The problems in Ferguson, Missouri, will continue long after the Grand Jury’s final decision. The tensions in the community will undoubtedly be exacerbated if the US Justice Department declines to pursue civil rights violations against Officer Darren Wilson. The real problem in Ferguson is the fact that the residents are stuck with a police department that seemingly lacks ethnic diversity, appears racially insensitive and is unwilling to admit changes within are necessary. The problems on the Ferguson police Department are cultural and systemic.
As a retired, twenty-year veteran police sergeant I reject the notion that a professional, tactically trained, gun-toting police officer would “fear” an unarmed teenager. Police officers receive an inordinate of training- first in the academy and then continued in-service training. Police officers should expect by virtue of their occupation that interacting with the community can at times be contentious. Police Officers are expected to rely on their training and common sense if confronted with an argumentative and uncooperative citizen. So then, for Officer Wilson to initiate a traffic stop and then immediately escalate the situation to a deadly force incident, is in my opinion outrageous.
According to grand jury testimony leaks, Officer Wilson shot and killed Mike Brown because he [Wilson] was in fear. Wilson feared unarmed Mike Brown; 18-yr old Mike Brown; wounded and bleeding Mike Brown. Allegedly, this was Officer Wilson’s “state of mind” at the time he fired his weapon. Ok, that may be true of the first two shots; what about shots three thru six. Police Officers involved in a use of force incident and especially a deadly force incident must explain the need for every round fired. What about Mike’s state of mind? Well, we will never know because Mike is not here to tell us.
As a mother, I am bothered by disparaging comments made by Project 21’s Joe Hicks referencing Mike Brown as “a small-time local thug”. I am bothered that anyone who does not side with the police department’s version of events is labeled a “race-hustler” who is “undeserving” of justice. These statements were just a few of the comments attributed to Project 21; described as a black leadership network. As if to infer, that “a small-time local thug” somehow ‘deserved’ to be gunned down in the middle of the street. I am disappointed by an unrepentant and unapologetic police department that will never admit wrong-doing. I am saddened that this black life [Mike Brown] does not seem to matter.
As a retired law enforcement supervisor, I don’t accept that a trained, police officer need only say , “I was in fear” and everything else that follows is somehow justified. Well, I say officer, if you are “scared” when dealing with a [black] community that you swore to protect and serve then maybe you should holster your gun, remain in your car and call the police. I have not heard nor seen “fear” articulated by white police officers when dealing with the white criminal community, a la Eric Frein . Here’s a guy who shot and killed a police officer and seriously wounded another. It was reported that Frein left assault weapons and pipe bombs as though they were bread crumbs for pursing officers; yet he was “taken into custody without incident”. Captured with only a scratch on his nose; purportedly self-inflicted.
If understanding that federal civil rights prosecution is an all-or-nothing case; time to change that law. Currently, federal prosecutors must prove race was a motivator; that a defendant deprived the victim of a Constitutional right; that the defendant acted willfully; that the defendant acted under color of law and the victim died. The indictment would charge that the defendant deprived the victim of the right to be free from unlawful deadly force by law enforcement. The problem seems to be the “defendant’s state of mind”. Officer Wilson stated that he “feared for his safety”.
Maybe it’s time to require police recruit candidates to prove they are not predisposed to being ‘fearful’ before they are hired and given a gun. Maybe it’s time to require a police officer to ‘prove’ fear if that’s the stated reason for firing that gun. Maybe it’s time to hold officers who violate policy and the law when they discharge that gun and hold them personally liable. Maybe it’s time to no longer allow the mere utterance of “fear” by a police officer as a justification for what our sensibilities as a society recognizes is unreasonable and excessive.
Officer, if you were in fear, please explain why you did not remain in the safe confines of your police car? Officer, why didn’t you call for back-up, wait for back-up to arrive and then tell back-up that you were in fear for your safety? Please officer, why did you murder Mike Brown? If it wasn’t because of his race – then what?
And finally sir, would your please return to the police station, turn in your badge and gun and seek employment somewhere else; because officer, I am in fear of my safety.
Cheryl Dorsey is a retired LAPD sergeant, speaker, and much sought after police expert on important issues making national headlines. She writes and provides commentary on police culture and surviving police encounters. She is the author of “THE CREATION OF A MANIFESTO: Black & Blue”, an autobiography that pulls the covers of the LAPD and provides an unfiltered look into the department’s internal processes.Visit her website www.cheryldorsey.net. Follow Cheryl Dorsey on Twitter @ retLAPDsgt and Soundcloud