Turmoil in Ferguson

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Welcome to Ferguson, a town of slightly more than 21,000 residents in St. Louis County, Missouri. Before August 9, 2014, the 6.2 square miles were relatively obscure on a national stage.  Not anymore. They now have their own Wikipedia entry because of a violent encounter between Darren Wilson, a white police officer, and Michael Brown, an African American young man. I point out their ethnicity, because the reaction and subsequent news stories would not exist without it.

Because of pre-ordained perceptions, there is not a pursuit of justice; it’s more of a collision with it. The resulting damage has mocked the very word—justice. It is not a one-way street as some desire, but a broad highway.

State of mind is one of the key factors when determining if an officer used the appropriate level of force—particularly deadly force. It was reported that Brown was involved in a strong-arm robbery prior to the deadly encounter with Wilson. A video showed a very large man; identified by the media as Brown, clearly intimidate the small statured clerk, who tried to retrieve the property described as cigars.

If the video is a typical representation of Brown’s demeanor, it is not hard to imagine a violent confrontation was inevitable with the law. The vocal public sentiment is that Wilson hunted Brown down and murdered him!

Imagine the disadvantage Wilson experienced. He encountered a very large statured man who possibly committed a strong-arm robbery, but was unaware of it. The contact was generated by an infraction—impeding traffic by walking in the middle of the street. Something terrible went wrong during the encounter. Wilson won the battle but is being condemned in the court of public opinion.

A few days after the incident another video went viral. This recording showed the body lying in the roadway after the shooting. In the background a man is heard describing a story that conflicts with a key witness version of events, but supports Wilson’s. Based upon the setting, I guess that Brown was far more likely to receive sympathetic statements from bystanders and witnesses than Wilson. So who knows if investigators will ever get the account on record from the person who said it?

We have another emotionally charged officer involved shooting. And we have a city experiencing conflict like never before. Suddenly Ferguson is filled with an angry neighborhood, race hustlers, criminal opportunists, and others who don’t need a reason to behave like street terrorists, but will use this incident as an excuse for riotous behavior. It is shameful. Those arrested have reportedly come from as far away as Los Angeles and New York. The unspoken word in such circumstances continues to be more about anti-authority and reciprocity from historical injustices; take your choice.

Once these ingredients are present, the municipality can do nothing right according to the antagonist, which are many. Strife is the goal. If too much force is used to restore order, they are criticized. If not enough is used, they are criticized. If the armament is too militaristic, they are criticized. Weaponry—criticism. And what about the evidence? Show it to us or be criticized. Once it trickles out—criticism. Or it is spun to justify premature conclusions. It all adds up to a no win situation while the good citizens in Ferguson are collateral damage.

The demand for information always compromises the integrity of the investigation. Unfortunately, many in the business acquiesce to the demands of the volatile, combative accusers in order to quell riotous behavior. But it rarely works when facts spoil the ingredients of malevolence and malice. In the meantime, witness statements, identifications etc… have been compromised.

How do you respond in a case like this? The race antagonists are busy pouring fuel on a fire, all under the belief they are seeking justice for Michael Brown. But they have overlooked one critical element while grandstanding before the cameras; de facto encouraging thugs to vandalize, loot, and engage in civil disobedience that is anything but civil. Forgotten, or ignored, is that truth needs to be discovered before justice is sought for anyone. Indeed this is a mockery of justice.

The racial divide becomes heartbreakingly enormous during these events. There is not only a chasm between races, but also a canyon of distrust between law enforcement, the media, and the megaphones held by Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson. I refuse to refer to either man as a reverend because their actions have not demonstrated godly peacemaking ability as prescribed in Scripture. They masquerade as leaders of a cause when their charlatan efforts bring the bondage they claim to confront. They will return to their penthouses while their followers remain in the town they helped destroy.

Before cynics brand me, I need to share that my family has engaged in mission work to Rwanda, Mongolia, Mexico, New Mexico tribal lands, and Guinea Bissau, West Africa. We have participated in projects in the inner cities of Southern California. We love humanity and the pursuit of justice is a right held by all, including Police Officer Darren Wilson. I do not believe in discrimination any more than I do preferential treatment. I have discovered that filters in the mind, not the color of skin, drive the heart of people. Didn’t Martin Luther King say something similar once upon a time? Well I believe it with all my being!

Of course I am pro-law enforcement because I value order in society. But more importantly, I am pro-truth. Unfortunately, truth appears to be irrelevant to the vultures circling the skies of Ferguson.

Why do we respond to the rabid frenzy? Why do we do things we would never do otherwise? One reason is that it is unchartered territory for most. Every critical incident has its’ unique structure. But these events are typically “once in a career” encounters. That is why preparation is key, although it can also be theoretical when the fluid nature of each act of aggression plays out.

I do not write to criticize Ferguson, St. Louis County, or the State Highway Patrol—quite the contrary. I wish to support them anyway possible as they are making more arrests for continued criminal acts related to rioting. I know there is a lot of sleep being lost because of these events. It is clearly a changing daily environment and they’re learning as they go. I would encourage them to reach out to other agencies that have experienced such an event. The lessons learned need to be shared to avoid the traps set by adversaries.

The Brown family was offended the police released the video of the convenient store robbery. Offended by what? The facts! It never would have been released absent the chaos created by the “demand for justice.” I understand the sorrow, but their objectivity is out of focus. I wonder if the family of the man who was bullied by the strong-arm robber was offended? I’m just curious.

Finally, I wish to refocus on Officer Darren Wilson. I do not know anything about him personally. But I know he has been forced into hiding because of the fury. He has been required to conceal himself because of questionable reporting ethics. His life has changed forever.   CNN has publicized the front of his home, as well as the street number.

On August 9 his state of mind (under Graham vs. Connor) was convinced it was his life or Brown’s—a decision that was made in seconds or less. My hope is that he has a support network surrounding him that will validate his value as a police officer and human being. I hope he is able to return to the streets one day, but will be surprised if it happens.

Let’s fast-forward 12 months. If Wilson’s actions were unjustified, he will surely be penalized based upon all the investigators arriving in town to discern the truth—a certain quagmire. I hope their objectivity remains impartial regardless of the pressure being applied.

But, for the sake of argument, let’s assume Wilson’s actions were justified. Will anyone compensate his heartache, his sleepless nights, the financial toll of relocating and hiding? Will anyone say, “we’re sorry, our bad!” Will Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton issue a press release indicating they erred in judgment when parading down the streets of Ferguson, Missouri in August of 2014? It is doubtful.

In the battle for public opinion, supporters are painting a rosy picture of young Mr. Brown. Perhaps that is the next step for advocates of Officer Wilson? While his adversaries are symbolically building the gallows, his emissaries can portray the authentic public servant he is.

Officer Wilson and Ferguson, Missouri, you are in our prayers!

Jim is the author of The Spirit behind Badge 145. He worked in military and civilian law enforcement for thirty-one years. While in the USAF he flew as a crewmember aboard the National Emergency Airborne Command Post—a presidential support detail. Following his military service, he served for twenty-seven years with the Fountain Valley Police Department in Orange County, California where he retired as a lieutenant. During his career in law enforcement, he worked with, supervised, or managed every element of the organization. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in criminal justice from Southwest University and graduated from the prestigious Sherman Block Supervisory Leadership Institute as well as the IACP course, Leadership in Police Organizations. Jim is married and has three adult children and three grandchildren. You can contact him at [email protected] or view his website www.jimmcneff.com which is geared toward helping officers.

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