Wishing Ethics: What Should We WANT The Outcome To Be In Ferguson?


The simple answer to the question in the headline is: we should all want the truth to come out, whatever it is, and be dealt with honestly and justly. I don’t think that result is possible, unfortunately, just as it proved impossible in the Martin-Zimmerman tragedy.If the truth could be determined, however…if an experimental, advanced video recorder just happened to capture everything that occurred between Officer Wilson and Mike Brown, including in the squad car; if it captured the incident from all angles, and we could hear and see everything that transpired between them, what would we want that to be, recognizing that the tragedy cannot be undone?

Would we want it to show that Mike Brown was murdered, that he was fleeing for his life when he escaped the car, then turned, fell to his knees ( as at least one witness claims) and was gunned down with his hands in the air? Obviously many Americans, including Brown’s family, the Ferguson protestors, many African-Americans, civil rights activists, police critics, politicians and pundits, have an interest in seeing this be the final verdict of investigators, for a multitude of reasons. The grieving family wants their son to be proven innocent of any fault in his own death. Others, especially those who prematurely declared Officer Wilson of guilty of “executing” Brown, have a strong interest in being proven right, for even though it would not excuse their unfair and irresponsible rush to judgment, such a determination would greatly reduce the intensity of criticism leveled at them.

[Side Note on Ethics Dunce Jay Nixon: That won’t stop the criticism here, however: Whatever the facts prove to be,  Gov. Jay Nixon’s comments are indefensible, and inexcusable. Now the Democrat is denying that they meant what he clearly meant to convey: calling for “justice for Brown’s family” and a “vigorous prosecution” can only mean charging Wilson, and that is what those calling for Wilson to be arrested took his comments to mean. If the Governor didn’t mean that, as he now claims, then he is 1) an ignoramus and 2) beyond incompetent to recklessly comment on an emotion-charged crisis in his state without choosing his words carefully.]

Or should we hope that the facts exonerate Wilson? After all, shouldn’t we want the one living participant in this tragedy to be able to have some semblance of a life without being forever associated with villainy? Certainly his family and friends, as well as member of the Ferguson police force who want their own ranks to be vindicated, and police all over the nation who have had their profession attacked and denigrated in the wake of the shooting, fervently hope that the narrative pushed by the demonstrators is proven wrong. Others want to see Wilson proven innocent for less admirable reasons. They want to use the incident to condemn police critics, and undermine and discredit civil rights advocates, especially long-time ideological foes like Al Sharpton. They want Eric Holder to look biased, (he looks biased anyway, because he appears to be taking sides) and to make the case—one that a single episode neither supports nor can possible rebut—that police do not have itchy trigger fingers when their weapons are pointed at young black men.

From the standpoint of ethics, which means that the best outcome will be the one that does the most good for society, the choice is complex. 

The proof that Wilson gunned down Brown without justification would focus needed attention on police procedures and the perilous level of distrust between black communities and law enforcement. This can only be a beneficial result. Yet it will also serve to vindicate what should never be acceptable, the knee-jerk assumption that Wilson, because he was white, killed Brown because he was black. Even if the facts unquestionably prove homicide, that assumption remains unjust and wrong. Yet the demonstrators and the race-hucksters will cite them as proof of not just Wilson’s racism, but police racism and indeed pervasive white racism. Wilson’s guilt will give political propellant to those who profit from portraying the United States as a racist society where blacks are endangered simply by walking down the street.

If the facts show that Wilson was innocent, and fired his gun in reasonable fear for his safety, there is one obvious result than no one should find objectionable: it will mean that Wilson can escape punishment for something he didn’t do, despite an organized national effort to make him the scapegoat for Brown’s death. It will also focus attention on the reckless, shameful and cynical race-grievance industry, which chooses incidents like the Trayvon Martin shooting or the Ferguson incident as a platform for political posturing, making up narratives that serve their ends with little concern for truth or collateral damage. Being proven wrong may lead some journalists and pundits to be more careful the next time. It will make some fools, like Governor Nixon, Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson, and professional bigoted ass Spike Lee look like the fools they are.

But Wilson’s exoneration will also allow an obviously insensitive and incompetent police department to avoid the policy and attitudinal overhaul it so obviously needs. It will allow a festering distrust between the black community and police to be knocked far down the list of national priorities, ensuring more police shooting deaths until, inevitably, one or more are  proven to be a racist executions. It will embolden racists, and by immediately casting the demonstrators as trouble-makers and vandals, undermining the sincerity and legitimacy of their civil rights concerns.

