that. Officer Wilson has to be able to articulate how he got to that level of force with an unarmed person. If not he’s in trouble. There is no way around it.
It doesn’t matter if your subject looks like the Hulk, is talking [expletive] and refusing verbal commands, that’s not enough for deadly force. Even if you are trying to put the hand cuffs on him, he jerks back and pushes you off to get away, that’s not enough. It doesn’t matter how angry the guy makes you. It doesn’t matter if he embarrassed you. It doesn’t matter if he told you what he was going to do to your wife and kids. All that matters is at that moment: was the suspect armed? Did he have the ability to seriously hurt you? Did he pose an imminent threat to use that ability? Were you convinced that you were in immediate mortal danger?
Just resisting the police does not meet the standard for deadly force.
Even when a suspect has gone from simply resisting you to actively fighting you, once he complies with your commands and can be taken into custody he should be taken into custody. Once the threat has stopped, then your need to use force stops too. Even if you respond to a call and a suspect has just shot and killed dozens of people in a movie theater, once he throws down his weapons and puts up his hands, and you can safely take him into custody, then you take him into custody. You don’t execute him because he’s a mass murderer.
But … but … but … RIOTS!
I know what it’s like to walk around in a Kevlar helmet, gas mask, shield, and baton dressed in riot control gear. It’s hot, it’s frustrating, and most of the time you are just standing around waiting. I know that Protests and Riots are not the same thing and just because someone is protesting the police does not make them a “thug“. I know that the criminals that are using this situation to loot and cause havoc should be arrested and prosecuted period. I know that whether you are a rapper, a teacher, a nun, or a congressman you should have the same rights. I know that if your police department continues to let the community’s questions go unanswered for days while you post armored vehicles and snipers in their neighborhoods you might not get a very positive outcome. I know that if your unofficial departmental policy is to ignore the underlying problems in a community and never address their actual issues don’t be surprised if protests become riots.
Yeah, but those people didn’t get treated any differently from how anyone else would have been treated!
Just contrast what has happened in Ferguson Missouri to what happened last spring in Bunkerville Nevada. In Ferguson we had the police reaction to protesters. In Bunkerville we had the protesters reaction to police. Two different groups of citizens with ostensibly the same 1st amendment issues but two drastically different reactions by the citizens and law enforcement. Based on what I saw of the operation on TV it looked like a tactical nightmare. I lost count of the problems that the agents faced when they went in to enforce a court order there. Mostly I believe they gave this guy Bundy too many chances for too long. When the BLM cops finally decided to go in there they weren’t committed to whatever the plan was. That indicates a major leadership issue.
I was completely stunned to see those officers surrounded by screaming people with assault rifles, a police dog getting kicked, and open defiance of verbal commands. But when I saw that those officers had sniper rifles pointed at them I could not believe my eyes. Snipers. On live TV. Let me repeat that:
On the Bundy Ranch, armed protesters were violently obstructing law enforcement from performing their duties. Sniper rifles were pointed at those law enforcement officers. Then those “snipers” openly gloated about how they had the agents in their sights the entire time. And what was the police response? All out retreat. Nobody was arrested. No tear gas deployed. No tanks were called in. No Snipers posted in the neighborhood. No rubber bullets fired. Nothing. Police officers in mortal danger met with heavily armed resistance and no one had to answer for it. Could any reasonable person look at scenes coming out of Nevada and say they looked peaceful?
Nobody called the armed protesters at the Bundy Ranch who threatened police thugs.
Nobody told them the government was supreme so they should just let the system work it out.
Nobody told them to just shut up and do what they were told. …
The press didn’t call what those people did to those officers in Nevada a riot. But I haven’t seen any protesters in Ferguson hanging the American flag upside down, or renouncing their citizenship. I haven’t heard of any protest leaders on the street in Ferguson Missouri calling for the overthrow of the city council or the removal of the mayor by force. What about those “2nd amendment remedies” that politicians were hinting at 5 years ago? Just imagine if there were 150 black folks walking around Ferguson with assault rifles right now. Imagine if a couple of them took up sniper positions on the tops of buildings with their rifles pointed at the police officers. Take a quick guess at how that story ends.
Oh. Um. Well.
So, there, I listened to another cop. And so, by way of reading this piece, did you.
Pop quiz: Did you hear him?