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Ferguson, MO Police Under Fire - Do Black Activists Need New Game Plan?

It's not difficult to understand the undercurrent of unhappiness in present day Ferguson, Missouri. With information about the death of Ferguson resident 18 year-old Michael Brown, on August 9, in a confrontation with six-year veteran of the Ferguson, Mo. police department, Darren Wilson, 26, slow to be released by investigators, police have revealed today, five days later, that Wilson was involved in the capture of a robbery suspect on that day, whom police have identified as Michael Brown. If Brown committed any of the crimes that he is accused of, any shooting by Wilson, or any law enforcement officer who might be confronted by a similar circumstance in the line of duty, such as what is possible when a fleeing suspect in a crime is being contacted by law enforcement officers, and the officer believes that circumstances at the time, involving the suspect in question, which could include that the officer reasonably believes that his life or the lives of innocent bystanders are in jeopardy, deadly force is not only often necessary; when deadly force is required in a similar situation, it is always justifiable.

Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson revealed the existence of video evidence, that he has released to the media, showing a young and large African-american male first committing battery against a convenience store clerk, then walking off with a box of cigars. The video tape clearly shows the face of the perpetrator. During my evaluation of the recording, and the different photographs of Michael Brown which are widely available to the press, in my honest opinion, the person committing a Robbery in the second degree in the images that I have seen, is Michael Brown. According to Chief Jackson, the video images from the store had to be reviewed by investigators prior to their release to the public. The embattled chief, who has had to step aside from the day to day security within the town of Ferguson, wanted to make certain that a fair and balanced picture is being told in regards to the details of the death of another young black man in the St. Louis metro area.

Major media outlets are being just as slow to tell about the character of Officer Wilson. During his six-year tenure in his current assignment, Wilson has not had even one disciplinary action taken against him. According to Greg Kloeppel, an attorney representing the Ferguson police, told reporters that Wilson had been awarded a commendation in February from Chief Jackson for "extraordinary effort in the line of duty". Details regarding the specific incident in which Wilson was awarded the commendation were not immediately available at press time.

On August 9, 2014, Wilson was involved in an altercation with Brown, in a similar sequence of events to the robbery that had only been recently committed, pushed officer Wilson, committing assault on a peace officer, which is a felony, and then attempted to flee the scene after officer Wilson claims that Brown had been attempting to acquire Wilson's service revolver. Evidence of a struggle for a gun is noted by the presence of a gunshot inside the police cruiser.

The police report of the robbery clearly identifies Brown as the prime suspect in the crime. The report does not appear to be altered or modified in any way, other than redaction of confidential information subject to further investigation. It is common practice that law enforcement and criminal justice officials will withhold information necessary to further an investigation from the press and parties not privy to the information.

Witnesses to the robbery claim that Brown was fleeing from the officer, and refused commands from the officer to halt. Even though the robbery itself was a felony crime, and the evidence so far is quite damning in terms of implicating Brown in the robbery, the justification for deadly force did exist once Brown committed an assault on a police officer, which is the second Class B felony crime directly tied to Brown.

These are the facts, as told to us by the chief investigators involved with the case. In the aftermath of multiple days of rioting, looting, and violence against law enforcement personnel, Governor Jay Nixon, took the extraordinary step of taking executive action from the governor's office to replace the existing law enforcement detail, and primary law enforcement operations control into the hands of the Missouri State Highway Patrol. The governor felt it appropriate to act, and in appointing the commander of operations in the field, Captain Ronald S. Johnson, the governor made a specific signal to citizens of Ferguson that the State of Missouri would be responsible for the safety and security of the city for the time being, and that by having a 27-year veteran state police officer, whose hometown is in Florissant, Ferguson, Missouri, on the scene, working with and consulting with the people who live there, the governor has said that he believes that Johnson is just what this situation calls for. He is a state trooper who earned his degree from Florissant Valley Community College, and he joined the highway patrol in 1987. He and his wife have two children, now in their 20s, and his wife is a consultant.

Captain Johnson really is the kind of role model that Ferguson needs right now. After the local police responded to the unrest with tear gas and rubber bullets, Captain Johnson has adopted a non-violent and non-threatening methodology to control the peace; not with threats of force, but with solidarity with the people of Ferguson. There is no question that the people of Ferguson want to see justice served, and they want to have the freedom to speak their mind in public. Any time that police agencies are taking actions designed to intimidate the populace through the projection of power and authoritarian tactics on the streets, violence will inevitably ensue. But did the people who were upset about the shooting really need to go and loot, burn, and utterly destroy a business that employed people within the city limits of Ferguson?

