Another senseless police killing cries out to the moral character of this nation. The life of unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown was taken against the backdrop of the racism widespread in our society.
Mr. Brown was shot in broad daylight on Aug. 9, in Ferguson, Mo., a town whose demographics have changed dramatically from 74 percent white in 1990 to 67 percent black in 2010. But the political power continues almost without change: the mayor, city council and school board are virtually all white, and only 6 percent of the police force are black.
This disparity is graphically revealed in a 2013 Report of the Missouri Attorney General. According to The New York Times, the report shows “86 percent of all stops, 92 percent of searches and 93 percent of arrests (in Ferguson) were of black people…”
On a national basis, a white police officer killed a black person twice a week in a seven-year period ending in 2012. The percentage of young blacks killed was more than twice that of the same-age whites.
A similarly sad story can be told of the educational, employment, health care and other opportunities afforded African-Americans compared to white Americans. Add to all of this a heritage of slavery and ugly discrimination, and it’s not difficult to understand the frustration and anger felt by black residents of Ferguson and the entire nation.
Whites do not get to judge African-Americans based on generations of our own privileged conditions but must acknowledge and be empathetic of the more than four hundred years of deprivation blacks have suffered.
Excluding the reported looters and thugs exploiting the Ferguson situation, the protestors must be permitted the exercise of their First Amendment rights.
Mr. Brown was shot by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, who has not appeared in public or been heard from directly. The circumstances are in dispute, except for the fact Officer Wilson stopped his patrol car and told Mr. Brown and Dorian Johnson, a friend, to get out of the street and to not block traffic. That appears to be have been a justified order. What happened immediately thereafter, however, is in question.
Either Mr. Brown was shot during the struggle he and Officer Wilson had in the patrol car, during which the teenager reached for the policeman’s gun, as related by Police Chief Thomas Jackson; or he was shot after leaving the immediate vicinity of the car and while he was trying to surrender with his arms up, according to Mr. Johnson and eyewitnesses.
An independent autopsy report provides important facts. Mr. Brown was shot four times in his right arm, one of which could have entered either from the front or back according to the attending pathologist. He was hit twice in the head, one fatally entering the top of his head. There was no gun powder on the body, indicating the gun was not fired close by. Chief Jackson has not alleged Mr. Brown was armed or Officer Wilson was threatened with imminent bodily harm immediately before the shooting occurred.
An emerging case suggests a self defense plea may not be available to Officer Wilson. It’s time for criminal prosecutions of unjustified police conduct, not an administrative slap on the wrist.
Bo Statham is a retired lawyer, congressional aide and businessman. He lives in Gardnerville and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.