Monday, August 18, 2014
A man was killed on the streets of Ferguson. Not by some gang banger, but by a police officer... a man tasked with protecting the public from violence. As that man, Michael Brown, fled this officer, he was shot in the back. And as he raised his hands to surrender, that officer shot him five more times. And as that officer walked up to this dying man, he put a bullet in his head. These are the facts, witnessed by several people. This was murder.
Some will say that Michael Brown instigated an attack on this police officer, reaching into his window, grabbing for his gun. They will also bring up the robbery of a convenience store moments before by Michael Brown, although the officer was unaware of this fact. Both of these things could have been true, and it changes nothing. The reality is that in the moments that followed, the officer was out of danger, yet still chose to use lethal force. Even when assaulted first, even if assaulted by a hypothetical dangerous criminal, an officer has a responsibility, nay, a higher moral standard, to exercise restraint in his power when he controls a situation. It may seem unfair to the cop... that were their roles reversed and a criminal held a gun on him, he might see no mercy... but the public expects its protectors to have the integrity to do no harm unless it is absolutely unavoidable. In exchange, the public (for the most part) agrees to comply with demands of the police. If that social contract breaks down, it becomes a dark day for civilized society... the start of a march down the path to a police state.
Something tragic has happened when a community has lost faith in those who are designated to protect them. When the word of a police officer has been so tarnished, that we find we cannot believe them anymore than the criminals they stop. These men and women are given extraordinary powers and authority, and they must subscribe to a higher standard. If they are unable to achieve these qualities, than it is time we provide additional checks and balances to hold them accountable for their actions. We need strong state laws allowing police to be surveilled uninfringed by the public.