A Philosopher's Blog

Some Thoughts on the Ferguson Verdict

Posted in Ethics, Law, Philosophy, Politics, Race by Michael LaBossiere on November 26, 2014

In August of 2014 police officer Darren Wilson shot the unarmed Michael Brown to death. On November 24, 2014 a grand jury in Missouri failed to indict police officer Darren Wilson. Like most Americans, I have some thoughts about this matter.

In the United States, a grand jury’s function is to determine whether or not there is probable cause to prosecute. This level of proof is much lower than that of a criminal trial—such a trial requires (in theory) proof beyond a reasonable doubt. Unlike in a criminal trial, the grand jury is effectively run by the prosecutor and the defense has no real role in the process. As might be suspected, grand juries almost always indict. Almost always, that is, unless the person under consideration is a police officer who has killed someone. In such cases the officer is almost never indicted. As such, the decision in the Wilson case is exactly what should have been expected.

Now, it might be that the reason that police officers are almost never indicted for killing is that nearly all the killings are justified. In contrast, the reason that non-officers are almost always indicted is that there is almost always legitimate probable cause. This is, obviously enough, not impossible.

Of course, the real concern here is not with the grand juries in general, but with this grand jury in particular. According to the various news reports and experts, Wilson received a “gold plated” grand jury in terms of how it was handled by the prosecutor and the state. To be specific, the grand jury seemed to be run in such a way that Wilson received exceptionally good treatment in regards to the case. This is in contrast with the sort of grand jury treatment other citizens typically get, which have been described as “tin plated.” In these grand juries an indictment is almost a forgone conclusion. This is not to say that Wilson’s grand jury involved corruption or misdeeds. Rather, the point is that there is a stark contrast between the sort of grand jury that a typical citizen will receive and the one that Wilson received.

This distinction in treatment is one reason that people are justifiably angry about the matter. After all, a proper justice system would treat everyone equally—everyone would get the “gold plated” grand jury (or the “tin plated” one) rather than getting the sort of justice deemed fit for the person’s race, class, or profession. This sort of disparity is yet one more example of the injustices of our justice system.

Naturally, I am well aware that the real does not (and probably cannot) match the ideal. However, this sort of appeal to the real is more of an acceptance of the problem than a refutation of criticisms of the problem. Also, I do not expect a perfect system—merely a reasonably fair one.

In addition to the nature of the grand jury, there is also obviously the central issue: was Wilson justified in shooting Brown to death? In this case, the justification is grounded on the principle of defense of life: an officer is justified in using violence to protect his life or that of an innocent person when he has an “objectively reasonable” belief that there is such a threat. In Wilson’s case, the shooting of Brown would be warranted if Wilson had an “objectively reasonable” belief that Brown presented such a threat. Since the justification is based on the reasonable belief in a threat, the warrant for the use of force ends when the threat ends.

According to the information released to the public, there is evidence that Brown had close contact with Wilson, which is consistent with Wilson’s claim that Brown attacked him and tried to take his gun. Brown died a considerable distance from Wilson and this raises the legal and moral question of whether or not Wilson still had an “objectively reasonable” belief that Brown still presented a threat that could only be dealt with by lethal force. The grand jury decided that he did, which settles the legal aspect of the case. However, there is still the matter of the moral aspect—was Wilson actually warranted in killing Brown?

On the one hand, when one considers that Brown was unarmed and too far from Wilson to attack him, then it would be reasonable to consider that Wilson was not justified in killing Brown.  On the other hand, if Brown appeared to be charging towards Wilson, then Wilson could be justified in shooting him. Since Wilson was not shot in the back, it does seem clear that Brown was facing Wilson—but facing someone is not the same thing as being a threat. Unfortunately, there is no video of the incident and the eye-witness reports conflict (and eye-witness reports, even given in all honesty, are not very reliable). Since Brown is dead, we only have Wilson’s side of the story. As such, one cannot be certain whether Wilson was justified or not, assuming a right to kill when one has an “objectively reasonable” belief that one is threatened.

This principle can, of course, be challenged. Some people take the principle to set a very low threshold—an officer just has to feel threatened in order to be warranted to use deadly force. This, as might be imagined, can be seen as a threshold that is too low. Some states do give citizens the same right (against other citizens) as shown in the various infamous stand your ground laws and these have proven rather problematic. Others take the view that the principle itself is reasonable—after all, it essentially expresses John Locke’s principle that force can be used to protect one’s life or the lives of the innocent. But, even if the principle is reasonable, there is also the question of whether or not it is applied correctly. My view is that the use of lethal force requires a comparable threat to justify it, on the principle of a proportional response. That said, one must also consider the practicalities of combat situations—it can be difficult to judge intent and the heat of a fight can easily change a person’s perceptions.

