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Why riots? A lawyer’s thoughts on Ferguson

REUTERS/Adrees Latif
A waitress waves at vehicles as she tries to attract customers to Faraci Pizza in Ferguson on Saturday.

Over the past week, since the failure to indict in Ferguson and the subsequent riots, I’ve had numerous conversations about the situation, read about the destruction that the riots caused in the already suffering communities, and saw social media explode with confusion about the violence — including this post from a law-school classmate: “I’ll never understand rioting. ‘I’m angry at a government entity for some injustice. I’ll now destroy buildings and steal possessions that have nothing to do with that government entity or its injustice.’ ”

I agree, but let’s name the unjust, unfair, hurtful, wrong incidents that we tend to wash over with the term “injustice.”

A teenage boy with dark skin is confronted by white police. The youth is unarmed. The officers pull out their guns and point them at his head. Something happens, no one knows exactly what, maybe an officer feared for his life, and guns are fired, sending publicly funded bullets into the young body. This same body, which just moments before had been filled with life, folds and bleeds onto the sidewalks and streets over which the families sharing that blood will grieve. Shortly thereafter, despite the ambiguities surrounding the killing (why were six shots needed to reduce the perceived threat rather than one, why was non-deadly force not used) the state finds that no trial is necessary to determine what happened to end this life, no trial is needed to determine if the killing was justified. Now multiply the times a version of this incident plays out throughout the country — sometimes the killer isn’t even an officer, just a not-black guy claiming self defense.

What would this do to a community’s sense of self worth? How would they feel having to watch as people who look like them are repeatedly killed by the state to which they belong, and that same state then determines that it is not worth its time to determine the circumstances of the killings — or perhaps worse yet, that fear of a black man is cause enough?

Now compound this repeated scene with a cycle of poverty, institutionalized racism (incarceration rates at nearly six times that of the white population), and the disenfranchisement of black voters through photo-ID laws, felony voter laws, and gerrymandering. These are the “injustices.”

The people of Ferguson are possessed with a righteous fury. Yes, it would be preferable if their outrage could be expressed through other means besides destruction, and many in Ferguson are attempting to use these means. But, as briefly discussed above, the practical formats are limited; their votes are limited, their pocketbooks are limited, and their actual physical liberty is limited. What else are they to do to voice their outcry? How else will they be heard? The reality is that so long as they “destroy buildings and steal possessions” we hear them.

Jake Barnes
Jake Barnes

Civil disobedience comes in many forms, and maybe, sometimes, the right to walk down the street without being shot by your government is worth breaking a few windows over. (I will of course note here that I agree with those out there who believe that the rioters should stand trial and face the rebuke of their community; indeed it is something they are due. But I would also point out that Michael Brown was never given a hearing.)

Without belaboring my point, I will end with a much more succinct quote from the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., as I again state that I agree that the riots should not be taking place:

[b]ut it is not enough for me to stand before you tonight and condemn riots. It would be morally irresponsible for me to do that without, at the same time, condemning the contingent, intolerable conditions that exist in our society. These conditions are the things that cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention. And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the negro poor has worsened over the last twelve or fifteen years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice and humanity.

— MLK, Grosse Pointe, Michigan, March 14, 1968

Jake Barnes is a lawyer working criminal law in the Minneapolis area. He is a graduate of St. John’s University, where he received his B.A., and Hamline University School of Law, where he received his J.D.

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Comments (41)

  1. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 12/01/2014 - 10:35 am.

    Remember the destructive riots in Salt Lake city when a black policeman shot an unarmed 20 yr. old white kid in September?

    http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2014/sep/3/justice-dillon-taylor-after-white-utah-man-fatally/

    Me neither.

    I’ve never understood what hair extensions, plasma televisions and cell phones have to do with restorative justice. The problem of so many black men being in prison has many different root causes, and yes, the criminal justice system has a share of them, but none of them originated in electronic stores or mom and pop liquor stores.

    You want to break some windows to get attention? Try your local police department or county courthouse.

    When Ferguson came into the public conscience, I was as angry at the para-military response by the cops as anyone. The police do not need MRAPS, they do not need KBar combat knives slung on full body armor. They do not need to be training fully automatic rifles at unarmed civilians of *any* color.

    But self-serving race baiters and common thieves do no service to those looking to make our world more equitable. When Al Sharpton & his ilk show up on the scene, most reasonable people dismiss the issue on the spot.

    • Submitted by Jonathan Ecklund on 12/01/2014 - 02:07 pm.

      Remember the destructive riots in Cleveland when police shot an unarmed 12-year old boy less than 2 seconds after arriving to a park? Me neither.

      Remember the destructive riots in Florida after 17 year old Trayvon Martin was shot to death by a local resident? Me neither.

      Remember the destructive riots that gripped New York after Sean Bell was killed in a hail of police gunfire? Me neither.

      Remember the destructive riots that occurred after Joe Paterno was fired for shielding a child molester from justice? I do.

      Remember the destructive riots in Dinkytown when the Gophers lost the NCAA title? I do.

      • Submitted by Thomas Swift on 12/02/2014 - 12:51 pm.

        There were riots all over the country after the Martin incident, and I’m not going to waste my time on the equivalence of a bunch of drunken idiots to a rolling theft mob.

        The lack of outrage after the Sean Bell massacre was interesting, though. 3 of the 5 coppers that mowed him down were black. Does that tell us something?

        • Submitted by Jonathan Ecklund on 12/02/2014 - 01:48 pm.

          Untrue

          There were NOT riots all over the country. There was a protest in LA which shut down a freeway, after which groups not affiliated with the protest started vandalizing cars and a wal-mart- something similar happened in Oakland. Universally, police in California dismissed the vandals as being not part of the protest, or as disassociated ‘knuckleheads.’

          “Los Angeles Police Commissioner John Mack, a former president of the Los Angeles Urban League, said the public needs to differentiate between the troublemakers and the peaceful demonstrators. “It’s important we don’t get carried away and get so focused on the few, who in my opinion clearly were not a part of the organized group and had their own agenda,” Mack said.

