Prediction: The Ferguson Ethics Train Wreck


The witness accounts of the death of Mike Brown that have received all of the publicity suggest that the unarmed teen, after being shot in a police cruiser while resisting arrest, bolted from the car and was shot dead by Officer Darren Wilson as he tried to escape, even after the victim stopped and appeared to surrender. This is the account currently on Wikipedia, for example, and even in the absence of a fair and careful investigation, is the account accepted as fact by the “Justice for Mike Brown” protestors.

To those who are convinced that the police are evil, jack-booted racists and that a police officer with no record of equivalent misconduct would shoot down an unarmed and surrendering teen in public, this undoubtedly seems like a plausible scenario.  It sure doesn’t to me. I can see one way it might have happened this way: After Brown, who was huge, hurt and frightened Wilson in the car when they fought, Wilson lost his composure, and fired in rage. If that was the case, then he should be prosecuted for murder. Nothing in even that scenario proves or even suggests racism, but Brown was black and the officer was white, and for too many in the African-American community, that is proof enough.

Now another account has surfaced, on that might support Wilson’s account. It is also more plausible, because it both explains and even justifies the shooting. That account suggests that rather than turning from his flight and surrendering, Brown charged Wilson, placing him in legitimate fear of  bodily harm.

At this point, we have no way of knowing what the truth is. Maybe Wilson executed Brown. Maybe he is a racist. Maybe he is a psychopath. And maybe Brown’s conduct justified the use of deadly force by the officer, and the teen was largely responsible for his own demise. Presumably we will eventually know the truth.

I confidently predict this, however, based on what occurred in the Martin-Zimmerman case:

IF the evidence supports the conclusion that Brown charged at Wilson, neither the family of the slain teen, nor the African American community in Ferguson, nor the protesters, the race-hustlers, the black and progressive politicians who benefit by preserving racial tension and distrust,  much of the news media and many, many pundits and political bloggers, will change their rhetoric, accusations or the prevailing Ferguson narrative one bit. They need for the narrative as it stands to be true, and want it to be true. Massive confirmation bias will ensure that the death of Mike Brown will be talked about, protested and regarded as an example of racist police oppression of young black men, and the truth, in the end, will be irrelevant.

I hope my prediction is wrong.


Source: IJR




32 thoughts on “Prediction: The Ferguson Ethics Train Wreck

  1. I think the angle of the shots, and the distance, should reveal a lot, if that evidence hasn’t been contaminated already.

    The video that you linked to was not very clear, hardly a smoking gun. It was not known if the speaker was trying to say that the police officer was shooting and missing, and kept advancing towards Brown as he shot, or if the police officer was shooting, and Brown was advancing toward the officer as the officer shot. One scenario tends to be more likely than the other but, even still, it was hard to draw much from undefined pronouns.

  2. I’ve seen a lot of reports that claim that this, that or the other person was surrendering and go on to claim that that made a difference to those incidents. In actual fact, with a few special exceptions such as a person rendered hors de combat, no surrender can ever be imposed unilaterally by those proffering it. For instance, if someone is advancing with his hands up it would be perfectly proper to shoot him (stipulating that the shooter had any right to shoot at all). That would particularly apply if an order to halt had been given, as anyone within twelve feet, and by some reckonings twenty feet, has eliminated any advantage given by a distance weapon like a gun (given the effect of reaction times and the “dead man’s seven seconds”). That is why military protocol prescribes calling out “halt” twice to avoid miscommunication (it used to be three times), then calling out to the halted “advance one and be recognised” so that one person moves forward and gets close enough for further assessment, then calling out “halt” again when that person is at the right position, then one of your own going to that person to assess the situation further and decide on subsequent action. Any failure to comply justifies further combat, and even full compliance may be followed by a requirement that the person assessed return, after which hostilities may resume.

