Friday, November 28, 2014

Hands up, don't Shoot: My Thoughts on the Shooting of Michael Brown

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This comic is about the shooting of Michael Brown. I have heard simultaneously that people are tired of hearing about Ferguson while also hearing them rant on about it, so I felt ambivalent about releasing this issue.

I ultimately decided to go ahead with it because if you read the portion of my website with political strips or this blog, you know it is my soapbox. I also am frankly disgusted by some of the comments people have made on this case and I have strong opinions about it.

I am a Missourian. I live in the southwest portion of the state in Springfield. I have been a resident here my entire life and I voted for Governor Jay Nixon. The leaders who are in part responsible for botching this mess are people who are supposed to represent me.

For full disclosure I will note that I distrust police in general. I respect them for the sacrifices they make and I know that they are there to serve the community. I am mindful also, however, that power corrupts, and I feel it is imperative to question any authority no matter how benevolent they may be.

I should also note that while I sympathize with Michael Brown I vehemently oppose rioting and violence for political ends. It equally disgusts me that Darren Wilson and his family have received death threats.

This entire situation smells rotten to me. At every step of this process, the Ferguson police has acted in a manner which strikes me as suspicious. From the fact that a written statement was not taken from Darren Wilson on the night of the shooting, to the fact that Wilson was not cross examined, to the general hands off approach by the prosecutor to the Grand Jury proceedings. Why were all of these necessary if Wilson was truly an innocent man? Why did the prosecutor spend more time defacing Michael Brown's character than determining if Wilson may have committed a crime?

It is important to note that this was not a trial for Officer Wilson. The objective was not to determine guilt or innocence. Merely to determine whether or not he should be charged with a crime.

Darren Wilson said of the confrontation, “I tried to hold his right arm and use my left hand to get out to have some type of control and not be trapped in my car any more. And when I grabbed him, the only way I can describe it is I felt like a five-year-old holding onto Hulk Hogan... That's just how big he felt and how small I felt just from grasping his arm.” and “The only way I can describe it, it looks like a demon, that's how angry he looked. He comes back towards me again with his hands up.”

The demon comment smacks of discrimination. The pictures of Wilson's injuries do not seem to support Wilson's account of the intensity of the confrontation. It is clear that Wilson feared for his safety. Is it unreasonable to ask that a police officer, a man whom we have entrusted with the right to use lethal force be able to keep calm in such a confrontation? In my view, this account raises serious questions about the competence of Wilson's policing abilities.

My understanding of Missouri law is that you are permitted to defend yourself with equal or lesser force. No matter how strong Michael Brown may have been, I doubt the means he was using crossed the threshold to be considered lethal by most reasonable standards. I almost believe that police should be held to an even higher standard, because they have received training for dealing with situations such as this.

I do not think it unreasonable to ask of our police to use restraint given the vast powers they wield on our behalf. We have a long tradition in the United States of civilian control over police and military forces. It should be acceptable for civilians to request certain conduct of their police.

Wilson said that he thought mace would have been ineffective and that he did not want to use it to relinquish his defensive stance. Was reaching for the gun relinquishing his defensive stance? Would it have been as easy to reach for his mace as it was for him to reach for his gun?

Wilson was afraid that Brown had his face covered with his hands and that the mace could backfire at such a short distance. These things might possibly be legitimate. Regardless, they should have been subject to greater scrutiny than they were and that is the source of my outrage at this case. The responsibility of a prosecutor is to be impartial and thorough in determining whether or not a crime was committed. There has been no counter argument in this case as to whether or not Wilson could have acted differently. There was no strong line of questioning about whether or not he could have used mace. Wilson's testimony portrays him as terrified of Brown. Though I am sure that is true, feeling terrified should not be considered a viable defense for taking a life. Perhaps that is manslaughter as opposed to cold murder, but it is still inappropriate.

Much has been made of how big Michael Brown was. Just for reference, Michael Brown and Darren Wilson were the same height. Wilson weighs 210 pounds and would not by most measures be considered a small man.

There has also been much talk about Michael Brown being a “thug” in the media. The evidence does suggest that Michael Brown stole some cigars. Shoplifting from a store is not even a felony, much less a capital offense. Is that justification enough for a man being killed? Assaulting a police officer is a much greater crime, but is still not a capital offense. I want my police officers to use restraint. There is nothing now to be done about Darren Wilson, but I would like police forces around the country to make it the rule to go out of their way to avoid lethal force. I want them to make sure that it is an absolute last resort and I remain unconvinced that was the case in this incident.

I've read and heard said countless times that Michael Brown was not a kid. That statement is more a semantic word game, but I will grant that Michael Brown was a legal adult responsible for his actions. More important than being an adult, however, is that Michael Brown was a human being. Michael Brown was a brother, a friend, a school mate, and yes, a child to to his mother and father, to his uncle and his grandparents. Brown had aspirations to go to Vatterott College. The death of any human being is a tragedy. Again, Michael Brown acted foolishly and likely committed crimes the night he was killed, but given the nature of his alleged offenses that it not a justification for his death.

Michael Brown was at the age where most white kids go to college, get drunk, and commit petty acts of vandalism and crimes. I would say that most would not argue we should throw the book at these young adults or that they should be shot. Most older Americans have a low opinion of the abilities of these young people to make decisions. I do not believe they should get off Scott free, I just dispute that doing things like shoplifting qualifies as thuggery.

Michael Brown's character has been the subject of a vicious assault by the media and citizens weighing in on this case around the country. I doubt Michael Brown was much of a thug when his teachers described him in his obituary as "a student who loomed large and didn't cause trouble". I doubt that a thug writes rap songs about how much he likes his stepmother as Brown did.

Michael Brown is reported to have dabbled in alcohol and marijuana from time to time. He reportedly had a rebellious streak. He would occasionally talk back to his parents. He took money once that his parents gave him to buy shoes and spent it on a Playstation instead. Perhaps that is not the model of a perfect child, but it is a far cry from being a thug. None of what I mentioned goes beyond the troubles most youth cause for their parents and teachers during their adolescent years.

I have even read in an article about how Michael Brown drew on the wall with crayons as a child. So he was a typical kid? What point are people making by defacing his character in such a way?

This is a tragedy. Michael Brown's death is a tragedy. The upending of Darren Wilson's life is a tragedy. The riots are a tragedy. The failure of authorities to mount an impartial and full investigation into Wilson's behavior is a tragedy. It is tragic that incidences like this one are so common and it is tragic that as a society we do not acknowledge that truth.

I am a relatively privileged and twenty four year old white dude from Springfield, Missouri. I am fortunate enough to have a full time job that pays my rent and bills plus leaves a little money leftover. I will never experience racial discrimination. I will never understand what discrimination must feel like. Still, it fills my heart with grief when I hear about unarmed African Americans being shot in the streets. It fills my heart with grief that minorities compromise such a disproportionate portion of the United States prison population. My heart goes out to the Brown family and all minorities unfairly targeted or brutalized by police. I am fed up with this country's unquestioning support for police. I am fed up with our tough stance on crime in spite of lessening crime rates.

I want police to wear body cameras so that it is safer both for them and for the victims of their brutality. I want police to make sure lethal force is a absolute last resort. I want police to be impartial and thorough in ensuring these guidelines are followed. I want the injustices inherent in our legal system to end.

Friday, November 14, 2014

The Fact that Billy Long is my Representive in Congress Fills me with Crushing Despair

I did not vote for Representative Long and I'm not a fan of his policies.

Hopefully in two years time we'll have a good Democratic candidate who can give Long a chance to enjoy the benefits of his pension to the fullest.