          Of course, InfoWars, Brietbart, and MrConservative paint an incorrect picture. Other, more reputable news sources, differ.

          http://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/after-the-verdict-the-zimmerman-non-riots

          http://www.thenation.com/blog/175286/trayvon-martin-rallies-are-held-across-country-after-george-zimmerman-verdict#

          Granted, Bill O’Reilly and Glenn Beck were talking up riots heavily leading up to the verdict, and then the rest of the echo-chamber ultra-reactionary blogosphere tried to insist that riots did indeed happen.

    • Submitted by John Ellenbecker on 12/01/2014 - 04:12 pm.

      Thomas Swift – oppression breeds violence

      Your comment makes the writer’s point – you didn’t see riots in Salt Lake City BECAUSE the white population of Salt Lake City is not being oppressed by a majority that is blind to justice for that white population of Salt Lake City. History has aptly demonstrated that oppression does breed a violent response. What is harder to explain is what hair extensions, plasma televisions and cell phones have to do with winning or loosing a sporting event – but the petty thieves will take advantage of the violence that follows those events just as they will take advantage of the events occurring in the St. Louis area. Funny that we don’t see quite the same response from the white community to their kids rioting after those sporting events. Hmmmmmmmm.

  2. Submitted by Pavel Yankovic on 12/01/2014 - 11:12 am.

    You failed to mention…

    that more black males are killed by other black males yet the race industry (Jackson, Sharpton) are silent on that issue.

    The only thing that the rioting and destruction has done is drive the occupants of Ferguson further into poverty.

    • Submitted by Karen Sandness on 12/01/2014 - 09:02 pm.

      “Black on black crime” is a red herring

      Despite the stereotype of the serial killer or murderous mugger, most murders are committed by people the victim knows, usually for personal reasons. Most black murder victims are killed by other black people, but most white murder victims are killed by other white people, and I’ve never heard any commentator use “white on white crime” as an excuse for anything.

      • Submitted by Thomas Swift on 12/02/2014 - 08:03 am.

        “According to the US Department of Justice, blacks accounted for 52.5% of homicide offenders from 1980 to 2008, with whites 45.3% and Native Americans and Asians 2.2%. The offending rate for blacks was almost 8 times higher than whites, and the victim rate 6 times higher.”

        No excuses, just cold, hard facts.

        • Submitted by Regina Tucker on 04/28/2015 - 04:08 am.

          Using the US Department of Justice statistics?

          And what do these facts prove from a US Department of Justice that once upheld Jim Crow Laws and was never leveraged to be fair after Jim Crow Laws were outlawed?

  3. Submitted by E Gamauf on 12/01/2014 - 11:26 am.

    Cutting behaviors [edited]

    Good article, btw.

    I would offer that the sense of community is harmed in the situation.

    Another observation: is that people in politics blame the sitting president for what’s happened under other president’s watch as well – an example to show that we tend to symbolize & act against those fabricated symbols even when its a false association.

    Therefore, acting out in the community against businesses & stores, many of whom are unrelated to anything in this case, has a precedent in other behaviors.

    The fact that riots occur and the victims in any riot are [other] members of the community itself, smacks of “cutting behavior” exhibited by adolescents that feel they have no control over their own [individual] destinies & are drawing attention & pain.

    We should also suspect there is more than one thing at work.
    People who resort to acting out, may have lost control and they may also be opportunists outside the community.

    Just as myriad groups were eager to make an example in a location OTHER than the ones they call home, i.e., activists & also the klan, is possibly good opportunism and also disingenuous.

    It must also be noted, that its probably not shop owners looting each other when riots occur and therefore the entities harmed are never quite “me,” or “us,” either.

    The concept of what occurs in a grand jury investigation, who gets to rule has never been well-explained to the public at large. Nor the motivations of the players in the presentation to a grand jury.

    Anyone who postulates a future for themselves in the public sphere, or an entry into politics, never wants this to go to trial, because it potentially ends careers. Which is not to say the decision wasn’t perfectly correct. It is however suspect.

    [trying to pull it together into a more cohesive comment – means a few edits]

  4. Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 12/01/2014 - 11:56 am.

    Questions

    One reason we have the guarantee of a speedy, public trial in this country is to dispel the questions that remain when a high profile, suspicious death occurs. For many people, the grand jury’s failure to indict officer Wilson is equivalent to exoneration but for many others, it leaves many questions which might have been answered in a public trial unanswered. Officer Wilson’s action remains under a cloud of doubt that only will serve to fuel speculation, mistrust, fear and anger in our racially divided society.

    Most of the people who turned out to protest in Ferguson and elsewhere around the country did so peacefully and respectfully. That includes Al Sharpton. Public protest is not rioting or inciting others to riot. If there are individuals who use the occasion to loot, pillage and burn while the police are otherwise engaged, it doesn’t follow that the public protest marches are a “riot.” Wild behavior by a minority ending up in criminal damage to property, injury and death is not limited to poor or African-American communities or even to protests over injustice.

    http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2014/11/white-people-rioting-for-no-reason.html

    Maybe we need to be more discerning in what we call a “riot” and in identifying who is doing the “rioting.”

    • Submitted by Thomas Swift on 12/01/2014 - 12:36 pm.

      “One reason we have the guarantee of a speedy, public trial in this country is ..”

      What? Sometimes the amphigory posted here just demands correction. The 6th amendment has *nothing* to do with calming a suspicious public. It is to keep the accused from being detained indefinitely while awaiting trial.

      For your enlightenment:
      http://www.law.cornell.edu/anncon/html/amdt6frag2_user.html

      Also, I’ve yet to see a drunken sports nut stand amid rubble before a camera and declare any sort of justification for their idiocy. Certainly never saw Al Sharpton show up for a photo op.

      • Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 12/01/2014 - 03:11 pm.

        Amphigory

        Thanks for the link. I wonder if you actually read it? It also says:

        “The purposes of the requirement of open trials are multiple: it helps to assure the criminal defendant a fair and accurate adjudication of guilt or innocence, it provides a public demonstration of fairness, it discourages perjury, the misconduct of participants, and decisions based on secret bias or partiality. The Court has also expatiated upon the therapeutic value to the community of open trials to enable the public to see justice done and the fulfillment of the urge for retribution that people feel upon the commission of some kinds of crimes.”

