Events over the past couple days have been tumultuous for several reasons, but none more than the verdict in the trial regarding the death of Michael Brown. If you are not familiar with this story (and by extension, living under a rock) I suggest you start here: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/aug/10/police-fatal-shooting-black-teenager-angry-crowd-st-louis-suburb
Nevertheless, I’m sure many of my friends on facebook have seen me incessantly posting links to articles related to the most recent developments of the trial, so I figured it was time to express my own opinions about the topic. Please excuse my shoddy understanding of the legal system- the last time I studied law was a year ago and it was about the Canadian legal system. Nevertheless I think its important for people to form opinions on controversial topics such as this, so here is mine.
Let’s break this case down for a second. It is true that an officer like (Darren) Wilson does not go into the world premeditating murder. That removes the possibility of a first or second degree murder charge which would definitely be unreasonable. That leaves us with manslaughter, or killing someone without intent. It is a less severe form of homicide that is highly dependent on the circumstances surrounding the case. This could have been a very realistic possibility of Wilson’s trial. All these degrees of murder consist of culpable homicide. Non-culpable homicide, on the other hand, includes homicide committed in self-defence, which is also applicable to Wilson . Now let’s consider for a second what would happen if Wilson wasn’t a police officer. He would likely argue self-defence. The conditions for self-defence are: that there must be a genuine and immediate threat to the person’s life or their property and that the force a person uses must be reasonable and necessary. If you look at the facts of the case, yes there was a confrontation, but Brown was unarmed and was aware that Wilson, given his position, had a variety of weapons at his disposal. So while it could be said that Wilson felt he was under threat, the threat posed to him was far less than the threat he posed to Brown. Furthermore, the force used on Brown was more than the force Brown could have used on him. Wilson himself has stated that he had both pepper spray and a baton at his disposal, which could have been used in the aftermath of the direct physical confrontation between the two, when, according to Wilson, they were out of his reach.
Now let’s consider the case given Wilson’s status as a police officer. Police officers may act under the protection of legal duty, which allows them to get away with things a normal person wouldn’t, given their position. If a normal person had acted in the way that Wilson did, he possibly would have been convicted of at least manslaughter. However under the protection of legal duty, Wilson is able to sort of justify his actions because he is a cop. It will be tricky to convict a cop in these types of cases because this sets a precedent.
Should we start holding all law enforcement officials to the same standard as regular human beings? The answer to that question is both yes and no. On the one hand, as a society we are condoning a world with distinct and separate moralities and conducts, at a base level. However, regular citizens do not put themselves in the same positions as law enforcement officials do every day as part of their profession. While this legal duty exists and rightly so, the rule of law is more important. If we are to consider the rule of law in this case (or as a fundamental foundation of the legal system), the idea that no one is above the law means that Wilson still committed an act of homicide. While his culpability is still in contention, the bottom line is Wilson shot (multiple times) and killed an unarmed person, who at the time of his death was in an act of surrender according to multiple witnesses. There must be some reprimands he should undergo for his actions, which in fact he never did. Although he is in the process of resigning, he could technically return to his job as per usual if he pleased, which runs in conflict with a totally separate issue that many of the proper procedures and documentation of the event were not completed adequately, and in some cases, not at all (an inadequate incident report was filed ten days late, and use-of-force report required by the police department after a shooting has taken place does not currently exist).
Has justice been done in this case? While I think it might be a tad extreme to lament on the death of the legal system, I do not in any way think this is justice. The victim of this situation was an unarmed 18 year old, the same age as me or many of my friends. By the majority of witness accounts he spent the last moments of his life in surrender to man that possessed, and actively used, more than enough firepower to render Michael Brown lifeless, and he has suffered no punishment for his actions, not from the police department, nor from the legal system. He has chosen to resign, so he is out of a job as a result of nothing more than his own will. Meanwhile Michael Brown is no longer alive due to an event he in no way could have controlled or willed.
In my whole observation of this case, there is one issue that I have not addressed yet, which is race. Does the racial background of Michael Brown play a role in this? Definitely. The only question is to what extent. It is of my personal opinion that this killing definitely does not have the same level of racial motivation as the Trayvon Martin case did. This one is more complicated given the physical altercations involved as well as the robbery beforehand. Does the issue of race make a difference during the legal proceedings? Its hard to tell, but my best guess is likely not. The legal machine to far too bureaucratic, almost to a fault (as we can see by the verdict of the trial), but I don’t believe the verdict or trial proceedings would have changed had Michael Brown been of another race. Again, this is hard to say, so don’t take this opinion immediately at face value.
If it’s not the case of a legal botching of justice, then why is race an issue in this case at all? Because enough is enough. This pattern of racially motivated killings has been going on long enough, and thus far, there has been no justice or recompense for those who have fallen victim to these cases. Michael Brown is a symbol of the fact that blatant racism still exists in our world today, a symbol for the fact that justice has not, and is still not served. If these cases are reigniting the discussion on racism, then so be it. Ever since the civil rights movement, we would all be perfectly happy to pretend that the issue of racism has been completely solved and we are living in a world of absolute equality, but this is far from the truth. Getting people talking about and involved in these issues is the first step to solving these problems, which is why we need to keep talking. It’s why we need these protests, it’s why we need all this backlash. Its hard to turn your back on something that is staring you straight in the face.
There was a similar situation in Toronto that happened recently. Another 18 year old by the name of Sammy Yatim was shot nine times and then tasered on a Toronto streetcar after brandishing a knife at the passengers as well as the police officer. The circumstances of this situation are a little different, considering that Yatim was armed and could be considered a threat (accounts of Yatim’s mental illness have yet to be confirmed). The police officer responsible for the shooting has been allowed to return to his job, but without the use of firearms, as he awaits trial for second degree murder. The Toronto police force is also launching an investigation that includes the use of body cameras for police, which is something that many people in the US have discussed about implementing in their police forces as well. It’s a sad representation of the lack of trust in our society and how the only way for people to now feel safe around each other, and furthermore, around law enforcement officials, is through surveillance. But given everything that is happened, can your really blame them?
In the months following this decision, it is important to keep tuning into, as well as discussing the case. Otherwise, by letting the memory of Michael Brown die, we may be unconsciously causing the death of another young victim down the road. It shouldn’t take society multiple deaths of this nature to realize that there is something fundamentally wrong, and that justice, in no way, has been served.