Monday, August 18, 2014

Ferguson: When cops become vigilantes

There are numerous issues related to the shooting of Michael Brown and subsequent riots in Ferguson, Missouri that deserve analysis, but I’m focusing on one area here: The attempt by Ferguson police to demonize Michael Brown. Despite Justice Department warnings, the Ferguson police department released security video of what is purported to be Brown stealing cigars from a local convenience store. The obvious ploy is to paint Brown as a thief and troublemaker who may have got what he deserved.

This kind of blatant race baiting will probably work by reaffirming the bigoted views of a certain segment of people, including FOX news hosts and viewers, but most Americans should be able to see through this crude charade.

Who hasn’t heard the iconic opening lines to the TV show “Law and Order?”

In the criminal justice system, the people are represented by two separate yet equally important groups: the police who investigate crime and the district attorneys who prosecute the offenders.

The show is fiction, but this single sentence encapsulates an important truth. In the United States, we have law enforcement and we have a judicial system, and they have distinct and separate duties. The police investigate crimes and arrest individuals suspected of committing crimes. Those accused then enter the judicial system where they are judged innocent or guilty, and if guilty, receive punishment. Police do not have the power to deliver justice. They can use force to protect themselves or others, but they cannot decide who is guilty or innocent of a crime, that is for the courts.

This brings me to shooting of Michael Brown. Whether Brown robbed a convenience store or not, it is up to the judiciary to decide his guilt or innocence, not the cops. If Michael Brown committed murder, it is still not up to the cops to act as judge and jury. Sure, the Ferguson police department is trying to protect one of its own, but by releasing the convenience store video, they have opened the door to accusations that perhaps they believe they have the power to be judge, jury and executioner. The unarmed Brown was shot six times, twice in the head.

Should anyone be surprised that members of the African American community of Ferguson are angry?

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