Ferguson Open Thread

Protests around the country. Network news shows how bad news reporting has become in this country, again.

Twitter is afire with live feeds, video, and photos. Announcing the verdict at *night* was not a good idea.  And then of course there’s the inevitable “even more terrible idea than looting”, over-reaction mislabeled as necessity leading to predictable results, and the wonderfully tone-deaf response of the official.

Amnesty International folks shot with rubber bullets and tear gassed.

Aside from the grand jury question, it is difficult for a jury to return a verdict “beyond a reasonable doubt” when the person upon whom they are passing judgement is a member of the organization that investigates their wrongdoing. The ?#?Ferguson? situation is not unique. Police can fail to adequately investigate officer-involved shootings, fail to interview witnesses before they’ve been interviewed by journalists, which can taint their testimony, fail to gather physical evidence, etc.

The weak spot in the security chain is that there isn’t really anything that can be done if the local police flub the investigation (intentionally or not). This is certainly the case here.

The way to solve this problem is to have an outside agency perform an audit after every officer-involved shooting. The DoJ through the FBI or the Secret Service spring to mind as possible candidates. They investigate the investigation.

Should the shooting incident or the investigation immediately thereafter fail to follow proper investigation procedures, as documented by the police department, strong consequences follow. What sort of strong consequences? Something along the lines of, “every person in the chain of command from the head of the department down to the officer involved in the shooting… the entire tree of command that ends in that officer… is immediately discharged, their contracts canceled, their pension contributions returned, their authorities revoked, and they can never work in law enforcement again in any state of the Union, nor be issued a permit to carry a firearm.”

You can bet that every incident of a police shooting will be rigorously investigated immediately thereafter and forever more, because the chief of police does not want his or her job to go “poof”. The question of whether or not a department covers up possible abuse of power will be much less an open question, certainly. This has to stop.

We can’t live in a country where the rules of engagement for the police dealing with our own citizenry are laughably lax when compared to the rules of engagement of our troops in a war zone.

 

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126 thoughts on “Ferguson Open Thread

  1. I doubt there is a way to correct the trend. It’ll have to continue to it’s most logical conclusion. After that, maybe it can be fixed.

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  2. have an outside agency perform an audit after every officer-involved shooting. The DoJ through the FBI or the Secret Service spring to mind as possible candidates. They investigate the investigation.

    I like this idea (though I’d amend “shooting” to “killing or serious injury”), but what about when it’s the outside agency that’s doing the shooting or botching the investigation? For example, I don’t like to think of myself as a conspiracy theorist, but this always looked fishy to me:

    http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Justice/2013/0530/Tsarnaev-friend-unarmed-when-killed-FBI-admits.-Were-civil-rights-violated-video

    It’s OK if you don’t have an answer, and maybe the federal level just isn’t as easily-fixable (I can see food for thought that cuts both for and against the “local vs. central government” people here). This isn’t meant to pooh-pooh your suggestion, and anyway the Feds PROBABLY shoot fewer people than the local yokels do.

    Probably.

    Hey, look on the bright side, at least we are not Brazil (yet), where police kill 6 people per day.

    http://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-30015465

    Brazilian police have killed more than 11,000 people over the past five years, averaging about six killings a day, a group that monitors violence says.

    The Brazilian Forum on Public Safety said law enforcement agents in the US, by comparison, had killed a similar number over the past 30 years.

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  3. Could we get a policy like “get involved with a wrongful shooting, never carry a gun as a cop again” passed?

    Be part of a bad shoot, be the guy they say “book ’em” to. As much as I love the idea of firing everybody and flushing their pension, that’s a big bite. Is a smaller bite possible? I don’t mean possible for you, I mean something we could get 60ish percent of registered voters behind.

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    • “Could we get a policy like “get involved with a wrongful shooting, never carry a gun as a cop again” passed?”

      The system process so far has returned a value that this was not a wrongful shooting. This system output may change somewhat as the federal investigative process continues to proceed (as well as the civil suit), but right now, neither the OP proposal (fire everyone in the chain of command) nor the above quoted modification wouldn’t actually do anything, because the triggering event for the sanction wouldn’t occur.

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      • The OP calls for a federal ‘audit’. An audit, by definition, is not a re-investigation, nor a parallel investigation; it is an assessment as to whether or not procedures were followed and the paperwork trail is complete and accurate. I have no doubt in this case that procedures were followed, even if the county prosecutor’s office used their discretion in an uncommon way.

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      • I have no doubt in this case that procedures were followed, even if the county prosecutor’s office used their discretion in an uncommon way.

        I think it should be fairly bog-standard investigation techniques to canvass the direct neighborhood for witnesses to a police shooting within the immediate hours after said shooting.

        Instead of having reporters find witnesses days after the event.

        Put another way, if “the procedures” were followed, their procedures suck.

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      • From what I can tell, the procedures were followed in such a way that Wilson had no official version of his story until after there was enough information to make it a plausible one.

        I have a friend who’s a cantankerous retired cop (nearly 30 years of street and narc). The way he tells it, an officer-involved homicide investigation is supposed to involve 2 simultaneous investigations: homicide detectives, who treat the officer(s) like suspects (including their usual legal rights, like remaining silent), and an internetal investigation related to procedure, in which cops are treated like employees (and therefore don’t have the same legal rights, particularly remaining silent). From what I can tell, regardless of the thoroughness of the first type of investigation (the homicide detectives), the second type (internal, procedural) was aimed at getting him off from the start. This is evidenced by the police cheif’s remarks late in the week after the shooting, and in particular in his changing his story in successive press conferences, for example.