My greatest fear, however, is that even if the facts prove Wilson innocent, political pressure from the same unscrupulous activists who continue to state as fact that Trayvon Martin was profiled, stalked and murdered will persuade prosecutors and perhaps even the Justice Department to persecute Wilson and mollify “the base” by making him endure the ordeal a criminal prosecution, as “justice” for Michael Brown.

I am torn and conflicted.

What do you wish the evidence would show?

14 thoughts on “Wishing Ethics: What Should We WANT The Outcome To Be In Ferguson?

  1. I think we all want the “truth”, but regardless I think whether right or wrong, this situation has shone a light on how quickly police (can and do) escalate situations.

    I think people are starting to settle into the idea that the resolution for Mike Brown won’t be personal, but inspirational on a larger scale, a policy scale.

    1) More/Better “de-escalation” training for officers.
    2) Nation-wide advancement toward mandated LEO body mounted cameras.
    3) An establishment of Officer Involved Shooting statistics by the FBI/DOJ. (Surprisingly little, if anything, is actually recorded currently.)/(So I’ve been told.)

    • Yes, I think that’s the best case scenario, which may mean that the resolution has nothing to do with Mike Brown at all…or even Officer Wilson. I’m not sure how “inspirational” could be justified, however, if this turns out to be an example of a guy who physically assaulted a police officer and was shot mid-charge.

      The lack of good statistics is really shocking, and this episode certainly brought that front and center.

  2. I want the evidence to validate the truth of a sign I have not seen carried yet in Ferguson – a rejoinder to “Know justice – know peace; No justice – no peace.” That sign says: “Know truth – know justice; No truth – no justice.”

  3. Like everyone else, I would like to see the truth be known and all of the facts presented to the public. However, as nice as that would be, it begs the question. And that question was “What do you wish the evidence would show?” To answer that question truthfully, I would have to say that I wish it would show Wilson to be in the right. The question is, of course, Hobson’s choice. However, if Wilson is in the right, then the person appointed to be the guardian of our safety has been proven to be doing his job, and possibly, by extension, the remainder of the police in this country doing theirs. In actual fact, there will always be a bad apple somewhere, especially in situations in which we are giving weapons to people and authorizing them to use them in various circumstances. With any luck, we might minimize those incidents, but Wilson’s guilt or innocence will be used by either or both sides as a brush to paint every police officer in this country, without question.

  4. Having a wish for the outcome with respect to whether or not you want the outcome of Wilson’s fate to be guilty or innocent imputes an inherent bias. We should not wish for any outcome other than what can be proven.

    However if we wish for an extended outcome, a social benefit if you will, then I would wish that the community establishes clear expectations for the, police department, evaluating their efficacy on a regular basis instead of allowing resentment to build and fester over time. The community should regularly proffer suggestions on concrete ways that will allow the department to regain their trust and work effectively to meet their needs instead of just resorting to the claim of bias. Make the objectives of building trust and public safety measurable and achievable using appropriate and agreed upon metrics.

    The community has an obligation too to regain the trust of the department. The department should engage them and request a commitment to help them ferret out those perpetrating crimes in the neighborhood. They have to be willing not to shield one that is known to them to be engaged in regular criminal behavior. They must be willing to develop an alliance with the department to make it more effective and fair.

    The attitudes of both sides must demonstrate a willingness to engage each other openly and honestly. Young males in particular should be taught what behaviors elicit suspicions of police and how to engage the officers who are charged with the formidable task of protecting them without fear and bias.

    Finally, neither side should be the beneficiary of any financial gain in terms of funding for extra equipment or diversionary activities until trust is restored. There should be no incentive to keep moving the goal posts.

    • I nearly framed the question as a fantastic hypothetical: If you, and only you, had the power to retroactively determine this tragedy came about, but not stop the tragedy itself, and your goal was to have the facts lead to teh best result for the largest number of people, what would the choice be? Because wishing and hoping, while biased, still isn’t ethical or unethical, because it has no impact.

      I decided that was too funky.

      • Jack
        The ethical answer is not to determine what is best for the greatest number but what is true. Part of the problem is that both sides are wishing their side to be true not for the greatest good but for parochial interests. This is what reinforces the stereotypes in the first place.

        Ethics aside – If I am wishing then I can control the outcome so I wish the officer had told Michael Brown to move to the sidewalk so he did not get hurt instead of saying he was blocking traffic and Michael had responded “sure thing officer – have a great day”.

        • Well, yes, but that ducks the ethics challenge. The question is, if you could determine what was true, what truth would be best for the greatest number. Truth isn’t ethical or unethical. But revealing the truth us ethical, regardless of what the truth may be. MOST of the time, anyway.

