Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Virtue of an Imperfect Case

John McWhorter writes that because the Ferguson case is not a clear-cut case of police brutality, it is not the best case to highlight the problems of the relationships between law enforcement and minorities.

I disagree.

Not because I differ with Mr. McWhorter on the facts of the case, but because I think it is precisely this case's resistance to being cast as a simple case of an evil racist cop killing a perfectly innocent young black man that makes it a useful case to examine.

Unfortunately, it's not so simple. The problem isn't so much the actions of Darren Wilson during the stop (or the actions of Micheal Brown, but the confluence of factors that brought them together that day in emotional states such that this outcome was in play.

If it were a simple case of a rogue cop, the solution would be easy -- punish him, and try not to hire more cops like him.  If the criminal justice system failed to do so in the face of these facts, then that's a bigger, thought somewhat more manageable problem.

But that doesn't seem to be what's going on. It appears that Officer Wilson acted within the parameters of his job. And still, a man who didn't deserve to die was killed. That's a more difficult problem.

I wonder if some of the rage at the grand jury decision is that it denies us the simple scapegoat and the easy way out.  The statement is, "No, you're not going to get out of this just by punishing Darren Wilson. You're going to have to work on all the things that led these two people to where they were that afternoon."

I get the frustration that a young man can be killed with nobody held responsible. And expanding the zone of culpability can at times be a way to dodge personal responsibility and culpability.

Still, I think we need to absorb different lessons than, "Darren Wilson was a bad cop." And if it turns out he wasn't such a bad cop, I think that helps us ask the bigger questions.


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