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    • I very much think that any officer who kills an unarmed civilian should lose the ability to carry a firearm for an extended period of time.

      Like, my gut says, “ever”, but I suppose if you ride a desk for 5-7 years and you still want to go back out on patrol, I could be convinced that this may be a suitable period. It depends upon what the follow-up processes are.

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    • Why include the word “wrongful”?

      Something like 95% of cops never fire their weapons in the line of duty. For the remaining 5%, as long as there is no finding that they committed murder – let them retire early from the force, let them stay in the force in a non-armed role, give them funding to study for another profession, structure the pensions so they don’t suffer a penalty on retirement. Don’t treat it as a dishonour, but as a recognition that the traumatic experience they went through, of having to shoot at another human, is not something anyone should have to go through twice.

      It probably wouldn’t even add very substantially to recruitment requirements.

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      • I’m not sure we want to do this, it seems like it could incentivize shooting or not shooting in unpredictable ways.

        Even if it’s not treated as a ‘dishonor’, someone who really doesn’t want a desk job or likes being a street cop might choose not to shoot, when they should have.

        And someone who wants to get OFF the streets with no dishonor, may find a shooting opportunity where no one else will be able to gainsay their version of events, and take that opportunity to a cushy desk job.

        At least in theory, if a shooting is truly justified and there was no other way to reasonably resolve the situation than shooting, nothing in their career path should change for that officer after the fact, positive or negative. He did his job (which regrettably can include lethal force) that day, and that’s all.

        Also in theory, in a justified shooting he has gained experience that *should* make him better attuned to similar situations in the future, and maybe he will be able to resolve them differently.

        I realize that in practice, my “in theorys” may not hold; but I’m not sure we’d want to bar every driver who was involved in a crash that had fatalities from ever driving again, in those cases where the crash was deemed not to be their fault.

        We can’t achieve a world in which no bad guy ever has to get shot by a cop.

        We just have to get a LOT better at making sure they are only shooting at bad guys when there’s no other real option but to do so.

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      • Also in theory, in a justified shooting he has gained experience that *should* make him better attuned to similar situations in the future, and maybe he will be able to resolve them differently.

        That one I’m unsure about – maybe instead he’ll have PTSD that makes it more likely that he’ll be involved in a second, unjustified, shooting, because he pulls over someone with a similar appearance driving the same kind of car, who reaches for their ID in just a certain way that makes him think they’re going for a gun.

        I really can’t tell which is more likely.

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      • – you might be right. I guess my primary concern over making ANY outcome automatic/predetermined (other than “this shooting will be reviewed thoroughly and people are going to have serious questions for which there better be good answers”) is just that it might influence the decision to shoot or not, and that seems like it is adding more factors to the “shoot/don’t shoot” matrix than we want added.

        At root, “shoot/don’t shoot” should boil down to: Am I or anyone else in immediate grave danger if I don’t?

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      • “Am I or anyone else in immediate grave danger if I don’t?”

        I’m not an expert in threat assessment and management, so I may be way off base here, but I think there need to be more vectors in the decision matrix. While I understand appealing to efficiency, I don’t think it unfair to expect state agents trusted with the use of force to be able to consider multi plate aspects of a situation in a timely and efficient manner. If they cannot handle this, they should not be trusted with a weapon.

        Things I’d want them to consider:
        Does a threat exist and how real is it?
        Can I de-escalate the situation?
        Have I properly progressed from the least invasive forms of intervention before discharging my weapon?
        Will discharging my weapon remove or contribute to the threat?

        This is a lot to consider in a situation that seems to demand split-second decision making. However, some of this assessment can be done very early in an interaction or before an interaction even begins. For instance, if Wilson assessed an unarmed Brown as a potential grave threat to his person, he should not have even engaged him sans backup. If his thought process led him to believe, “If things go south with this kid, I’m going to have to fire on him because I don’t think I can handle him one on one,” Wilson should have stayed in his car until backup arrived. Brown did not pose an immediate threat to anyone and did not need to be engaged in that very moment.

        I think back to the Amadou Diallo shooting in the late 90’s. If you don’t remember, here is the Wikipedia entry: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shooting_of_Amadou_Diallo#Events_surrounding_death
        (Growing up just outside NYC in a town that it’s own police shooting of a black teen less than a decade earlier made this a prominent topic of discussion locally. More info on THAT shooting here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phillip_Pannell_shooting_incident)
        Anyway, the NYC has thankfully addressed many of the things that led to Diallo’s death but I think it still demonstrates how simply having police say, “Am I in danger?” (which, really, let’s be honest and say that their own safety — not the safety of others — almost always seems to be the driving force in these shootings (and I believe case law has determined they have no obligation to actually protect the public’s safety)) in inadequate in determining whether they should discharge their weapons. Even if you accept the officer’s description of events as truth, we have someone being shot for running from the police and removing a small square object (What guns are square?) from his pocket. One officer identified it as a gun — shouting as much — and the shoot was on. This means that three other officers did not see fit to shoot based on their individual assessment of the situation. Furthermore, there is no indication that Diallo pointed his “gun” at the officers. Meaning they both outnumbered him, presumably were better trained then him, and were in an advantageous positioning. That latter point is important, especially if the officers could have done more to position themselves to minimize the threat they faced and therefore the likelihood that they would shoot. Surely our officers are trained in cover and concealment, right? Hell, I got a mini-training in this as part of my school’s lockdown drill.

        tl;dr: I don’t doubt that Wilson felt threatened. Lots of things feel threatening. If feeling threatened — with no accordant responsibility to protect one’s self from threats through non-firearm-related means — is sufficient to draw and shoot, then we’re setting far too low a bar.