        What in that paragraph do you disagree with? What we’ve had in Ferguson is a secret trial with what some people are treating as an acquittal. There are a lot of unanswered questions which a public trial would have resolved.

        Are you suggesting all of the people protesting in Ferguson were rioting? Or that people had no right to protest peacefully because some people were not?

        • Submitted by E Gamauf on 12/02/2014 - 07:31 am.

          Again, what is actually decided at the grand jury level?

          They get to say that it does not meet the criteria of a full trial.
          That is expedient & sometimes useful.

          Very possibly not meeting the criteria of a full trial because the evidence they saw presented by a prosecuting attorney meets the need – of saying that maybe the office felt threatened. Which is basically a personal standard & one that may not be applied with the same vigor if a private citizen said it.

          In most cases, this may be appropriate.
          It also gives cover in those cases when we DO need to shine a hard light on the details & this is one such incident.

          As a private citizen you would not be cut the same slack quite probably, & in most states you would not get a pass for lethal response as the reasonable response. (My opinion).

          A grand jury in this instance takes it away from the public to really know the details,
          presented in their entirety.

  5. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 12/01/2014 - 12:01 pm.

    The problem

    with the alleged civil rights movement is that the usual suspects behave in the usual, counter-productive ways, which hurts their cause more than it helps it. The republican party has become the party of middleclass white people and the party grew some since the events in Ferguson.

    When casual observers and others of average intellect try to reconcile the official record of evidence with the destructive behavior of people operating from a base of hyperbole (“… the right to walk down the street without being shot by your government…”) or downright myth (“he was shot in the back”), fair-minded thinking people know which side they agree with almost by default.

    When I’m angered by the actions of my government, I go to the polls on election day to hopefully join with others of like mind to vote the offenders out of office.

    That’s seemingly not an option in the Ferguson situation or in the myriad of other big cities where black folks feel under siege from their government. Because as in Ferguson, as in those other cities, the mayor and city council are democrats, the police chief is a democrat, the city prosecutor is a democrat … well, you get the picture. Nope, I agree Jake, voting as a political remedy seems out of the question.

    • Submitted by Jonathan Ecklund on 12/01/2014 - 12:53 pm.

      Say what?

      So, because some of the elected officials in Ferguson, MO are democrats, the national trend pf black people being 21 times more likely to be shot and killed by police officers is the fault of democrats? Please elaborate on this. I’d like to see your chain of reasoning.

  6. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 12/01/2014 - 02:11 pm.

    My favorite pizza

    The photo at the top of the column is reassuring, since Faraci Pizza has been, for many years, my favorite Italian restaurant. I lived in Ferguson for 45 years. Grew up there, went to school there, taught for 30 years in the local school district, and for the final decade of my residence there, I lived at the other end of a short block from Faraci. I departed Ferguson to retire to Colorado in 1997, and the community has changed in the 17 years since – a circumstance not all that unusual for those who’ve lived in more than one place.

    No one should be surprised that Darren Wilson was not indicted. Leave aside the obvious bias of the County Prosecuting Attorney and simply look at history. In the three metro areas where I’ve lived – St. Louis, Denver and now the Twin Cities – I don’t recall ANY police officer being indicted or otherwise held accountable for shooting, or even killing someone, even when the circumstances (as in Michael Brown’s case) appear to be questionable to those of us outside the police force.

    The legal standard authorizing deadly force is “objective reasonableness,” from a SCOTUS case of 1985, Tennessee v. Garner, and further refined in a 1989 SCOTUS case, Graham v. Connor. In theory, lethal force should absolutely be the last resort. In practice, American courts universally defer to the police officer’s own judgment. As was pointed out in Slate a week or so back by Ben Mathis-Lilley, more people in Utah are killed by the police than by gang members, drug lords and child abusers. It’s the 2nd-most-common means by which people in Utah are killed, surpassed only by “intimate partner” violence. Of 45 officer-involved killings over the past 4 years, only one led to prosecution, and the judge threw out the charges in that latter case.

    A specific case in the Twin Cities occurs to me, from a winter or two ago, in which a male driver and female passenger in a stolen car were pulled over after a chase, and confronted by police at some distance – 2 or 3 car lengths – and the male pulled a *knife*. Not a gun, with which he might have inflicted harm from considerable distance, but a *knife*, which pretty much requires face-to-face distance unless we’re dealing with a circus act. Instead of finding some non-lethal way to subdue this guy, he and his unarmed female companion were both shot dead by the police. That sort of thing leaves people with a reasonable suspicion that you don’t need to be James Bond with a license from MI 6 in order to kill people without legal retribution, you just need to be an active member of a police force…

    As for the protests in Ferguson…

    It’s not often that I agree – even a little bit – with Mr. Swift, but while not a surprise, when the protests devolved into vandalism and looting, the effect was to undercut whatever moral weight the protesters might have had. Looting, in particular, cannot be easily characterized as a moral response to an injustice. Some in Ferguson might have been allies of the protestors, at least in spirit, but have likely been driven away by the destructive behavior of those involved in the protests. Businesses (e.g., Faraci Pizza) and their owners who had nothing to do with Brown’s death were punished for simply being in the community. Protestors thus inflicted their own brand of injustice. Mr. Swift may never have seen a drunken sports nut standing amid a pile of rubble and justifying his (it’s almost always a “he”) idiocy, but I have, on television, and I’m sure I’m not alone.

    The injustice inflicted by protesters pales, however, when compared to the injustice inflicted on Michael Brown. Not for a minute do I believe that there was simply no non-lethal way to confront and subdue Brown. The fact that Wilson fired 12 shots, and the Brown was struck by 6 of them, suggests strongly that Wilson was in “panic” mode. Brown did not qualify for sainthood, but then, very few adolescent males of any ethnicity qualify for sainthood, including yours truly. The more important point is that Brown did nothing to merit being killed.

