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article imageOp-Ed: The real lessons behind the Ferguson grand jury decision

By Calvin Wolf     Nov 25, 2014 in Politics
Ferguson - It's a maelstrom in Ferguson, Missouri after a grand jury decided not to indict police officer Darren Wilson after he killed Michael Brown, an unarmed teen. Wilson was white, Brown was black, and the case mixed alleged racism with police abuse of force.
As had been widely expected for weeks, a grand jury has decided not to indict Ferguson, Missouri police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of unarmed teenager Michael Brown. Once again, Ferguson has descended into violence as protesters reacted angrily over the news, reports CNN. The blogosphere is abuzz with pundits debating the appropriateness of the grand jury decision...and assigning blame for the continued unrest in Ferguson. Going further than even the Trayvon Martin shooting in terms of an inflamed public, the Michael Brown shooting mixed race relations and the plight of young black men with the similarly-controversial subjects of police use of force and law enforcement and judicial transparency...or lack thereof.
And, of course, the evidence was all over the map. Despite eyewitnesses claiming that officer Wilson shot Brown in cold blood as the 18-year-old fled, physical evidence supported the officer's claim that Brown, who stood six-foot-four and weighed almost 300 pounds, attacked him inside the police car. In the end, the case seemed to hinge on whether or not Brown was running away from Wilson before the fatal final shot, or toward him for another assault, as Wilson claims. Apparently, the grand jury has leaned toward the arguments of Wilson and his attorneys.
Now, says the New York Times, protests are breaking out in cities across the nation, with many protesters trying to remind the public of other young black men who have lost their lives in confrontations with law enforcement. Hopefully, these protests will be non-violent and no harm will be done.
While pundits will debate the effect of the Ferguson grand jury decision for many days, what are the lessons for the common man?
First, and perhaps most important, it appears that deference to law enforcement remains the safest tactic. Whether or not Brown was trying to flee and/or surrender when he was shot the final time, it is undeniable that his attempt to physically defy officer Wilson touched off the tragic event. Though many critics point out that Brown was unarmed, it must be acknowledged that, in the heat of the moment, physical combatants are unlikely to keep in mind whether or not their foes are equally armed. When Wilson was struggling with the much larger suspect, he was probably more concerned about his own well-being than whether or not Brown was also armed. The grand jury has affirmed this viewpoint.
Police officers are given firearms to protect their own lives and the lives of innocent civilians. When physically engaged with suspects, police officers are likely to use all tools at their disposal to protect their own safety, much as any civilian would do. We cannot assume that, even with standard police training, officers can override natural tendencies to use all their tools to guarantee their own safety and ensure the arrest of hostile suspects. Grand juries are likely to accept this fact.
Perhaps we should have unarmed police like in England, but that is a separate debate.
Secondly, it is worth remembering that law enforcement officers will almost always enjoy the benefit of the doubt. While many critics may have felt that there was plenty of evidence against Darren Wilson, the grand jury decision has confirmed the contemporary wisdom that a cop's word goes further than a civilian's. Though many might protest this trend, it is necessary to keep public safety functioning efficiently. If everything became a "he said-she said" debate, the justice system would break down. Courts tend to believe cops because cops have been entrusted with the public trust.
While many individual cops can be corrupt and engage in rampant lies, civilians should know that they are at a disadvantage when it comes to a dispute. It is better to later engage the services of a legal professional than try to argue with a police officer in the moment. If a situation with a cop gets out of hand, the cop has the judicial advantage.
Third, just as in the Trayvon Martin shooting and Casey Anthony case, public outrage does not change a court's opinion. While your side of the story may have countless vocal supporters, this often does not sway a grand jury, nor should it. Feeling assured that you are in the right, and having bandwagon support, should never outweigh good evidence and legal precedent. For those who question why the Ferguson grand jury acted the way it did, remember that juries must remain impartial and cannot simply act to appease the public. The Constitution exists to defend against tyranny of the majority.
While many are rightly angry about the questionable actions of law enforcement, mass protests against police abuse of force and poor race relations should not affect the decision of a local grand jury.
Finally, and perhaps most controversially, violence begets violence. Nothing is solved by using our fists and throwing bricks and rocks. May peaceful protests reign.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
More about trial by media, trial by public opinion, Public opinion, Ferguson, darren wilson
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