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      • – I don’t necessarily disagree with any of that, but I am primarily responding to ‘s suggestion that *any* shooting result in mandatory reassignment or retirement, and the influence that policy might have.

        I think wherever we draw the lines, “This will definitely change my chosen career path” is not a factor that needs to be considered in the decision-making mix at that moment. That factor seems completely extraneous to the situation at hand, and I don’t think we want it tied in.

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      • I think I agree and disagree. In the moment, I wouldn’t want them to think, “What does this mean for my retirement?” You are right that that can necessarily complicate the decision making process.

        However, on another front, I would want it stressed that the decision to draw and discharge weapons is a weighty choice to make with the potential to have major consequences for all involved. I wouldn’t want this to be an active part of the decision making process, but I would want the the gravity of the decision to be as deeply ingrained in the officers as possible.

        I’m not sure if that makes sense. But it seems that many officers seem to think it is no big deal to draw and discharge their weapon. That needs to change.

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  4. When I heard that the grand jury’s decision was in, I turned on the tv to see how the subsequent protests were gonna go down. Two things main themes struck me: that the police were in anti-terror, counterinsurgency mode right from the get-go and that the media coverage of the protest was just as much, if not more, about the media than it was about the protests.

    Re: the cop response, what we saw from the very beginning was an effort to disburse the crowd even tho protest organizers has spent weeks working with cops to establish some groundrules, rules the cops agreed to (like refraining from using the gas on peaceful protestors). The other thing of note, which is sorta a corollary since all the gassing and flash-banging accomplished was to piss people off, was that the cop presence was limited to about a one block radius from the police department, which permitted all the “bad guys” (a term used twice by cops) to break into and loot various businesses, set fire to others, and vandalize police cars all in an effort – ostensibly! – to prevent the protests from degenerating into a riot. Great work, StL PD!

    The other thing I noticed, and one which is a bit harder to clearly articulate, was the level of propaganda being expressed by the media. At one point while I was watching one of those paid pinheads jabbering on about something I had a clear image of how differently a news broadcast would go if it was presented from the perspective of the Ferguson protestors, especially the ones who live in that community. The anger and sense of injustice they felt was almost completely sanitized from the reporting except an unfortunate cause of the ensuing violence. (Violence of the protestors, I should add. Apparently the violence of the cops required no justification whatsoever.) I will say that one dude from CNN actually *did* try to articulate, in some small degree anyway, just how fucked up the entire situation was, and did so without apologizing or judging the protestors.

    The bits of the final grand jury report that were expressed by media certainly point in the direction of a situation where the justice system is not functioning properly. That the GJ’s conclusion rests on either a lack of evidence sufficient to even consider bringing formal charges, or a consideration that such evidence wouldn’t suffice for a conviction given the broad authority of cops to kill civilians, shows the ssystem is pretty well FUBAR.

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  5. Also, I thought this tweet from John Cole over at Balloon Juice was pretty damn accurate. In response to Obama’s call to refrain from violence because it doesn’t accomplish anything, he wrote “Hey Obama, if violence doesn’t get results, why are we bombing so many fucking people?”

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    • I agree with the sentiment of the Tweet, but the problem whit arguments against hypocrisy is that they say nothing of which side is right.

      Is the point that Obama shouldn’t be bombing so many people or that violence doesn’t accomplish anything, or at least the things that we want it to accomplish?

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    • Obama has to make a statement like that. There is no way for a responsible politician in a democratic society to say “Burn down those fascist motherfuckers”. And the right-wing would be on Obama in less than a heartbeat if he stayed silent instead of issuing a statement. There is very little Obama can say in this situation.”

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      • Putting aside the realpolitik view for a moment, can we agree that Obama did say the right thing? Burning and looting is not a very good response to injustice.

        Maybe actual armed insurrection would be (as in marching down to the police station, kicking them all out and declaring Ferguson a police-free zone in which citizens would police themselves). Randomly burning down small businesses, however, is about the least effective form of protesting that there is.

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      • I don’t think we can. Obama’s response was the proper liberal response but it also shows what Chait called the “torments of liberalism” and how revolutionaries can often be angry at liberals for what we are both saying:

        http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2014/11/obama-ferguson-and-the-torments-of-liberalism.html

        “Franklin Foer has a splendid essay commemorating The New Republic’s role in crafting American liberalism. Foer acknowledges the qualities of complexity and internal contradiction that make liberalism such an inviting target, quoting this old satirical Phil Ochs song:

        I go to civil rights rallies

        And I put down the old D.A.R.

        I love Harry and Sidney and Sammy

        I hope every colored boy becomes a star

        But don’t talk about revolution

        That’s going a little bit too far

        So love me, love me, love me, I’m a liberal…

        If Obama can sound unsatisfyingly out of touch in moments of intense passion, that is because that is the undying quality of the philosophical tradition to which he is heir.”