    To illustrate part of this, consider a case which arose during the Falklands War. An Argentinian submarine had been captured, and its crew was operating it under guard. One of the crew perceived an emergency and made a sudden but unauthorised move towards the controls. The guard shot him dead, and the enquiry that was held exonerated the guard despite the dead man’s good faith.

  3. Your bleeding heart liberal friend here, Jack. We cannot know what happens in the worst moments of these kinds of situation – how decisions are made. It does seem to me, however, that a policeman with a gun holds a tremendous amount of power – life and death, in fact. Whatever happened to knee-capping a subject or wounding to stop? There’s an excess – six, maybe seven wounds – that makes me extremely uneasy. And three autopsy’s on a dead kid makes me ill.

    • 1. Bleeding heart suggests knee jerk judgments based on emotion rather than logic and reason, Mark. We both know that’s not you.

      2. Either Wilson was a bad shot, or he shot Brown in the arms several times before firing a fatal shot. I saw that as possible evidence of exactly what you are suggesting. I’m going to ask my police chief contact what the policy is regarding crippling shots. It’s a good question.

    • No need for a police chief. There’s no such thing as “shooting to wound” because the ONLY reason to bring out a gun and shoot, whether one is a police officer or otherwise, is to stop someone who is attempting to kill or seriously injure someone else.

      Here’s the ethical case for *not* shooting to wound.

      Hitting a small, quick-moving target like an arm or leg is difficult under ideal circumstances, let alone the chaos and adrenaline of a life-threatening assault…and you’re responsible for every bullet that leaves your gun. Bullets keep going until they hit something that makes them stop; you don’t want them to stop in some innocent person a block away.

      And remember, you’re shooting because the lives and health of innocent people are at stake. If you fail to stop the attacker, you could die. Others may die because of your failure, too. Causing a flesh wound not only likely results in an errant projectile flying into the background, it also most likely fails the “stop test.” A motivated attacker could push right through a bullet wound to the arm, or even take an arrow to the knee, and still pound you to death (or shoot you or stab you or…).

      So you shoot for the area you’re most likely to hit, which is also very likely to make an attacker stop: center mass, aka the chest area.

      Remember, you’re not shooting to kill, you’re shooting to stop the threat. If the attacker stops trying to harm you and survives the gunshot wounds, that’s good; you stopped the threat, which you had to do, and you don’t want to kill anyone if you don’t have to. If the attacker is killed, you have also done what you had to do — stop the threat — even though taking a life was not what you wanted to do.

      I don’t know whether the shooting was justified in this case or not. I just know that this is the ethical reasoning in play whenever anyone has to bring out a gun in self-defense.

      • Addendum re: Brown being shot in the arms several times — there are a lot of ways that could happen.

        If Brown was trying to punch or grapple Wilson, or if they were fighting for possession of the gun, his arms could easily have been in the bullets’ path. If he was trying to ward off his incipient murder, or trying commit one, the bullet wounds to the arms could be the same.

        And under life-threatening stress, accuracy (especially with pistols) goes right out the window. No time to aim. Adrenaline destroys fine motor skills. Enemy is probably moving quickly and may already be in the process of beating you to death.

        The one thing the coroner’s report does say definitively is that Michael Brown was *not* shot from behind. Whatever else it means — especially the question of whether Wilson was wrong to shoot him — will probably depend on a lot of other factors, which we’re not aware of yet (and may never be). Our best hope is a fair and competent investigation…a shaky prospect, getting shakier by the hour.

      • Correct. When faced with life threatening individual, you don’t shoot to kill OR to wound. You shoot to stop.

        The result of stopping? Moral luck, but then again the assailant you sought to stop didn’t have to be an assailant…that was their choice.

    • False. The assailant has the power of life and death by choosing to be an assailant. They are the one’s forcing the decision, not the person firing in self-defense.