As one final point, even if Wilson was justified in shooting Brown, the perception remains that the police and the justice system treat black Americans very different from white Americans. Not surprisingly, some white people doubt this and do so in all honesty—they are assessing the system from their experiences and assume that everyone else has the same sort of experiences as they do. However, one must look beyond one’s experiences and consider those of others. While no one can completely get the experience and being of another, it would be a good thing for white folks to give some thought to what it is like to be non-white in America.

My Amazon Author Page

My Paizo Page

My DriveThru RPG Page

Follow Me on Twitter

18 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. T. J. Babson said, on November 26, 2014 at 10:28 am

    Mike, you are caught in a time warp where it is always 1964. In a few years whites will just be another minority in the U.S. The idea that the police and justice system are hotbeds of racism is beyond ridiculous. I suspect that the law-abiding residents of black communities fear criminals and drug gangs far more than they fear the police.

    In any case, you must have missed the memo that Dems no longer care about blacks. They are going all in to get the Latino vote and are throwing blacks under the bus.

    • Williamtpeabody@gmail.com said, on November 26, 2014 at 11:43 am

      TJ, Mike has demonstrated that he will flat out lie to make his point. I’m curious, what do you expect from him?

      • Michael LaBossiere said, on November 26, 2014 at 1:40 pm

        I do make factual errors, but I will never knowingly lie on my blog-be it in comments or posts.

        • Williamtpeabody@gmail.com said, on November 26, 2014 at 10:22 pm

          I specifically refer you back to the Hobby Lobby post in which you criticized Hobby Lobby for “imposing” it’s religious values on its employees. This was a flat out lie. No one was being imposed upon. Granted this was a lie directly from the Democratic Party play book, but a lie none the less. You have made many deceptive, disingenuous statements over the years. I do not consider you an honest nor honorable person in regard to matters of fact. Or philosophy, as far as such goes.

          But of course my question was not directed to you because, as I just said, I do not regard you as an honorable man, thus there is no point in addressing you. I was asking TJ for his thoughts.

          TJ, my original question?

          • TJB said, on November 27, 2014 at 12:30 am

            I have yet to see Mike stray very far from the Democrat plantation. Sometimes that involves blinding oneself, Oedipus-like, to the truth.

            • Williamtpeabody@gmail.com said, on November 27, 2014 at 8:50 am

              So this blinding of oneself to the truth…is it willful? Where is the line between the responsibility of the individual to see the truth and an understandable groupthink impairment? Surely at some point, over time, the individual becomes responsible for their situation. Or are they just a victim , permanently incapable of independent thought?

              I am genuinely interested in this subject. Forgive me I’m not coming across that way.

            • Michael LaBossiere said, on November 27, 2014 at 5:00 pm

              Calling me a Democrat does not show that I am blind to the truth.

              I do admit to factual errors. However, a lie involves (in this context) a willful untruth made with malicious intent. People can disagree with my value and claims, but I do not act from malice and I do not knowingly put forth untruths.

              I am fine with people saying that I got something wrong. I welcome disagreements. But accusing me of lying is just insulting me and adds no value to the discussion.

            • T. J. Babson said, on November 27, 2014 at 8:19 pm

              Mike, a perfect example is what is really required to tackle global warming according to the best possible science. You supplied a few platitudes about renewable energy, but you remained willfully blind to the fact that we cannot possibly stop global warming with currently available technologies. As far as I know you have not adjusted your thinking on global warming even when faced with a mountain of evidence.

              Even if our best-case scenario were achievable, we wondered: Would it really be a climate victory?

              A 2008 paper by James Hansen [PDF], former director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies and one of the world’s foremost experts on climate change, showed the true gravity of the situation. In it, Hansen set out to determine what level of atmospheric CO2 society should aim for “if humanity wishes to preserve a planet similar to that on which civilization developed and to which life on Earth is adapted.” His climate models showed that exceeding 350 parts per million CO2 in the atmosphere would likely have catastrophic effects. We’ve already blown past that limit. Right now, environmental monitoring shows concentrations around 400 ppm. That’s particularly problematic because CO2 remains in the atmosphere for more than a century; even if we shut down every fossil-fueled power plant today, existing CO2 will continue to warm the planet.

              We decided to combine our energy innovation study’s best-case scenario results with Hansen’s climate model to see whether a 55 percent emission cut by 2050 would bring the world back below that 350-ppm threshold. Our calculations revealed otherwise. Even if every renewable energy technology advanced as quickly as imagined and they were all applied globally, atmospheric CO2 levels wouldn’t just remain above 350 ppm; they would continue to rise exponentially due to continued fossil fuel use. So our best-case scenario, which was based on our most optimistic forecasts for renewable energy, would still result in severe climate change, with all its dire consequences: shifting climatic zones, freshwater shortages, eroding coasts, and ocean acidification, among others. Our reckoning showed that reversing the trend would require both radical technological advances in cheap zero-carbon energy, as well as a method of extracting CO2 from the atmosphere and sequestering the carbon.

              http://spectrum.ieee.org/energy/renewables/what-it-would-really-take-to-reverse-climate-change

            • Michael LaBossiere said, on November 28, 2014 at 7:43 am

              Are you saying that I am refusing to accept that global warming cannot be fixed?