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  6. The verdict was unsurprising because many of our laws still heavily favor police in violent shooting situations and there is a huge presumption that the victim did something to provoke this feeling. I sadly think that many or most Americans agree with this presumption and a vague to very specific distrust of the police probably only belongs to minorities who know the oppressive power of the police and a very small band of liberal and libertarian allies.

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  7. I have read a few stories of the “this is unusual because grand juries almost never fail to indict” nature. And my understanding is that this grand jury failed to indict, because the prosecution presented a full range of evidence, some that supported Wilson’s account and some that contradicted it.

    Is that normal? I would love to hear from some of the readers with experience and knowledge of how grand juries work as to whether it’s normal for prosecutors to include exculpatory evidence in its case before a grand jury.

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    • Reading the witness testimonies, it looks to me like a bunch of witnesses said one thing (Brown ran, Brown turned around, Brown moved/stumbled toward Wilson as Wilson was shooting or after the first round of shots), a couple witnesses said something else (Brown charged Wilson), and the grand jury decided that the latter outweighed the former.

      It seems to me that’s the sort of thing that an actual trial is supposed to work out. I thought the grand jury was just supposed to decide if there was enough evidence that a crime could have been committed to go to trial. This grand jury seems to have been tasked with determining whether it thought a crime had been committed for sure.

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    • Grand Jury’s almost always indict because the prosecutor guides the grand jury — determines what information is available and basically plays the whole thing like a conductor with an orchestra.

      In this case? The guy obviously didn’t want to empanel a grand jury, much less get an indictment, and basically turned the juror’s loose on their own — which means they were sorting through whatever they were given with no context, guidance, expert advice, or anything even remotely helpful. (In fact, I got the impression they were drowned in minutia, which is just as useful for preventing action as a selective case is for generating it).

      The document by “Witness 40” (which I saw on Balloon Juice) was hilarious, though. This (http://www.documentcloud.org/documents/1370734-witness-40-journal-entry.html) was actually part of the record. I shall quote:

      ” Well I’m gonna take my random drive to Florissant. Need to understand the Black race better so I stop calling Blacks Niggers and start calling them People. Like dad always said you cant fear or hate an entire race cause of what one man did 40 yrs ago.”

      Witness 40, who does not sound suspicious at all, confirmed the officer’s account.

      Pretty sure in a normal grand jury, that would not have been part of the evidence presented because it’s so laughable. (Even though it supports the prosecutor’s case).

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    • You’ve heard the one about the ham sandwich, ? Not quite true but pretty damn close. A grand jury refusing to indict when asked is making a statement. In a sense, it should be celebrated as it demonstrates prosecutors don’t have all the power. And I’m not sure that I can’t dismiss the notion that the prosecutor’s heart wasn’t really in this one and so allowed some exclupatory evidence into the session, which in turn may have confused some of the grand jurors.

      To my knowledge, the grand jury’s finding does not foreclose the prosecutor filing an information and pursuing a felony prosecution in that fashion. Nor would it have any effect on any Federal charges that might be brought although I lack knowledge of what those might be.

      I am quite certain that there is no barrier to the filing of a civil action by a plaintiff with appropriate standing, specifically, Mr. Brown’s family. The merits of such a claim, with its more relaxed burden of proof, would have to be thought through carefully, but I can see no procedural barrier to it.

      Point is, those who find the grand jury’s refusal to indict distressing are not yet out of opportunities to peacefully seek justice through the judicial system.

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      • Except it doesn’t really seem like they were asked to indict. It seemed like the DA said, “Fish it, you figure it out,” dumped evidence both for and against Wilson and let the grand jury act more like a real jury. FWIW, I would love it if more grand juries acted like this. I’m more annoyed that the only people that get this sort of treatment are LEOs.

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      • If the prosecutor didn’t request an indictment, then what the fish was he doing in front of a grand jury in the first place? There is no other reason for a grand jury to exist in the modern American system of justice other than to issue felony indictments; it’s literally the only thing grand juries do in these United States.

        As I suggested above, I can see the prosecutor asking for an indictment, but in a half-hearted sort of way, as though implicitly asking for a finding of no true bill rather than an indictment. But it would boggle my puny human brain if the prosecutor stood up there and said something like “Indict or not, as you see fit. Find of no true bill? Eh! It’s all the same to me.” I mean, I’d be gobsmacked.

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      • Here’s an interesting number:

        Hit and Run tells us: The data suggests he was barely exaggerating: According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. attorneys prosecuted 162,000 federal cases in 2010, the most recent year for which we have data. Grand juries declined to return an indictment in 11 of them.

        Read the numbers yourself here:
        http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/fjs10st.pdf

        Now, I don’t know how close the federal numbers are to any given state, let alone to Missouri, but I’d be surprised if they were *THAT* different.

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      • Now, go find the rate at which grand juries indict police officers who have shot suspects. I believe the rate is below 10%, and the convection rate down around 3%. State statutes, grand juries, and regular juries all grant police officers enormous leeway.

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  8. Sometime back in the late 60’s/early 70’s a group of black activists calling themselves the Black Panthers decided they needed to arm themselves as protection against police brutality. They were soon followed by leftist groups like The Move, the Weather Underground, and the SLA. Gun control measures were a response of the right-wing establishment to this threat against civil order.

    Fast forward a couple decades and, for whatever reason, opposition to gun control became a freedumb issue and guns have become much more accessible again.

    History doesn’t really repeat, but it does rhyme, and this is all starting to feel familiar to me, like something I watched on black-and-white TV narrated by Uncle Walter on the evening news as a kid. I do wonder where it might all lead in a decade or so.

