Fear and fiction: Ferguson, Missouri

By Charles S. Kramer

It is with a heavy heart that I write this column. I much prefer the humorous insights I generally try to convey with my writings. No columnist based in St. Louis, Missouri can publish an article this week which concerns rights, laws, and society and not take a serious turn, however.  Ferguson, Missouri is a part of this metropolitan area.  It is now the center of national reporting, national galvanization, and national polit-speak.  Unfortunately, it is a situation marked and continued more by fear and fiction, than by legal or human rights issues.

For those reading this column sometime in the future who may not recall how the current “unrest” in Ferguson, Missouri began, the refresher need not be long or involved.  Simply put, a police officer was patrolling the city streets.  A young male, large in body proportions but young of age, was walking down the middle of the street and refused to move out of the way.  What happens next has been described in three or four completely different manners, and is at this point unclear.  What is clear however is that at some point the boy runs from the vicinity of the officer’s car, and the officer shoots, at least six times?  The boy dies.  A later released security camera video appears to show the victim robbing a convenience store a half hour before the encounter, but it is unclear whether, and at what point, the police officer knew the boy might be the suspect.  At first, the police chief announced the officer did not have that information.  Later reports indicated he did not have the information at the beginning of the encounter, but learned of it somewhere in the midst of his interaction with the now-deceased. 

The police department immediately suspended the officer.  The police department immediately began an investigation into the situation and ordered an autopsy of the victim.  The state immediately referred the matter to the FBI for a federal investigation. The Federal authorities requested their own autopsy.  The family requested an autopsy by a forensic analyst of their choosing, which was allowed.  It would seem that everything, at least so far, has been handled correctly.

However, as news of the shooting spread, “protestors” began gathering.  What, exactly, they were and are protesting is unclear.  Did they, and do they, want the police not to investigate the shooting?  Did they, or do they, not want the matter referred to federal authorities?  Generally protest is against something.  In this case, the protestors were and are saying the same thing as the authorities they were and are “protesting” against.  “Something looks wrong.  This should not have happened.”  Sadly, however, the situation did not end with the strange protests.  The peaceful protestors were, and continue to be, joined at the late night hour, by hooligans and criminals, who used and are using the situation as an excuse to burn buildings, break windows, and loot local businesses.  To those who lump these idiots in with the protestors, I offer only disbelief.  How could looting and burning the businesses in your own neighborhood constitute the extraction of retribution for some wrong?  How could it be a form of “protest?”  The answer, obviously, is that it cannot.  The criminals are not protestors.  They are not concerned citizens.  They are punks, opportunists, and crooks.  The police moved in, using tear gas.  They did not use it against the protestors.  They used it against the looters and rioters.

As the days moved on, peaceful protests continued, sadly still followed by even more disconnected, opportunistic looters and increased violence.  The Ferguson police gave way to the county police, which gave way to the state police and highway patrol, which was replaced by the National Guard.  Things have gotten more violent.  Crime has spread.  The story is now reported nationally, with sympathetic protests being staged across our nation. All the “usual suspects” have come to town to get their 60 seconds of airtime at the expense of the people.  Reverend Sharpton.  Reverend Jackson. AG Holder.  Yet, what is the story?

The First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech and assembly protects demonstrators engaging in peaceful protests.  However that is not the issue as the protestors have not been disrupted.  If a protest gets violent, police can respond as necessary to disperse the crowd.  However, that is not what has happened here either.  The force, when it has been used, has been used against lawbreakers who are robbing stores and burning cars and buildings.  It has not been used to disperse protestors.  There is no police force issue.

Except of course with respect to the original event—the death of young Michael Brown.  Under Missouri law, deadly force is justified if a policeman reasonably believes it’s necessary to arrest or prevent the escape of a person who has committed or is attempting to commit a felony; or where the person himself or herself is using a deadly weapon, or if the person is a threat to endanger life or inflict serious physical injury on others if allowed to escape.  From the facts as reported by news sources so far, it would seem that the use of deadly force was not warranted, and the officer has some serious explaining to do, and probably some jail time to serve.  However, nobody knows the full facts, and this may or may not be the case.  The investigation is young.  There has been no trial.  The family says they want “peace BUT justice,” implying there has been no justice to date.  However, the investigations were ordered and are underway.  Innocent until proven guilty applies to officers involved in shootings as much as it does to other suspects, regardless of how many thugs seek to capitalize by robbing their own neighbors.  At this point, the investigation of the situation, and the aggregation of evidence is the pursuit of justice. 
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Under analysis is a nationally syndicated column of the Levison Group.  Charles Kramer is an attorney with St Louis based Riezman Berger, PC.  Comments or criticisms about this column may be sent to the Levison Group c/o this paper or direct by email to comments@levgroup.com.
The opinions expressed herein are those of the author only.
© Under Analysis LLC.

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