  4. I’m not concluding that the officer’s use of deadly force in this case was justified or not. I don’t have a sufficient factual basis to draw any conclusion at this time. Police are trained to shoot to stop the threat, not to wound or to kill. The surest way to stop the threat is center-mass hits. Shooting a moving human being in the midst of a struggle is not easy. (Try hitting a heavy punching bag hard for one minute and then picking up a handgun and accurately engaging a target.) It’s not as easy as it looks on TV.

    Typically, officers are taught to fire a few rounds and re-assess the threat before resuming fire. Shooting six rounds out of a fifteen-round magazine is not per se excessive. If a right-handed assailant is attempting to take my handgun from me, his right hand and arm are likely to be the first areas hit.

    Also, much has been made (on TV) of the fact that the officer did not know that Brown had just committed a strong-arm robbery. The important fact is that Brown knew, and may have reacted accordingly. Many officers have been assaulted by subjects who have committed crimes that the officers knew nothing about at the time they encountered the subject. Read Col. David Grossman’s “On Combat” for a better understanding of the complex dynamics of deadly force encounters. Most of those commenting on the police use of deadly force have little factual basis for their conclusions.

    • There was no gunpowder on the body, so it doesn’t look like there was an immediate struggle at close range. Some people are estimating as far away as 35 feet from where the police vehicle was located (inexplicably the officer was allowed to drive off in the vehicle afterwards, so it’s hard to say for sure.)

      People are focusing a lot on the two head shots. With a downward bullet trajectory, (Brown was 6’4, the officer 5’8), it suggests that the cop was standing and Brown kneeling or bent over, as witnesses have stated.

      I’m assuming that more details will be released. Did the officer empty the clip? Does the pattern of gunfire suggest that he was shooting at fleeing people, as numerous people have stated? But so far, not a good look for the officer.

      • If he only fired 6 rounds, no, he did not empty the clip. If, however, as the linked article suggests, he missed Brown several times, he might have. I would also point out that the video has a transcript attached, and you might want to read that.

      • I don’t think it looks good for Wilson either. But that determination should not and in fact cannot be made under a “lock the guy up or we burn down the town” threat, and that’s what’s happening now.

      • The lack of powder residue indicates the shots were fired at ‘long range’. For powder residue purposes, ‘long range’ is anything over 3 feet. Reference: Forensic Science: From the Crime Scene to the Crime Lab by Richard Saferstein.

        • The lack of powder residue indicates the shots were fired at ‘long range’. For powder residue purposes, ‘long range’ is anything over 3 feet. Reference: Forensic Science: From the Crime Scene to the Crime Lab by Richard Saferstein.
          Dr. Baden said he was not given access to the victim’s clothing.
          There may be gunshot residue and other evidence on the clothing.
          He also said only one shot was fatal and that all of the shots were to the front of the body except for the fatal shot which was to the top of the head.
          So much for the shot in the back STORY.

      • From what I gather so far there’s a scuffle in the vehicle, a possible shot fired, Brown flees, Brown turns back, more shots fired, Brown goes down.

        It all will boil down to:

        1) Did the officer fire as he fled?
        This seems well answered by 2 autopsies now as a definitive NO.

        2) Why did Brown turn back?
        To surrender or to re-engage? If he was shot in the truck, certainly adrenaline is flowing on both sides of the the gun, and any unexpected movement by Brown that is not 100% submissive and as nearly IMMOBILE as possible could be misinterpreted as upping the ante.

        3) Why did the Officer fire again?
        Was it because he believed Brown was re-engaging or was he furious about the whole affair?

        #3 I think is key to this, because it determines the motivation of the shooting.

        I don’t think the bullet firing down into the head is all that definitive. After an incapacitating shot is fired at a person charging you (with the mass Brown possessed) the charging person will slump forward. If the officer got off another round or two before realizing Brown was incapacitated, any head shot would have the appearance of coming from above.

        4) When did the officer realize Brown was incapacitated?
        Did he cease firing or continue?