              If the best available science and technology analysis says that, then that would be rational to believe.

              So, time to start stockpiling weapons for the coming weatherpocalypse?

          • Michael LaBossiere said, on November 27, 2014 at 4:55 pm

            You are confusing the fact that you disagree with me as evidence that I am lying.

            • wtp said, on November 27, 2014 at 6:00 pm

              From Webster:

              lie
              \ˈlī\noun

              1

              a :an assertion of something known or believed by the speaker to be untrue with intent to deceive

              b :an untrue or inaccurate statement that may or may not be believed true by the speaker

              2

              :something that misleads or deceives

              See 1b. Can’t prove your intent but hence my questions to TJ. Do you agree that 1b is the definition of a lie? Am I wrong in asserting that what you say is a lie? If so, how is that different from your saying that Hobby Lobby is imposing it’s religious values on its employees? You have a nasty habit of picking and choosing when to use the broad definition of a word, and in this case it’s not even the definition of the word, and when to split hairs. Not an honorable argument and to dismiss it as a disagreement is itself weak.

            • wtp said, on November 27, 2014 at 6:09 pm

              Also, if I may….your reply to TJ above is a misrepresentation of what he said. Shoe on the other foot and you would (rightfully) tear apart such a weak argument. Again I ask, are you dishonest or just incredibly obtuse?

            • wtp said, on November 27, 2014 at 6:12 pm

              Also…accusing him ou of lying is not insulting if it is true. It is worthy of discussing and to hide behind feeling insulted is intellectually cowardly.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on November 26, 2014 at 1:39 pm

      I did the 60s once and don’t want to do them again; especially if I have to go through the 70s again.

      Race still seems to be a relevant factor in the justice system. For example, race matters a lot in fatal shootings by the police. The statistical data seems to favor my position, but I would be happy to consider data that serves as evidence against my view. That is, data that shows that race is not a factor when it comes to the justice system in America.

      I took the pledge of allegiance seriously as a kid: liberty and justice for all.

      • T. J. Babson said, on November 26, 2014 at 5:30 pm

        It seems wrong to take all the sins of the criminal justice system and try to expiate them by crucifying one scared cop.

        • Michael LaBossiere said, on November 27, 2014 at 4:57 pm

          Well, yes. Indicting Wilson would not have made it all better. Based on the laws and the evidence presented, there seems to be reasonable doubt regarding the shooting. As such, if there had been a trial, he would have been acquitted.

  2. ajmacdonaldjr said, on November 26, 2014 at 2:03 pm

    The black community has reached a new low by choosing to see Michael Brown, a punk thug, as a hero, a victim, and a symbol.

    The black community made the same mistake with punk thug Travon Martin.

    I think the so-called “leaders” of the black community, and the media, are to blame for this, and not the black community as a whole.

    Every time I see the black community choose one of these punk thugs for a hero, victim, symbol I am reminded of how SILENT black “leaders” and the media are about the PROVEN (in US Federal Court) US government sponsored and organized MURDER of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

    Where is justice for MLK? Where is the truth? Where is the outrage?

    MLK was a true hero. The black community needs to demand justice for him. And until they do there will be no justice for any of us, regardless of our race.

    The Martin Luther King Conspiracy Exposed in Memphis – http://www.ratical.org/ratville/JFK/Unspeakable/MLKconExp.html

    JFK, MLK, RFK and the Unspeakable: http://youtu.be/4jacbZjouJ0

    And, speaking of police, lethal force, and justice… what about Miriam Carey? The Black lady who was shot in the back 5 times by the US Capitol Police? Where’s is the outrage? Is there no outrage because she wasn’t a black teenage male punk thug?

    Miriam Carey Autopsy: Woman Killed In DC Chase Was Shot 5 Times From Behind, Lawyer Says – http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/04/08/miriam-carey-autopsy-dc-chase_n_5109397.html

  3. ajmacdonaldjr said, on November 28, 2014 at 12:32 pm

    POLITICO – The Ferguson Fraud

    “The bitter irony of the Michael Brown case is that if he had actually put his hands up and said don’t shoot, he would almost certainly be alive today. His family would have been spared an unspeakable loss, and Ferguson, Missouri wouldn’t have experienced multiple bouts of rioting, including the torching of at least a dozen businesses the night it was announced that Officer Darren Wilson wouldn’t be charged with a crime.

    “Instead, the credible evidence (i.e., the testimony that doesn’t contradict itself or the physical evidence) suggests that Michael Brown had no interest in surrendering. After committing an act of petty robbery at a local business, he attacked Officer Wilson when he stopped him on the street. Brown punched Wilson when the officer was still in his patrol car and attempted to take his gun from him…”

    Read more: The Ferguson Fraud http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2014/11/ferguson-fraud-113178.html


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: