A week ago last Saturday, at high noon in Ferguson, Missouri, 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot dead by police officer Darren Wilson. Brown was black, Wilson is white.
Protests immediately followed, understandably; sadly, so did rioting and looting.
Not to mention dueling narratives.
Michael Brown was an unarmed kid walking to his grandmother’s house on that fateful day, and would have been on his way to college this fall. Instead, according to some accounts, Brown was gunned down in the sweltering August street in a hail of bullets. Why? No reason. It was in effect an execution by this policeman — even though Brown had his hands up and posed no threat.
It has been reported that Michael Brown’s body was left lying in the street for hours, but that he never received any medical care.
His “lynching by bullet” shows that racism is alive and well and too often administered by the police.
The police version is quite different. It alleges that Michael Brown was walking in the middle of the street blocking the road and that, when Brown was stopped, he assaulted the policeman, Darren Wilson. They note that Wilson is a six-year veteran of the force with a clean record. They say Brown tried to take Wilson’s gun, and that the gun discharged first in the squad car during that altercation, before Wilson shot and killed Brown, apparently some 30 feet from the police car.
As for receiving medical care, according to the police, an ambulance was on the scene assessing Brown’s condition within 5 minutes of the shooting.
On Friday, police also released a surprising video showing Brown robbing a convenience store and physically assaulting an employee not 15 minutes prior to the deadly altercation with Officer Wilson. That was the first time I recall hearing the 6-foot-4-inch, nearly 300-lb. Brown referred to by his nickname: “Big Mike.”
The implication is that Brown was the cause of the violent incident.
What really happened? I don’t know. I wasn’t there.
No doubt, the truth is not exactly as either narrative suggests. Maybe not even close. Michael Brown might be an angel or a devil and it could still be a case of police misconduct, even flat-out, cold-blooded murder.
Or not that way at all … and, instead, a justifiable act of self-defense.
Or something else altogether.
Until we know more of the facts, it isn’t possible to know for certain.
Admittedly, I’m skeptical there was justification for the use of deadly force. Libertarians usually are skeptical of government power. But I’d like to know the facts before passing judgment.
Such considerations don’t mean much to Washington Post blogger Paul Waldman, who attacked libertarians and small-government conservatives in a post entitled, “Why aren’t libertarians talking about Ferguson?”
“One might be tempted to conclude,” Waldman wrote, “they believe that when somebody’s grandson has to pay taxes on their inheritance, it’s a horrifying injustice that demands redress, but when somebody else’s grandson gets shot walking down the street, that’s just how things go sometimes.”
But had Mr. Waldman bothered to actually look or listen to libertarians or limited-government conservatives? Since the Obama ascendancy, it has been the limited government crowd that has consistently raised the civil libertarian critique of out-of-control policing, at federal, state, and local levels. A better question to ask is, where have progressives been? And why do they seem only to get upset when there is an inter-racial dimension to deadly force? American state violence is growing and quite alarming. If you pay attention to actual Tea Party voices, outside-the-beltway libertarians, or even grassroots conservatives (the latter of whom, I readily admit, are most likely to instinctively back local if not federal police), you might be surprised by what you hear.
U.S. Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) tweeted that same day: “Is this a war zone or a US city? Govt escalates tensions w/military equipment & tactics.”
The next day, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) was featured in Time magazine with an op-ed arguing that “Anyone who thinks that race does not still, even if inadvertently, skew the application of criminal justice in this country is just not paying close enough attention. Our prisons are full of black and brown men and women who are serving inappropriately long and harsh sentences for non-violent mistakes in their youth.”
The Senator also noted disapprovingly that, “The militarization of our law enforcement is due to an unprecedented expansion of government power in this realm.”
Waldman’s own newspaper printed stories the next day entitled, “Libertarians make their voices heard on police in Ferguson, Mo.” and “Rand Paul on Ferguson, police militarization, and racial disparities in the criminal justice system” and “Libertarian criticism of police militarization.”
“I don’t see a Rand Paul, I don’t see a [RNC chairman Reince] Priebus, I don’t see anyone from the libertarian or Republican movement who talk about small government and overstepping American citizens’ rights coming to the fore, either on camera or social media, to talk about this situation,” charged CNN contributor L.Z. Granderson. “You don’t just come to the aid of white people that are being under siege from the government, you come to the aid of Americans who are under siege from the government.”
Mr. Granderson’s innuendo is likewise simply not accurate. But, er, are progressives beginning to feel “under siege from the government”?
Welcome to the club.
But wouldn’t that be the very same government those same progressives want to expand exponentially, to take over our healthcare system, to subsidize and tax, and to have a monopoly on gun ownership?
In fact, what seems increasingly clear to both left and right is the ugly appearance of a militarized local police, not to mention the potential for abuse. As the Cato Institute’s Walter Olson posited, “the dominant visual aspect of the story, however, has been the sight of overpowering police forces confronting unarmed protesters who are seen waving signs or just their hands.”
In light of the militarization of our local police forces throughout the country and the events in Ferguson this past week, do progressives still want to take guns out of the hands of law-abiding citizens — leaving all firepower with those government agents behind the automatic weapons and the armored personnel carriers?
August 17, 2014
This column first appeared at Townhall.com.