    Mr. Swift’s umbrage at Jon Erik Kinstad’s reference to a speedy, public trial is off-base. What was denied in the Ferguson proceeding by the St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney was the “public” part of a speedy, public trail. By using a grand jury as a trial jury – not completely unheard of, but a very unusual tactic – Mr. McCulloch was able to keep the trial secret, since grand jury proceedings are required by law to be secret. Jury trials, by their very nature, are intended to be *public.* From August to November, there were plenty of rumors and innuendo, but virtually nothing in the way of fact, available to the public. Now that trial transcripts are available, it seems fairly evident that both evidence and witness cross examination were, to be polite, subjected to differing levels of inquiry. Witnesses and evidence that supported Wilson’s version of the event got little or no cross examination, while those supporting the innocence of the dead man were heavily cross examined. In effect, Wilson was treated by the Prosecuting Attorney as a victim, while no one at the proceeding spoke in an official capacity for Michael Brown who was the *actual* victim.

    Mr. Tester is mostly off-base with his comments, but not entirely. One of the complaints of protesters has been the obvious racial disparity between Ferguson’s city government and its citizenry. When I left Ferguson in 1997, it was about 70% white and 30% black, proportions that have roughly reversed in the years since. If the city government is still predominantly white, and it appears to be, there’s an easy solution, readily available to citizens of Ferguson of every color and ethnicity: vote.

    If the city government doesn’t represent the citizenry, and the state has not thrown up an unusual number of obstacles to voter registration (Missouri doesn’t allow same-day registration, but is not otherwise dramatically different from Minnesota), then it behooves those citizens to register and actually take part in their own government. If the city government is a reflection of a minority, it’s because that minority goes to the polls to vote on election day. The lesson there is obvious.

  7. Submitted by John Ellenbecker on 12/01/2014 - 04:47 pm.

    Define riot

    Was it a riot when white men burned or blew up a black church? When they killed children in doing so? Was it a riot when white men kidnapped and hung civil rights workers? Was it a riot when white men kidnapped and murdered black people for simply being black? Is lynching the equivalent of a riot? Was it a riot when white elected officials and white police prohibited blacks from enrolling in public schools and colleges – and when white people then turned to violence to express their outrage over blacks being allowed into those public schools and colleges? Was it a riot when police turned fire hoses and dogs on people protesting legalized segregation? Was it a riot when black people were denied access to the lunch counter? Hotels? Bathrooms? The drinking fountain? Jobs? Equal pay? Is it a riot when roadblocks are put into place designed specifically to deny you your right to vote? To deny you equal representation in elected bodies?

    • Submitted by E Gamauf on 12/02/2014 - 07:38 am.

      Its never really a riot when your football team wins

      Good on ya.

      The scope of what is termed a “riot” needs to be defined. And what has happened in this case.
      I note a poster said after an article here – that there would have been riots if the opposite decision had come down!

      A lot of people are being broad brushed in that ‘riot’ word getting flipped around & it excuses kicking people as a class or community – even as a behavior wasn’t community action.

      When fans get rowdy after their ball team clinches a title, burn & jump on a few cars –
      that’s just not the same thing, is it?

  8. Submitted by Steve Titterud on 12/01/2014 - 09:45 pm.

    Thanks, Ray Schoch – for casting more light than heat.

    It’s so rare here !!!

  9. Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 12/01/2014 - 08:08 pm.

    Facts

    Let me start with this: http://www.upi.com/Top_News/US/2014/12/01/Bosnian-community-in-St-Louis-outraged-over-fatal-hammer-attack/5831417454845/.
    Have you heard of that? Most likely not because major news channels did not report it. It wasn’t on the top of Yahoo News page either (in fact, I had to search for that to find it). Is Al Sharpton there? Will we hear a presidential statement? Is Eric Holder rushing his people to St. Louis for that?

    Mr. Barnes is a lawyer and should know how grand juries work… they do not need to find evidence beyond the reasonable doubt – they just need to find evidence that the crime might have happened which is a much lower standard. And if they could not have found even that, it means that there was not chance that officer Wilson was guilty. But of course that doesn’t matter for those who know for sure that every time a white person kills a black person, that white person is a racist and killed just for fun and a black person is innocent….By the way, I have also never heard about multiple officers and guns that were fired..

    • Submitted by Jonathan Ecklund on 12/02/2014 - 09:55 am.

      Facts, Unrelated

      I get that this story is horrible, but its not relevant to the discussion about oppressive, aggressive, racially biased policing. And no-one is saying anything remotely close to your second to last sentence.

      I would also point out that, out of approx 168,000 Grand Juries in the US this last year, only 11 of them failed to return indictments (i think Darren Wilson is #12, but I may be mistaken).

  10. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 12/02/2014 - 08:21 am.

    The reason why most officer-involved shootings do not result in charges is that when confronted with a situation that appears to threaten their life, the relatively autonomous kill-or-be-killed lizard brain takes over. This has been proven in study after study. It’s why the officer doing the shooting can’t remember how many shots they took. It’s why the shooter continues clicking the trigger after the magazine is empty. It’s why that small details at the periphery of the incident go unnoticed by the officer. In other words, they act like most humans when confronted by a serious, instantaneous threat.

    There is evidence that Michael Brown had reached into the car and did something physical to threaten or attack the officer. After that, all the autonomous reactions fall into place and deaths will result.

    It’s a sadly flawed example of “civil rights violation” when the person who is at the center had strong-armed cigars from a store clerk a few minutes previously, wandered provacatively down the center of a street, and then reached into a police car in a threatening manner.

    The Selma to Mongomery march is being reenacted in Michael Brown’s honor. Who was the original march in memory of?

    (quote)

    (quote)

    Jimmie Lee Jackson was a deacon of the St. James Baptist Church in Marion, Alabama, ordained in the summer of 1964.[4] Jackson had tried to register to vote without success for four years.[4] Jackson was inspired by Martin Luther King, Jr., who had touched off a campaign against Alabama restrictions on Negro voting and attended meetings several nights per week at Zion’s Chapel Methodist Church.[4] This desire to vote led to his death at the hands of an Alabama State Trooper and to the inspiration for the Selma to Montgomery marches.[4]

    On the night of February 18, 1965, about 500 people organized by Southern Christian Leadership Conference activist C.T. Vivian, left Zion United Methodist Church in Marion and attempted a peaceful walk to the Perry County jail, about a half a block away, where young civil-rights worker James Orange was being held.[5] The marchers planned to sing hymns and return to the church. Police later said that they believed the crowd was planning a jailbreak.[5]

    They were met at the Post Office[5] by a line of Marion City police officers, sheriff’s deputies, and Alabama State Troopers.[3] During the standoff, streetlights were abruptly turned off (some sources say they were shot out by the police),[5] and the police began to beat the protestors.[3][5] Among those beaten were two United Press International photographers, whose cameras were smashed, and NBC News correspondent Richard Valeriani, who was beaten so badly that he was hospitalized.[5] The marchers turned and scattered back towards the church.