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    • opposition to gun control became a freedumb issue

      Huh. And here I was thinking that I probably shouldn’t post a comment about how the same people who were weeping over our lack of a mature policy toward guns a school shooting ago were now screaming for armed insurrection.

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      • As usual, , you manage to read stuff into my comment that is nothing like what I’m saying. Jesus, I’m not “calling for” an armed insurrection. I’m noting historical similarities to a situation in my living memory.

        I wouldn’t be surprised by the re-emergence of a violent Black Panther-like movement. The fuel is certainly being poured into that tank. And I’m noting the irony of the movement of the right around issues of gun control back then and more recently and how the current right-wing/NRA would make it so much easier for such a movement to acquire serious armament.

        But none of that should be construed as me wanting to see such an outcome. I would hope for some manner of peaceful political resolution whereby police violence is reined in and race relations improve. Unfortunately the universe doesn’t give a fuck for what I want.

        You know… if you could out the silly gotcha games you might actually interesting to talk to.

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      • I get that the universe doesn’t give a rip about what you want. Dude, that was the name of my band in high school. That doesn’t change the fact that the folks who scream that only the authorities should have guns are the ones who seem to be the most surprised when the authorities end up shooting unarmed people.

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  9. Two comments on grand juries.

    1. Although Missouri apparently uses them, they are one of about three (iirc) elements of the Bill of Rights that have not yet been applied to the states.

    2. If Ken White’s description of them is true–and I have no reason to disbelieve him–they’re pretty much a sham.

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  10. People who are concerned with the plight of people facing charges in America’s criminal justice system absolutely have reason to approach the circumstance when a deputy of the armed, er, arm of the law stands accused of a crime differently from when other individuals are.

    Nevertheless, when a police officer is charged with a crime, it’s striking to watch the way so many people – talking the broader media here, not OT – who normally side more with the CJS against defendants, and also so many who tend to side with defendants against the charges they face in the CJS, scrambe to the other position, usually without exchanging greetings in the middle.

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  11. Does anybody have a good summary of the actual evidence and witness accounts that were presented in this case? I’m used to these discussions going way off the rails with people disputing even the factual claims (“The medical examiner determined that Brown was a vampire and was biting Wilson’s neck! It’s open and shut!”). It’s hard to tell what’s real and what isn’t.

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  12. I’m often amazed at how many folks who claim to be against an omnipotent (and unaccountable) government can suddenly switch gears to defend the actions of police officers and departments that seem to be unaccountable for their actions.

    Is it just the politics of the big government they don’t like, the race of the victims in police killings, or what?

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    • Can we flip that around? “I’m amazed by the number of statists and police union supporters who suddenly find fault with the justice system when a grand jury gives a verdict they disagree with. Is it the politics that causes them to change their mind? The race of the victim who was killed?”

      If it is somewhat flippable, that makes for a fairly interesting dynamic, I reckon.

      Well, maybe it’s not fair for one (or the other (or both)) side(s) to reduce the complex attitudes of the other so simplistically…

      But maybe there’s some cognitive dissonance going on that infects both sides.

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      • If the two parallel investigations that I described above work the way they’re supposed to, then the union should have its place: in the internal, procedural investigation. I imagine it could also provide representation for the criminal investigation. However, it shouldn’t have any influence (outside of representation) over the criminal investigation in any way, any more than any other union has influence over criminal investigations of its members. The results should then be an internal investigation related to the officer’s employment in which we are certain that the officer’s interests are sufficiently considered alongside the employer’s, and a criminal investigation in which the suspect’s interests are considered only to the extent that the Constitution demands (that is, the investigation doesn’t consider anything but the evidence and the law).

        I get the impression that in this case, and perhaps most cases, this is not the way it works, and the police union, as well as other institutional forces looking out for the officer, influence all aspects of the investigations, including the criminal one.

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      • Absolutely, JB. It’s probably the over-riding reason I’ve become full on libertarian. Too many people on both sides of the aisle who have a serious blind spot to some of the inconsistencies in their positions regarding government and its place. And I think so much of it has to do with signalling and where “my group” is supposed to be.

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      • It’s a disgrace that their position the justice system results in police officers not being held accountable for their actions. It’s not as if they have a legitimate out, like wealth or political influence.

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      • like wealth or political influence.

        Cop do have a great deal of political influence, of course, particularly at the local level. Cop endorsements are often pretty big, and cop union money is attractive. This is why politicians are so loathe to oppose the police.

        Hell, look at Minneapolis. While what the police did there is pretty trivial on the surface, it also sends a really clear message to anyone who might challenge them in any way at the political level (as they apparently felt the mayor had): “We’re watching you, and we play dirty.”

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      • Shootings are pretty sui generis unless you count making someone apologize for getting his face in the way of your shotgun. But the damages caused by fraudulent evictions for which no one was convicted, indicted, arrested, or even spoken to unkindly do add up.

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      • I find there’s a vast difference between the behaviour of people in the sectors of government which are not armed, and the sectors of government which are armed. In general, I have seen good behaviour from the unarmed sectors of government, and they provide many beneficial things which I value (education, health care, libraries, buses) without harming people. If their employees commit crimes, they are subject to the same laws as you or I.

