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A tragic shooting and civil unrest in Ferguson

By Scott Tibbs, August 15, 2014

The shooting of an unarmed black man last weekend was certainly a tragic event, not only because of the potential that was snuffed out but (more importantly) because a precious life made in the image of God was violently destroyed. Details have been slow to come in this shooting, and there are wildly different accounts of what happened.

First, let's get this out of the way. Michael Brown was not a "child" and portrayals of him as such are wildly irresponsible. He was 18 years old and a legal adult. Saying he was a "teenager" is accurate but can be misleading due to his status as a legal adult. Saying Brown was a "child" is a flagrant and shameful lie designed to do nothing more than whip up outrage. Brown was a man, and should be described as such.

Dorian Johnson was with Brown in the moments leading up to the shooting, and his account of the events is absolutely horrific - portraying this as a cold-blooded execution of a nonviolent man. Because the account is so horrific, I have serious questions about its authenticity. If Johnson's story is true, this is clearly a crime worthy of the death penalty.

We do not know the full extent of what really happened here, so we should be careful about making a final judgment based on the limited facts we have now. That said, one claim that has not been disputed is that Brown was shot while he had his hands in the air and was surrendering. It is difficult to imagine how a shooting in that case could be justified, especially if (as Johnson claims) Brown had already been shot while he was fleeing from the police officer.

Much has been said about the nature of local government in Ferguson, and how it increases the frustration of a community with a huge black majority being governed by an almost entirely white local government. For example:

As black families moved into Ferguson, the whites fled. In 1980, the town was 85 percent white and 14 percent black; by 2010, it was 29 percent white and 69 percent black. But blacks did not gain political power as their numbers grew. The mayor and the police chief are white, as are five of the six City Council members. The school board consists of six white members and one Hispanic.

Source: New York Times, August 13, 2014

This leads to one very obvious question: Who elected these people? Clearly, no one can get elected in Ferguson without at least a significant portion of the black vote, and yet black voters continue to elect whites to represent them in local government. There is no legitimate room to complain about the racial makeup of local government, when the voters chose that government. If there is a problem, it is with the voters.

The frustration with the choices of black voters in Ferguson, the makeup of the police department, the alleged racial profiling by police, or this particular shooting cannot justify the people who are acting like mindless savages. Rioting, looting and setting fires is never a legitimate response, and only deepens the divide with police while making the rioters look like little more than thugs. This was about getting free stuff, not because people are legitimately angry.

Matt Walsh made a good point this week: Do not blame all police officers because of the actions of one man. It is true that there are bad police officers, there are corrupt police officers, and there are abusive police officers. This is because all of humanity is cursed by the Fall, and that all men are wicked and corrupt by nature. But we should not assume that every police officer is bad because of some bad actors - or that every black person in Ferguson is a thug because of the actions of some mindless savages who are desecrating Mike Brown's memory.

Also, conservatives need to stop spouting foolish and childish non sequiturs about black on black crime. That is a terrible tragedy, and it does need to be addressed, but this is not the time to address it. In addition to stirring anger by being callous about the real pain caused by this killing, these childish non sequiturs miss the point.

A killing by an agent of the state is a unique situation, because of the power wielded by the civil magistrate. Government is much more dangerous and can do much more harm than criminals, which is why we need to aggressively hold government and its agents accountable for crimes and misbehavior.

What we need to do here is let the process play out while closely monitoring the actions of Ferguson's government. The federal government's intervention is appropriate here to ensure justice is done, and to ensure this is not swept under the rug. However, we should also closely watch the federal government to make sure they do not overstep their authority and deny due process in a politically-motivated rush to judgment.

The best place to resolve this is the courts, not the streets.