    Jackson, his mother Viola Jackson, and his 82-year-old grandfather, Cager Lee, ran into Mack’s Café behind the church, pursued by Alabama State Troopers. Police clubbed Lee to the floor in the kitchen;[3] when Viola attempted to pull the police off, she was also beaten.[6] When Jackson attempted to protect his mother, one trooper threw him against a cigarette machine. A second trooper shot Jackson twice in the abdomen.[6] James Bonard Fowler later admitted to pulling the trigger.[3] The wounded Jackson fled the café amid additional blows from police clubs and collapsed in front of the bus station.[5]

    In the presence of FBI officials, Jackson told a lawyer, Oscar Adams of Birmingham, that he was “clubbed down” by State Troopers after he was shot and had run away from the café.[7]

    Jackson died at Good Samaritan Hospital in Selma, on February 26, 1965.[3][5]

    Sister Michael Anne, an administrator at Good Samaritan, later said there were powder burns on Jackson’s abdomen, indicating that he was shot at very close range.[7]

    (end quote)

  11. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 12/02/2014 - 10:18 am.

    7%

    Riot or vote? Despite the fact that 70% is black, only 7% turned out for the last election, compared to 17% of white voters.

    This young man attacked a police officer, he’s no poster child for police brutality and frankly, the more people try to use him as a poster child the more ridiculous the demonstrations appear. And the Rioting knocks it out of the park.

    Yes, we have a problem with our militarized police forces, SOME PEOPLE have been trying to tell you that since the Hiawatha Reroute demonstrators were attacked by 600 cops thirteen years year ago. And we tried again when cops deployed military tactics against anti GMO demonstrators a few later, and again during the Republican National convention. The whole concept of a police riot goes back to the 1968 Chicago Convention.

    Yes, we have problems with bigotry and institutional racism, and police brutality and racial profiling.

    But we don’t indict people because of popular demand, nor should we. The evidence here is that this young man attacked a police officer instead of walking over to the sidewalk. Indicting this police officer in response to over a decade of militarization of law enforcement won’t solve anything, and it certainly wouldn’t serve justice. Scapegoating one cop for a decade of bad policy on every level of government from small towns to the White House isn’t justice.

    Which brings me back to the 7% and rioting. I hate to say it but when I see people rioting over racial disparity instead of voting to end it I have a hard time getting behind that. I know there are obstacles, and disparities, and cynicism, etc. etc. but we spent years fighting for voting rights and only 7% show up?

    I’m not going to pretend that a young man charging a cop after attacking him and trying to take his gun away is an example of police brutality. I’m certainly not going to accept it as justification for riots. This is NOT a new problem, and Michael Brown’s death, while tragic, is not grounds for “righteous fury” or violence.

    Is Mr. Barnes is asking us to ignore the details and facts of this case and prosecute a single cop as if that would make the voices of black Americans audible to power? Is THAT justice?

    Now it’s certainly true that the “matches” that set historical conflagrations alight are not always virtuous or proportionate, so Michael Brown could well be such a match. But do we need another conflagration? When MLK spoke almost 50 years ago blacks in Ferguson couldn’t vote if they wanted to, so maybe a riot was the only way to be “heard”. Not so today. Using one of America’s preeminent advocates of non-violence as advocate of rioting to be heard instead of voting to heard is an interesting gambit counselor, but it’s not convincing. You would have people walk away from the very rights MLK fought for and riot instead? And we would pretend that MLK would endorse that course of action?

    Look, I get it, we have a problem with racial profiling, and police brutality, and a militarized law enforcement regime. So let’s work on that problem instead of justifying violence in response to that problem. Riots are just going to get someone killed sooner or later.

    • Submitted by Jonathan Ecklund on 12/02/2014 - 10:39 am.

      No-one is saying that the rioting is justified or correct somehow, only that it’s entirely predictable and does not exist in a vacuum. You’re also adopting 100% the officer’s version of events (charging!!!!), which does not align with 12 of the 14 witness testimonies, nor with common sense. Regardless, focusing on the riots is exactly what you should NOT be doing. The riots are a symptom, not a cause, of bias. I mean, it’s not like the LA Riots happened BEFORE Rodney King was beaten. It’s not like the Stonewall Riots happened BEFORE violent police raids on gay bars. As a white male, I doubt you’ve ever been subject to anything remotely like what these people experience on a day-to-day basis.

      BTW, voter turnout was low across the board… isn’t choosing NOT to vote a statement in and of itself? And, I don’t think you get to pick and choose what MLK would or would not endorse. They killed him too.

      As to your talk of ‘scapegoating’ Darren Wilson… I for one don’t believe that officers of the law should be able to violate that which they are sworn to uphold. Police must be held to a high standard, as should anyone who is sworn to duty should be, whether it’s police, military, politicians, etc etc etc. The issue at hand is that we don’t have an equal application of the law in our society, and you are directly blaming blacks for that problem.

      • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 12/02/2014 - 01:47 pm.

        Yes, someone is saying…

        Extensive evidence and testimony has been released, and Darren Wilson’s version has been corroberated by credible witnesses (there were 64 of them interviewed by the way, not 14) Robing a store for cigars, and attacking a cop instead of moving off the street don’t make sense either, so what’s so unusual about “charging”? Riots are violent, and burning down neighborhood homes, cars, and businesses is senseless violence. Bias can provoke any number of “symptoms”, that doesn’t justify rioting. And demonstrations in the dark are a just a bad idea for a variety of obvious reason. It’ amazing more people didn’t get hurt. Yes, I’m a white guy… I’M not pretending to be something I’m not.