        The parts of government which are armed have, in practice, the ability to detain, beat, mistreat, humiliate, and kill people, whether or not those people have committed a crime, without facing punishment, penalty, or accountability for their actions. They are not subject to laws in the same way that you or I are subject to laws; they can violate them with impunity, and they are typically believed over civilians. I find these parts of government extremely dangerous.

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  13. I’m intrigued by the injuries to the police officer. I’ve had worse injuries after a fight. Nobody ever suggested I could shoot a guy in retaliation for a punch in the cheek.

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    • a punch in the cheek

      I think there is a thought process that goes something like this:

      I am a uniformed officer, carrying a gun on my hip. Anyone who takes a swing at me, with all of the possible consequences of that action, is not acting rationally (or simply doesn’t care). Who knows what such an irrational or aggressive person might do next, and how far they will take it? Will they grab my gun, and shoot me with it?

      I don’t know what the law actually says in this regard, but I admit, I do kind of understand this thought process.* If I walk up to Mike Tyson and take a swing at him, somebody might put me down fast, because I am obviously CRAZY, or have some secret plan or hidden weapon that I think evens the odds in my favor.

      *Now, with that said, this might actually be an argument for most officers not carrying guns at all, like the British. If I am not carrying a gun and the suspect’s unarmed, then at least until fisticuffs get too hairy, the worst I have to worry about is mostly just getting my ass kicked, which is not necessarily something someone needs to get killed over.

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      • Also, nothing in the above comment should be taken as an opinion on what happened in Ferguson. Just sort of musing on how cops, and/or investigators/grand juries, might view a swing taken at a cop differently from a swing taken at a random person.

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      • There’s a weird standard, with respect to the police, that requries us to think of them as human after the fact but inhuman in the moment. I mean, we should consider their reasoning after the fact, but in the moment, any fear we have about someone’s potentially malicious intent should be thrown out the window because that someone is a cop. So, if a cop does something like, say, grab you by the neck through a car window, you shouldn’t respond as though some crazy ass mother fucker is trying to kill you, you should not resist. If you do resist, then after the fact, the cop will reasonably have seen you as potentially off your rocker for resisting.

        I don’t mean this to be critical of your reasoning — I suspect a lot of people do think like this, including a lot of cops in the moment — just that I don’t like anything about the standard.

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      • Consider the basketball analogy — jostle an opposing player on purpose and you might get called for a foul, but jostle a ref and you’ll probably get tossed out of the game (even if he just made a horrible call that cost you the game). I think the concept is that if you attack a cop, you’re messing with the rules enforcers and thus are threatening the integrity of the whole enterprise, so more force is authorized against you.

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      • – I get your discomfort, but I’m not sure what to do about that part. One reason we uniform cops is to send an easily-recognized visual signal so that, in theory, in the heat of a split-second dangerous moment, we will defer to their authority and judgement, on the default assumption that they are currently acting lawfully in the service of their duty to protect the public.

        In an ideal world, if a random person yells and shoves me down to the ground, I may rightfully assume their ill-intent and aggression, and immediately fight back; but if that person is wearing a blue uniform and badge, I maybe should at least initially assume he had some reason to do what he is doing – maybe he shoved me down to protect me from the bullets that just started flying overhead or something, so I shouldn’t start swinging.

        Again, none of this is meant to comment on the specifics of Wilson/Brown. Just that, in some respects, I do think it’s possible that we/they expect uniformed police officers to be treated a little differently, and we/they take it into account if they aren’t.

        Of course, police have a LONG way to go at this point, towards me thinking that having a uniform automatically entitles them to any respect, or default trust in their judgement or actions.

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      • )I think the concept is that if you attack a cop, you’re messing with the rules enforcers and thus are threatening the integrity of the whole enterprise, so more force is authorized against you.

        Yes, the cop can taze you. The cop can hit you with his baton. He can throw you to the ground, jump on your back, and handcuff you. All those are legitimate responses that are more force than ordinary citizens are normally allowed to use.

        There is a lot of “more force” that falls short of shooting.

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      • Sure, I was just thinking more generally about the difference between the cops and the laity. Having not followed the details of this at all, did this particular cop in this particular moment have good non-lethal options available at the time, assuming he genuinely and reasonably felt under threat?

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  14. I didn’t realize they played Big Ten style in Tennesse. We always thought you folks down there were soft from all the heat and humidity.

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  15. Statistically, getting a grand jury to indict in the case of a police shooting is rare, and getting a conviction in a jury trial even rarer. In this case, the jury trial would probably be a million dollars out of the DA’s budget. So at least in the back of his mind, there’s the question, “If I simply file charges and go to trial, how many domestic violence cases do I have to drop? How many of those might turn into a murder down the line that I could stop by putting someone away now?”

    The three years I spent on the state legislature’s budget staff was enormously eye-opening. Officials have to make ugly cost-benefit judgements on a regular basis.

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      • Let me put it this way — I believe that if the DA’s office doesn’t spend a million dollars of their budget on a case that they will very likely lose, some number of lesser offenders will go to jail because their cases will be researched and built more carefully. Maybe it saves a life, maybe it saves some assaults, maybe it doesn’t stop any of those, but more bad people go to jail than would otherwise.

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    • This particular DA is the son of a cop who was killed by an African-American and is known for close relationships with the police department in St. Louis County. He was probably thinking more about protecting his own.

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      • He’s also a Democrat that’s been in office since ’91. The local or state (or national) party machinery could have kicked him to the curb the last time he pooch kicked the police shooting unarmed people in his jurisdiction, but have never done so. In fact a power play McCulloch made a year ago helped oust the incumbent county executive in the Dem primary.