          • But this is a dangerous game. Isn’t wishing for the evidence to show one outcome over the other the driving force for most of the police and prosecutorial scandals of the last few decades? In order to make the desired outcome a reality, in order to get the outcome that does the greater good, evidence is overlooked, evidence is suppressed, evidence is fabricated?

            You have to be willing to go where the evidence leads, even if it isn’t where you want it to lead. I think back to the Superman TV show with George Reeves. I remember many a time I was confused as a child when Superman saved the ‘bad guy’ (the guy who was acting mean) from an angry mob or let the mean character go even though it wasn’t in the favor of the ‘good guy’ or ‘nice people’. Sometimes, the grater good was not served and it looked like justice supported the sleazy. It took until I was an adult to understand the lesson Superman was trying to teach.

            It is looking to me like we will never know what really happened in the case and I think that means that officer Wilson shouldn’t even be charged. Officer Wilson’s head injury probably makes convicting beyond a reasonable doubt impossible. The officer was attacked by Brown, who probably had just robbed a store and could reasonably have thought he was going to be arrested by Wilson. In Missouri, self-defense takes into account the size difference in the two people. Brown may well have been large enough that his attack was essentially an assault with a deadly weapon. When someone is hit hard in the nose, they can’t see well for a while, the eyes water a lot. If that happened, Wilson couldn’t have seen if Brown was trying to surrender (if that is what he did). If Wilson ended up with a concussion, any statements he made about the events would not be reliable. People with concussions just don’t always remember things correctly. The defense witnesses so far seem to have every possible (and contradictory story) about this, so their opinions are questionable (remember ‘he was shot in the back while running away’, ‘he was shot because he wouldn’t get out of the street fast enough’, etc). If a jury looks at all this and thinks they can convict beyond a reasonable doubt, then justice is truly dead. I’m not saying the shooting was justified, I am saying that I don’t think it can be proven that it wasn’t unless there is some big piece of evidence they aren’t showing yet.

            In our system, if someone commits a crime and we can’t prove it, we don’t convict them. We realized that the real greater good was to let them go rather than have a system that convicted people without proof. This doesn’t always seem fair, but we are supposed to be adults about it. It is very discouraging to see law professors and governors who throw this completely out the window and suggest that a possibly innocent person should be convicted for the greater good. Where have all the adults gone? Where is Superman when you need him?

          • Then I’d wish for Wilson to be innocent, followed by wishing for an entire subset of our greater community to learn civics and due process, followed by an entire media to actually report objectively, followed by an educational system that teaches civics, followed by politicians who still to their level of federal government, followed by stumbling upon a buried treasure.


            I’d wish for Wilson to be guilty, followed by the system to punish him without cajoling, followed by all the other stuff I listed above.

            If the ethics question you pose, in anyway requires appeasing misbehaving people, then I’ll have none of it. Because even if the answer is “Brown was murdered”, the frothing mob is still in the wrong screaming for a guilty verdict BEFORE anything is found out.

  5. “After all, shouldn’t we want the one living participant in this tragedy to be able to have some semblance of a life without being forever associated with villainy?”

    Not necessarily, because the most beneficial outcome for the most people might actually require Wilson to take a severe hit to his life, even though it is provable that Brown’s death had nothing to do with Wilson’s *personal* villainy but much to do with *institutional* villainy in the police force or in the city’s overarching governance. As soon as you phrase the question in terms of a case’s outcome’s benefit to a larger group beyond the defendant, suspect, or prospective suspect, you sacrifice the imperative of justice benefitting an individual, and you presume a priority in favor of establishing justice that benefits groups. Where is your discussion of Wilson’s moral luck?

  6. What I wish, what Peter or Paul wish shouldn’t matter at all. What I wish is that the police involved shooting was treated as a terrible event where the violence escalated too fast. I wish that it would be investigated and any criminal actions properly brought to trial whether it was either party, and that the community has faith that ot was handled in a proper way by police, judge, and juries as needed. That wish can’t happen because too many now have no faith that the incident, the official responses, and institutional bias is reaching the final straw for the camel’s back.

    My ideal would be for the proper authorities for this do their work in a totally transparent fashion and put serious work, not just in Ferguson but across the country to make police less a heavily armed militia that scares the citizens they are supposed to protect and have too many bad apples above the law. In my ideal the governors, and talking heads, and people who want to conflate other issues into what started as case of excessive violence into a national referendum about police, race, and privilege, they should all settle down and stop egging on the mobs on both sides. Short version: shut up and let them try to clean house for a little while before going more ape sht. No one can concentrate with everyone yelling.

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