        I’m responding to an article that asks: “Why riots?”. I think I can focus on the riots if I want to, but actually I’m not, my focus was on non-violence.

        Voter turnout was NOT 7% across the board. Sure you can CHOOSE not to vote, but the only statement your making is that you’re not interested in being represented. By the way, that 7% figure is for Ferguson municipal elections which are kind of funky.

        I think it’s safe to say MLK wouldn’t endorse rioting, even if he could understand the impulse to riot, and at any rate, I’m not one invoking MLK.

        Darren Wilson didn’t violate the law, that’s why he wasn’t indicted. We authorize the use of deadly force and this shooting got far more scrutiny than typical police shootings. This was not an unlawful shooting. You’re just rendering an extrajudicial judgement because you don’t like the one grand jury issued.

        The fact that we have unequal applications of the law is “a” problem, and we should attack that problem with gusto. I’m not blaming blacks for the problem, I’m just pointing out that rioting and finding excuses for rioting won’t solve that problem. Nor will prosecuting Wilson just because we have to draw a line somewhere regardless of the facts solve the problem or render justice.

        By the way, I’m not a strict pacifist, I’m not saying that there is never any justification for violence or even riots, I’m just saying this isn’t it. This was just a really bad day for a couple people. I see people trying to make these two people into something they’re not for their own reasons that have little to do with this tragedy.

        • Submitted by Jonathan Ecklund on 12/02/2014 - 03:28 pm.

          Still

          No-one is saying rioting is ‘justified,’ only, in a sense, understandable. From the end of the article:

          “Without belaboring my point, I will end with a much more succinct quote from the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., as I again state that I agree that the riots should not be taking place:”

          As to your statements about the municipal election turnout (in which 6 percent of eligible black voters voted, and 17 percent of eligible whites voted), you should know that Ferguson hold its municipal elections separately from the general election- most recently, in 2013, and even then the Mayor is elected to a three-year term, so the municipal elections don’t follow the standard election pattern. In the 2014 midterm, general turnout was about 42 percent. In the 2012 general, 55% percent of both eligible blacks and whites voted in Ferguson.

          Now, I am one who generally IS deferential to law enforcement (I quite like my law and order, thankyouverymuch), and quite frankly, had this gone to trial, I am certain that Wilson WOULD have been acquitted. But it should have gone to trial, IMO. I maintain that the riots, which lasted one night (the night that the decision was handed down, that’s why they were “in the dark”) are the wrong thing to focus on, and are symptomatic of the problem, not the actual problem.

          P.S. I am not saying that because you are white, your opinion does not have validity. I’m saying that you have likely never experienced systemic bias against you, your brothers, sisters, parents, children, etc etc. How awful would it be to actually fear the police? I don’t, and I believe that’s in large part because I am white.

          • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 12/02/2014 - 09:34 pm.

            Yeah…

            I alluded to Ferguson’s funky municipal elections in my comment, there’s a really good article about it at Thinkprogress:

            http://thinkprogress.org/justice/2014/08/18/3472278/this-is-the-most-important-reform-ferguson-can-enact-to-prevent-another-standoff/

            The thing is, in order to solve the problem they need to pass a referendum, and more than 7% of the eligible black voters would have to turn out in order to make that happen.

            You’re right I’m a white guy, and the author of this also appears to be a white guy. And you’re right, I’ve never experienced even an iota of prejudice that people of color live with. It’s not that I haven’t considered the frustrations and anger that oppression can provoke in general, but I’ve considered it in THIS case and it I think this case simply fails as a half decent example of police brutality.

            But I have to say, as far as living in fear of the police, Michael Brown certainly wasn’t acting like he was afraid the police or Wilson in particular,on the contrary. Yet another reason this case is poor one to hang the hat of police brutality on.

            The problem with putting Wilson on trial is that he WOULD have been acquitted, and that would make it a show trial, which in turn might have just frustrated people even more. I think Wilson’s acquittal would have triggered riots as well. It’s clear to me that some people just don’t recognize any court or process that doesn’t indict and convict Wilson as fair or legitimate. On the other hand, you do have a point in that trials are public and might give people a little more time to digest the information. At any rate, Wilson on trial doesn’t move the ball forward at the end of the day as far as achieving a more fair and just society. Now if you want to talk about some of these other police shootings and beatings that are far less ambiguous examples of racial profiling and police brutality, I’m all in.

            Did you know that the CDC and the justice department can’t even get police departments to keep records of police shooting and investigation outcomes? We don’t even know for sure how many people police shoot every year. How whacked is that?

  12. Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 12/02/2014 - 07:12 pm.

    Finally, an agreement

    Mr. Ecklund, the point of my story reference was to show that that terrible story was not reported even though it is at least as terrible as Fergusson story. Why wasn’t it reported? Because it cannot be linked to racism and if it can, it is not the right one. And our discussion is not about oppressive and aggressive policing but about media bias and race baiting (at least, it should be). Police are doing their job protecting us and even if sometimes they make a mistake, it should not be national news (or maybe the fact that it is national news shows how seldom it actually happens). Unfortunately, when people see racism in this case, it is exactly what I was saying: no matter the facts, white officer is racist and black victim is innocent. By the way, the fact that most grand juries end up indicting people proves that they do not need much to do that (as I said the standard is different from real juries) and, since in this case they did not indict, we should be sure that the officer didn’t do anything wrong.

    Mr. Rovick, Mr. Udstrand, I am glad we can agree on something! By the way, I am the one who experienced systemic bias against me even though I am a white man. First, in the Soviet Union as a Jew and then, on a significantly smaller scale and partially justified, as an immigrant with poor English. You get up and try to prove yourself every day and rioting and blaming others is not the way to do it. Getting education and voting is.

  13. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 12/03/2014 - 09:24 am.

    Just to put a finer point on it…

    The problems of a militarized law enforcement regime, racial profiling, and disparate justice for people of color are well documented and beyond dispute.

    As someone who recognizes these problems and would like to see them resolved with more equatable, just, and less violent regimes, the Ferguson case is frustrating.