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      • Missouri Democrats have been as disappointing in this situation as you’d expect one of this country’s major political parties to be.

        In St. Louis, the cops and the Democratic Party have deep ties.

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    • Also, if someone can find a better public use photo, feel free to swap out with the one I used from wiki commons.

      Yeah, couldn’t work that out last night which is one reason why I put it in OTC in the first place. That and I was writing while too tired.

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  16. Stuff that I find interesting.

    There were more than 40 witnesses? If I did stuff in front of my house, I’d be lucky if there were one-tenth that many witnesses. I doubt you could get 40 witnesses at the Sam’s Club.

    Darren Wilson testified that Mike Brown reached his hand in the car and pulled the trigger of his gun twice before it went off on the third time Mike Brown pulled the trigger. Was there a bullet hole in the car? Were there antimony and barium on Mike Brown’s hands?

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      • Interesting. I’m trying to imagine how that works with the officer seated and somebody reaching into the car to grab the gun. Clearly the weapon has already been unholstered and is in the officer’s hand, right? Then the bullet goes through the window that the assailant is presumably squeezing through without hitting him. I can’t say it’s beyond the realm of possibility, but it doesn’t seem like the most likely explanation.

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      • The testimony is that the first shot did hit Brown. At least, it’s that there were shattered glass and blood in the environment afterward. Unless I’m misreading.

        I agree that if Brown was reaching in, that means that the window would have had to be just closed enough for there to be a decent probability that it be hit, but open enough that Brown could have been doing what Wilson said he was doing through it, for the testimony to hold. And it’s a lot that he’s saying Brown was doing through the window even if it was completely open.

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      • This is another thing I don’t totally get about the situation. As Bill Hicks once said, “They’re on foot. You’re in a truck. I think I see a way out of this.”

        How does a guy in a car with only the window open get into a life threatening situation so bad that he has to pull his gun, nearly lose it, and then shoot a guy? I’m genuinely having trouble picturing a sensible sequence of events here. I know that criminal suspects often do crazy things, but WTF?

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      • The problem there I think has to do with police officers being told that their job is to maintain physical control of situations at all time; essentially never allowing even the most momentary tactical retreat that any of us would naturally employ in any fight. my impression is that offers have drilled into them that to allow themselves even for a moment not to have that control risks permanently losing all control, which is the ultimate failure. To me, that explains what seems like a completely inordinately panicked emotional reaction to what was happening, and assessment of the state of the physical struggle in the testimony. Some primarily read racism into that account; I recognize the modern policeman’s imperative to physically control their environment. Obviously those are related, but they’re not identical.

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      • Interesting point. While I don’t mean to trivialize the situation by analogizing it to something with vastly different stakes… well, I’m going to analogize it to something with vastly different stakes.

        Classrooms can often feel like out of control places. And sometimes they are. But often times they are not. I work with my colleagues a lot on identifying when a situation has really gotten out of control — when danger or harm is imminent — and when they simply feel out of control because things are happening in a way other than they expected/planned/wanted. So, that’s the first thing: being able to properly assess a situation.

        But even assuming a classroom has gotten out of hand, some teachers simply respond by grabbing wildly at re-acquiring control and reasserting order. This usually means getting loud, physically intervening, and other highly invasive measures that are often off-putting and can serve to either exacerbate the situation in the moment or sow seeds of discontent that can boil over later. This is not the only way… but it is the only way for some teachers. In reality, there is a spectrum of interventions. On one end, sometimes a simple glance across the room is enough to reset order. Sometimes it takes a silent physical presence… moving in the direction of the disorder. Sometimes you gotta do more… on up to physical intervention. But the goal should be to stay as far to the less-invasive end of the spectrum as possible. Why yell when a glance will do? Why intervene physically when simply standing near the students will suffice?

        Now, teachers have an advantage over the police in that we typically know our students in a way that they don’t know the people they interact with. I might know that a glance is enough for Johnny but that Avery needs more. A cop generally doesn’t know that. Still, if he is well-trained, he can properly assess a situation not only for whether or not it really poses a threat but where on that spectrum he should start. Maybe, he skips the glance and goes right to the physical presence. Maybe he has to go right to level 10… coming upon an active shooting scenario demands such.

        But the goal should be to do as little as is necessary. The goal should not be control for control’s sake or control to stoke the ego or pride of the officer or control to re-establish the hierarchy between police and civilian/citizen. The goal of an officer’s interaction with the public should be to protect and serve.

        Cops: Don’t be like those teachers who yell every time a kid does something other than exactly what the teacher wanted. I know it is harder that way but, well, dead teenagers aren’t exactly easy either.

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    • There is no doubt that shots went off in the car, though there is no physical evidence that Brown pulled the trigger.

      Worth noting that Wilson’s story continues to evolve. The scuffle with Brown takes on epic proportions in the GJ testimony, and grew even larger in the ABC interview.

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      • Yeah, there are several aspects of memory storage and retrieval alone that likely affect it.

