It's still not clear to me exactly what took place, other than a Ferguson police officer shot Michael Brown and killed him. Brown was unarmed -- which, as we have talked about before, does not mean he was not a threat. It does mean, however, if Brown was not in physical contact with the officer, he was much less of a threat.
The questions I have are:
- Did the cop initially make contact with Brown for a legitimate reason? That is, was there a call that might have implicated Brown in some sort of illegal activity?
- Did Brown "resist arrest"? If he had been arrested, would he have been charged with anything other than "resisting arrest"?
- Was there physical contact between the officer and Brown?
- Was Brown shot in the back?
- Did the officer shoot Brown after the young man was on the ground?
If there was some sort of call to the cops, and if Michael Brown was a legitimate suspect, then there could be some justification for the officer attempting to stop a fleeing person by use of potentially lethal force, whether that person is armed or not.
I had to make this kind of decision a long time ago in another life. An unarmed convicted felon attempts to go over a prison fence and escape. A guard with a rifle is up in a tower. The guard is under no threat from the escapee, but the guard is obligated to shoot and possibly kill the unarmed man. I would have done it for that reason. Fortunately, I never had to execute that decision.
In another case, a friend of mine was on guard duty at a military base in Southern California when an unknown person climbed over the fence and dropped on the grounds inside the base. My friend raised him weapon and ordered the person to halt. He did not stop. My friend prepared to fire and just as he was squeezing the trigger, he recalled where he was and screamed, "ALTO!" The man stopped. My friend was a very devout Christian. He said he could never have forgiven himself if he had killed this poor soul simply because he couldn't understand English. But, both he and I agreed, he would have had no choice except to shoot if the intruder had not complied.
On the other side, if as several witnesses are claiming, the officer shot Brown multiple times after he fell, that is, in my opinion, nothing but murder in the first degree.
The problem is that cops are notoriously poor shots, and eyewitnesses are more notoriously unreliable. There seems to be little question that multiple shots were fired, but it may well be that all were fired before Brown fell.
As anyone who has ever been in a truly frightening or life-threatening situation knows, conscious awareness is behind the event curve. In a car crash, for example, you are reacting and living faster than you can process the information, so time appears to slow down. It doesn't always help you that much if you are not well-trained, but it does have the potential to really mess up your perception of the exact order in which things took place. Seeing the officer with his weapon in firing position standing over the fallen youth while still processing the sound of multiple rounds going off in rapid succession, an honest eyewitness could easily get the sequence wrong.
When I started writing this post, I tended more to fault the officer and condemn the shooting as wholly unjustified. As I have worked through it, I am becoming a little more sympathetic to the police side of the story, though I still have a hard time understanding why the officer thought it necessary to fire on the young man at all.
About the rioting and looting, this tells us quite a bit about what kind of area this is. The death of Michael Brown is being used as an excuse by criminals who appear to constitute a significant portion of the population in Ferguson.
I have my doubts that Michael Brown did anything that day to deserve his fate. I have no doubt that the animals looting and burning in his name deserve to be shot down like sheep-killing dogs. The morality of a mob always descends to that of its least moral elements, as is the case with its intelligence.