    We’re not going to resolve these issues without a requisite level of public involvement and support. Attempts to coalesce THAT support by using the Brown shooting are doomed because this is simply not an example of a innocent teenager being killed by a bigoted cop for no good reason… it just isn’t.

    My concern is that attempts to transform this case into rallying point will actually damage the case for reform rather than advance it. Many of the claims regarding the Brown shooting and used as justification for demonstrations and demands for indictment have been discredited, such as the claim he was surrendering, or shot in the back, etc. Sure, at first it looks like just another cop shooting an unarmed black teenager but as soon as your start taking a deeper look, that narrative collapses. The real narrative starts with a thuggish heist of cigars and goes downhill from there. The effect of this is that reformers lose credibility when they try paint this as a typical example of police brutality or trigger happy cops “policing” black communities with heavy handed tactics. The problem with losing credibility is that many people conclude that if your not credible in this case, are you credible at all?

    The message of reformers in this case is muddled. On one hand reformers say we need to look beyond the facts of THIS case and see the bigger picture. On the other hand, we can’t look beyond the facts of this case because we’re demanding an indictment of THIS particular cop for THIS particular shooting. You can’t have it both ways, you can’t claim that this particular case is irrelevant and yet claim the prosecution of this particular case is essential. You can’t claim that this is just a symptom of a larger disease, and then go on to argue that we can’t ignore the symptom. Well, you can make these claims, but you’re not going attract a lot of support. If it’s not irrelevant, it invites scrutiny, and scrutiny in this case isn’t a good thing. If this case is irrelevant, than why are people rioting and demonstrating about it?

    Again, it ends up looking like reformers just trying to turn what was a really bad day for two people into something it’s not. I think THAT’s the gut reaction the nation as whole is experiencing here.

  14. Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 12/03/2014 - 09:24 pm.

    Facts

    I always wonder why people ignore the facts when they (facts) contradict their beliefs…
    There is a clear proof that Michael Brown was fighting office Wilson inside the car – Brown’s DNA was there. This makes everything else pretty much irrelevant so saying that armed robbery and jaywalking are not punishable by death is absurd – that is not what caused the death of Michael Brown. Also, the above fact alone is enough to admit that Wilson would not be found guilty by any reasonable jury – and that was the conclusion of the grand jury which did what it had to do: They did not indict him because there was no crime committed. All the rest is just a smoke people blow to bring the racism into this picture. Any police officer has the right, indeed an obligation, to defend his or her weapon by all means available up to and including the deadly force – against anyone, black, white, blue, or pink with polka dots.

    It is also interesting that people assume that Mr. McCulloch was biased just because he worked with police before. Isn’t this assumption biased on its own? Those who don’t want people to assume that Michael Brown was a bad guy based on his skin color easily assume that a prosecutor is a bad guy because he had relatives who are police officers…. In fact, they say that even a strong robbery is not a proof that Brown was a bad guy…. But being a police supporter is? What is wrong here?

    Now please go here http://en.metapedia.org/wiki/Race_and_crime and just scroll to the US data. That is an interesting statistics… which may lead many people (regardless of color, by the way) to making reasonable assumption where the danger is… not because of racism but because of common sense. The proof of discrimination is always statistics which shows that minorities are in worse shape than whites (that is, of course, if Asians are excluded from that statistics). But the reason for that statistics is always racism. Do you see circular reasoning here?

  15. Submitted by richard owens on 12/04/2014 - 09:44 am.

    Consider the rights of the accused Michael Brown.

    He had rights protected under the 14th amendment. The Constitution assured him that not freedom, nor property nor life could be taken from him without DUE PROCESS OF LAW.

    When you say, “The problem with putting Wilson on trial is that he WOULD have been acquitted, and that would make it a show trial, which in turn might have just frustrated people even more.”, your attitude virtually shouts some kind of dual form of justice.

    How dare you presume a trial would have been a “show trial” or “just frustrated people more…”?

    Due process and a public hearing of events is different than the secret disposal of FPD employee’s misconduct by misuse of the Grand Jury.

    Justice was not even attempted.

    Antonin Scalia: “It is the grand jury’s function not ‘to enquire … upon what foundation [the charge may be] denied,’ or otherwise to try the suspect’s defenses, but only to examine ‘upon what foundation [the charge] is made’ by the prosecutor. Respublica v. Shaffer, 1 Dall. 236 (O. T. Phila. 1788); see also F. Wharton, Criminal Pleading and Practice § 360, pp. 248-249 (8th ed. 1880). As a consequence, neither in this country nor in England has the suspect under investigation by the grand jury ever been thought to have a right to testify or to have exculpatory evidence presented.”

    “In contrast, McCulloch allowed Wilson to testify for hours before the grand jury and presented them with every scrap of exculpatory evidence available. In his press conference, McCulloch said that the grand jury did not indict because eyewitness testimony that established Wilson was acting in self-defense was contradicted by other exculpatory evidence. What McCulloch didn’t say is that he was under no obligation to present such evidence to the grand jury. The only reason one would present such evidence is to reduce the chances that the grand jury would indict Darren Wilson.”

    http://thinkprogress.org/justice/2014/11/26/3597322/justice-scalia-explains-what-was-wrong-with-the-ferguson-grand-jury/

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 12/04/2014 - 11:06 am.

      Due Process doesn’t mean a jury trial

      Michael Brown’s shooting was subject to due process, the police investigation, and the grand jury process ARE due process. The constitution does NOT recognize trials as the only form of due process, therefore you cannot claim that Michael Brown didn’t receive due process. There was no constitutional violation here.

      As for Scalia, the guys’s a intellectual hack, you quote him at your own peril. Listen: the old joke is that: “A prosecutor can get a grand jury to indict a ham sandich” Let’s unpack that. The problem (or virtue in Scalia’s mind) with THAT use of a grand jury is that it means a prosecutor can get and indictment even if they don’t have a case, and Scalia’s right, that happens. But is that what we want? Is THAT the grand jury model we aspire to? Typically people consider that to be a form of prosecutorial misconduct rather than justice. So yeah, a trial based on a flimsy case that ends with an acquittal is a show trial. Look at the evidence, you really think there’s proof beyond reasonable doubt that Wilson killed Brown in cold blood? THAT’S the standard for a trial and it’s much higher than the standard for a Grand Jury indictment… which is why you can prosecute a ham sandich if you want, but you’ll never send one to prison. Listen, it’s legal for a prosecutor to withhold exculpatory evidence from the Grand Jury, but they can’ legally withhold it at trial.