        I can’t find it now, but I wrote a post about memory using the example of my uncle and I telling stories. For years (a couple decades, really), every time we get together, my uncle and I try to outdo each other with stories. Each of the stories we tell is, of course, based on something that really happened, but each time we tell the stories (and we’ve told each other the same stories many times, so it’s not like we’re unaware of what’s going on), the events become bigger, wilder, more dangerous, etc. Thing is, with some of those stories, I’ve told the exaggerated versions enough now that, at least with parts of the stories, I’m not sure which parts actually happened and which parts were, uh, poetic license. I suspect the same is true for my uncle. The problem is that with even a little removal from the actual events, it becomes more and more difficult to remember the source of memories: are they memories of the experience of the actual events, are the memories of later thoughts about the events, are they memories of later tellings of the events? Our brains simply aren’t very good at remembering the sources of its memories.

        Add onto that the fact that Wilson’s memory of the actual events are likely pretty sketchy in the first place, because it happened so fast, with intense emotions. It’s unlikely that he was attending to many of the things he’s been called on to remember (perhaps his most honest remarks in his testimony are the details of Browns’ face, which is probably the only thing he remembers well from the shooting), so his “memory” of those things is mostly going to be his brain filling in the blanks. And because he’s motivated (for multiple reasons, including his own conscience, assuming he’s not a monster) to remember the details in such a way that they fit with the story he wants to be true, his brain’s going to make sure that the details get filled in that way.

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      • The police chief also announced that Darren Wilson didn’t know that Mike Brown had just engaged in shoplifting but Darren Wilson testified that he did know that he had just done that.

        There’s more than enough inconsistencies for the Grand Jury to have said “there’s enough evidence here for a crime… a trial needs to take place to see if the guy is guilty.”

        I am willing to be persuaded that Darren Wilson is innocent… but the way this was handled has instead pretty much convinced me that he was hasty and acted in a way that would require such things as “everybody getting their story straight” and collusion with the prosecutor to avoid a guilty conviction at a trial.

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      • First the chief said that Wilson didn’t know Brown was suspected of being involved in the “robbery,” then after several hours (days after the fact), the chief changed his mind and said that Wilson did know that Brown might have been involved.

        But the chief’s inability to keep the story straight is excusable, if Wilson himself couldn’t keep the story straight.

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    • What are options? The only thing I can think of is “disbanding police force”. I don’t know that anything else is within the power of the citizenry (and, even then, you need a majority of them).

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      • Or disarming much of the police force (works better in countries that aren’t the US, where guns are less commonly carried and used).

        As a smaller or more practical measure, I’d favour a law that says, if you’re a police officer and you shoot (whether lethally or not) someone who doesn’t have a gun, you get fired. If someone is unarmed, or has a blunt object or knife, first you try to talk to them (to them, not at them). If that fails and they actually run at you and pose, by reasonable standards, some kind of threat, then you can use a taser. That’s what tasers should be for – non-lethal force, an alternative to guns.

        Instead, tasers are too often used as an alternative to words, or just as a way for police to bully people who haven’t done anything remotely dangerous or violent. Using a taser on someone who didn’t pose a physical threat to you (by the “reasonable person” standard) should also get you fired. If you’re not a cop, doing that would be assault, so if you are a cop, it should be at minimum a firing offense.

        And all such incidents need to be investigated by an organization external to and independent of the police department. British Columbia has a civilian Independent Investigations Office to “conduct investigations into officer-related incidents of death or serious harm in order to determine whether or not an officer may have committed an offence”.

        In addition to that, we need to have cameras on cops at all time, so that there’s an impartial (if imperfect) record of what happened and we aren’t just relying on police statements.

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      • Cop cameras strike me as doable. If I’m going to allow myself to veer off into wish fulfillment, I’d say that the lack of a cop camera recording should be seen as evidence by a jury as wrongdoing on the part of the officer over his testimony to the contrary.

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      • Cameras would be great, but as the cop description of the video I mentioned at the start of this subthread shows, they’ll still get off scott free even when they drive up and shoot a 12 year old with a bb gun before the car stops.

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      • Heck i’d say cop camera’s are such a good thing the fed should pony up the money for PD’s that can’t afford them and put pressure on them to use them. No fed money for any state or local PD that doesn’t have camera’s installed or something like that. Camera’s are good in themselves but certainly won’t solve all the problems but they could be the start of changing cop culture.

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      • Exactly. Tying policies to grants-in-aid is a longstanding federal practice. It’s how we got the 55mph speed limit, the 21 minimum drinking age, NCLB, etc. I generally think it’s an overused method, but in this case we’re talking about fundamental civil liberties, where I make a standing exception to my preference for federalism.

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  17. Watching the Tamir Rice video, I wonder if that will result in a real conversation.

    Whether or not it’s kosher, it’s possible to point to stuff like the fact that Mike Brown shoved the store owner moments before the shooting and to point to the evidence that the officer was punched (however light the damage was, it *WAS* there). Heck, it’s possible to imagine a scenario where Darren Wilson is innocent of murder.

    Tamir Rice? That’s unambiguous to a degree that just isn’t there with Mike Brown.

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    • I think you underestimate people’s ability to create reasons to justify this.

      Give the press enough time, and we’ll find out his parents are divorced, or that he was conceived out of wedlock, or that he once got caught with cigarettes at school or beer at the local park with his friends, or that he went on Facebook and “liked” Tupac.

      I don’t know what exactly it will be, but trust me when I say whatever it is will be more than enough to keep everyone on the same side they were before.

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  18. What is amazing is that after the results have been announced on what is the most detailed investigation of any police shooting that some folks here are coming up conspiracy theories to explain the grand jury no bill. Some of you sound like the right wingnuts you liberals complain about not being able to accept the facts.

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