        I don’t know just yet if it looks “bad” or “good” for the Officer.

        • 1) Did the officer fire as he fled?
          This seems well answered by 2 autopsies now as a definitive NO.

          Actually, this really hasn’t been answered. We know that Brown was not shot in the back. However, the shots on the arm were on the insides of his arm. This suggest two possible scenarios: either one or more of the shots was given when he was facing away from the officer, and/or Brown had his hands up, as several witnesses have stated.

          The police officer spokesman has stated that the officer was 35 feet away from Brown when Brown was shot.

          I do agree with your assessment of the final, fatal shot. However the shot in the eye… I don’t how you get a downward trajectory eye shot with a much taller person charging you. The angles are all wrong for that scenario.

          • I don’t how you get a downward trajectory eye shot with a much taller person charging you. The angles are all wrong for that scenario.

            I already explained it.

            When someone falls forward, if they are hit again (in the head), their head is at such an angle as to appear to come from above.

            Do an experiment:

            Stand up and fall forwards on the ground on your face.

            At about the 45 degree angle, try to think about which part of your head is now facing forwards — the top.

            • Yes, that’s the last shot, which, like I stated, I agree with. But if you do your same described scenario, a direct shot in the eye (besides being nearly impossible at that angle with hitting your browbone first) will exit out the back of the head, not downward into your collarbone. Under your “charging” description, top of the head facing forward, your eyes are down, pretty much parallel to the ground. I still don’t see how a bullet is going to go downward in that circumstance.

  5. I think your comment is right on target, Jim. We don’t know the facts because they are still being ascertained. Unfortunately, they are being ascertained in an environment hostile to facts, which are stubborn things, at best.

    We have the head-slapping comments by Governor Jay Nixon who seems to think that releasing video of Michael Brown getting physical with a store clerk shortly before being stopped by Officer Wilson is disparaging Brown’s character. We have Trooper Johnson pulling a “If I had a son…” by describing how he’ll go home to his tattooed, baggy pants kid. And the news has just reported how the President himself is cutting short his latest vacation, in part due to the Iraqi airstrikes, but also because of the Ferguson mess…something he has absolutely no business jumping into and does so with alarming regularity.

    Al Sharpton is already there with the others like him, pushing the story that the only thing that could have happened was that Michael Brown was a victim of Walking While Black. Business owners are having to protect their own places as police are not responding to looting reports. There’s talk of a special prosecutor. Multiple autopsies. The National Guard. And the Justice Department getting off its haunches.

    This is becoming exactly what we fear.

    • “We have Trooper Johnson pulling a “If I had a son…” by describing how he’ll go home to his tattooed, baggy pants kid.”

      I heard his speech. I think with that speech he took a seat on the train.

      “I will go home to my tattooed, baggy pants kid…”

      …what? and do what?

      Tell him he’s less wanted because he’s black?

      Tell him to pull his pants up and not be a cocky teenager and to respect the community in which he belongs by doing small things like not blocking traffic? Is that what you’ll do?

      Doubt it.

  6. And I would further guarantee that if toxicology shows ANY foreign substance in Brown’s blood stream, either the Justice Departments independent autopsy will not report it. If it does so, the parent’s will say it is falsified or mistaken.

    • You are correct, as well. In this type of environment, anything that contradicts the story will be dismissed, under-reported or classified as sabotage.

  7. There are too many people in this Ferguson situation who don’t look like me or my kids. If more of them did look more like me or my kids, I might care.
    I saw where a mob of predominantly white people now has marched in Ferguson. I wonder if they’ll get mad enough to loot and burn black residents’ homes – you know, loot for justice, in hopes of gaining custody of some of what was looted in the earlier lootings and burnings. Watching all this race-sport is so much more fun than watching the World Cup!

    (Oops – sorry yet again for the failed sarcasm font.)

  8. Pingback: A quick note on Michael Brown’s death and “plausibility” | Alas, a Blog

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