      Look, we do in fact put cops on trial all the time, and 95% of the time they’re acquitted. You can complain about Wilson’s handling around the Grand Jury if you want, but he would even more prepared for a trial, he would have his defense lawyer present, and there are far more evidentiary restrictions at trial than there are at grand jury’s. And he’d be facing the same prosecutor. Beyond that, it’s unlikely the trial would take place in Ferguson.

      • Submitted by John Appelen on 12/04/2014 - 12:38 pm.

        Well said

        I am fascinated that so many people want to show so much disrespect to the Grand Jury participants who spend months of their time working to determine if a crime was committed or not.

        If you don’t like the Grand Jury outcomes, talk to the politicians. They need to change the laws.

        • Submitted by E Gamauf on 12/05/2014 - 09:45 am.

          Problem may be a misunderstanding.

          Someone seems to think people object to the grand jury members themselves.
          That may be the disconnect in your understanding of what has been said!

          Its just not true.

          I don’t see anyone saying that the jury had an agenda necessarily.
          Certainly not by me.

          1) The direction given to grand juries in cases like this,
          typically is deciding whether there will be a case driven by the city or state attorneys.

          2) Its not a judgement or exoneration of the case itself.

          3) A grand jury does not get a perfectly unbiased view of the case in situations like this.
          There is no “defense” side that would normally be presented (was it really in this case?)

          The prosecuter’s office gets to fashion the presentation.

          4) How that is presented, is then at issue.
          Often the process works. But it doesn’t always work in the interest of justice.

          5) Bad presentations & agendas can dictate the case presented.

          6) We don’t know. The criteria is often whether the officer claims that he feared for his life.
          If he felt threatened, he has the gun & gets to decide the level of response.

          Doesn’t that require a high standard of proof?

          • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 12/06/2014 - 08:11 am.

            Yes

            Grand Juries are also used as investigative tools. In addition to Mr. Gamauf’s points it’s important to note:

            1) Wilson, not Brown was the defendant here. It was Wilson that had no defense present.
            2) Unlike the proceedings for most grand juries, this grand jury process was made public. Hence one of the biggest potential flaws of the grand jury process was remedied in this case.
            3) The rationale for conviction at trial would be the same, i.e. the shooting is legal and justified if the officer thinks his life or the lives of the public are in danger. But the standard at trial is much higher. Everyone seems to be forgetting that it’s not up to Wilson to prove that he was afraid for his life, the prosecution has to prove he wasn’t, and they have to convince 12 jurors beyond any reasonable doubt that he wasn’t afraid for his life.

            Everyone seems to suddenly think that trials are the big deciders of truth and justice. Has everyone forgotten the dozens of people that went to prison for Satanic Ritual Abuse? Or all the Death Row cases that have been exonerated by DNA evidence?

            You want complain about grand juries in the US? Fine, let’s talk about trials in the US.

  16. Submitted by richard owens on 12/04/2014 - 09:36 pm.

    Michael Brown was not represented.

    Due Process was denied.

    A life was taken by a public officer of the court.

    The coroner may say the cause was bullets.

    But the nature of the death was not accidental, nor natural, nor from disease. It was a death by inflicted violence.

    My reading of the Constitution says clearly that any violent death inflicted int he process of law enforcement must be adjudicated.

    Scalia aside, there is such a thing as Criminal Procedure.

    Why should the rules of procedure change for a Grand Jury to suit a per-conceived outcome for the prosecutor?

    This is not justice. Admit it.

  17. Submitted by richard owens on 12/04/2014 - 11:06 pm.

    due process is the foundation of free individuals,

    In clause 39 of the Magna Carta, issued in 1215, John, King of England promised: “No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any other way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgment of his equals or by the law of the land.”

    Let us discuss innocence or guilt in public.

    Let’s use the courts.

  18. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 12/06/2014 - 08:59 am.

    Look…

    We should be talking about Eric Gardner, the New York case, not the Ferguson case. And before that a cop shot a unarmed black man in an apartment building hallway in New York. Instead we’re trying to turn Ferguson into something it’s not.

    And the problem here isn’t the courts (by the way, the grand jury system is PART of the court system in the US). Obviously the court system isn’t perfect, but the court system didn’t create institutional racism and bias that’s producing these killings. THAT problem starts way further up steam. You’re not going to fix this with mandatory prosecutions of all cops who shoot people in the line of duty, or tweaking the grand jury system. This kind of magic bullet thinking is naive.

    This problem with the policing of American started way back with Nixon and the Law and Order agenda. (there were other problems BEFORE that) THAT’S when the we launched on a trajectory of militarized policing, and the idea that the way to fix everything was to make stuff illegal, and zero tolerance was the new standard. So selling cigarettes without a license of some kind becomes a crime in New York and THAT creates confrontations between a militarized police force and ordinary people selling a legal products on the street. Throw in racial bias and profiling and you’re looking at complete cluster you-know-what. You’re not going to fix this by tweaking or eliminating grand juries or sending everyone to trail.

    Those of us who’ve been noticing this escalation of police militarization saw a it jump in the mid 90s, and wasn’t racially motivated, it was a response to “Eco-Terrorist” and the Battle in Seattle (and the L.A. riots which was a race related). The Sept. 11, 2001 attacks pushed it over the top. Of course a militarized racially biased police regime will hit people of color much harder, that prediction was made back in the 90s.

    At any rate, you’re not going fix this by putting Wilson on trail.

  19. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 12/06/2014 - 09:34 am.

    And….

    If you think our gun culture has nothing to do with all of this think again. We can’t even compile reliable data on police shooting because every time someone tries the NRA (amongst others) blocks it because they don’t want any data of any kind about gun violence collected by anyone. Then you send a militarize police force into an environment with all those assault weapons floating around… but yeah, if we just tweak the grand jury process we’ll ship shape and Bristol fashion in no time.

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