Since the days of the riots in Watts neighborhood in Los Angeles, California, it appears that African-American leaders and activist groups from the "Black Power" have chosen consistently to speak about the aftermath of violence, and not so much about the causes that lead to it. Yes, the death of any 18 year-old is a regrettable thing and something that no parent should deal with. Yet, in the year 2014, it still appears that it is primarily in the African-American communities here in the United States, when someone dies at the hands of a law enforcement officer, that riots, looting, and violence begin to occur. I see no connection to the destruction of the QuikTrip convenience store in Ferguson whatsoever to the death of Brown, except that it appears some in the community knew about the second degree robbery of $48.99 in Swisher Sweets cigars by Brown, and had decided that they might be able to alter evidence at a crime scene by burning the store down; as rumors that it was the QuikTrip that had been robbed by Brown began to circulate through the neighborhood near the store.

Ultimately, the local police in Ferguson will rely upon a U.S. Supreme Court ruling to support the actions of their officer, decided in a majority opinion by Justice Byron White, which specifically established that police do have the right to use deadly force if the suspect has threatened the life of the officer, specifically writing, "If the suspect threatens the officer with a weapon or there is probable cause to believe that he has committed a crime involving the infliction or threatened infliction of serious physical harm, deadly force may be used if necessary to prevent escape, and if, where feasible, some warning has been given". The case is referenced as Tennessee vs. Garner, 1985.

With all the focus on Ferguson, Missouri, in a town that has a 65% African-American population and voter base, what I have not seen any of these black leaders speak to are the economics that would create a circumstance wherein people would find it to be an okay thing to steal and burn the property of others. Since the year 2000, the population in the municipality has fallen by 5.7%, and along with that population drop has also come a drop in tax revenue. Ferguson has a black unemployment rate of 14.3%, or almost 15%; more than double the average unemployment rate in St. Louis County. There is such a lack of business activity that city income from fines and court fees, is the second greatest source of revenue for the city.

With over 20% of Ferguson's population currently receiving Food Stamps, the city clearly needs to improve it's focus on economics and business, and consider the money that the city could earn from the sale of military-style equipment which is far more suitable for the Missouri National Guard, than for a neighborhood in St. Louis County. One of the early criticisms of the city's response to the civil unrest was in regards to the display of heavy military weaponry on the streets of Ferguson, deployed not by the National Guard, but by the authority of the local police chief, and supported with a great deal of tear gas and rubber bullets.

While the city can use a boost to it's image, it is also clear that the tactics that the African-American social activists are using are not going to result in even one full-time, permanent job for anyone in Ferguson. For a community to be so economically hamstrung, and to be used as a pawn by their own leaders, for the political objectives of those social activists, is the greatest affront to the parents of Michael Brown.

Like any parents, Brown's parents certainly want to believe that their son, a high school graduate, and a young black man who had done what so many of his peers will not do, and that is to obtain a high school diploma, is not capable of committing a robbery. What we all have no way to know is whether or not Brown realized the seriousness of the criminal offenses that police allege he committed, and whether or not he believed that the consequences of those kinds of actions would bring to him.

The following statement was released by Michael Brown's parents and their attorneys today, after police released stills and video from the second-degree robbery earlier in the morning:

Michael Brown’s family is beyond outraged at the devious way the police chief has chosen to disseminate piece mil information in a manner intended to assassinate the character of their son, following such a brutal assassination of his person in broad daylight.
There is nothing based on the facts that have been placed before us that can justify the execution style murder of their child by this police officer as he held his hands up, which is the universal sign of surrender.
The prolonged release of the officer’s name and then the subsequent alleged information regarding a robbery is the reason why the family and the local community have such distrust for the local law enforcement agencies.
It is no way transparent to release the still photographs alleged to be Michael Brown and refuse to release the photographs of the officer that executed him.
The police strategy of attempting to blame the victim will not divert our attention, from being focused on the autopsy, ballistics report and the trajectory of the bullets that caused Michael’s death and will demonstrate to the world this brutal execution of an unarmed teenager.
Benjamin L Crump, Esq.
Anthony D. Gray, Esq.
Daryl D. Parks, Esq.

Even though the family is distraught about the loss of their son, their statement reveals a desire to draw a conclusion before the investigation has been concluded. At this time, no firm conclusions have been reached about the circumstances regarding Brown's death, whether or not it was a justified shooting, or whether or not the complaints from the community and activists themselves are a misguided attempt to have Brown declared innocent in the aftermath of the commission of two violent felony crimes.

Isn't the most serious underlying problem in Ferguson the high unemployment rate and lack of diversity in the local economy? It simply is impossible to have a city be considered one that is free from crime if so much of the city's budget is related to the imposition of fines, fees, jail time, and community service hours. If the underlying poverty in the city is as a result of the economic conditions there, marches demanding the arrest and prosecution of Officer Wilson will have absolutely no impact on the day to day economy of Ferguson. If these activists and leaders really want to lead and achieve results, that must begin with a different kind of approach and reaction to events such as this one.

With leadership comes responsibility, and with responsibility comes accountability. Where is the great outcry from the black community in Ferguson about the damage and thefts to local businesses? Where are the demands from black leaders to end the marches and begin the networking to attract new business.

This is the year 2014. Do you believe it is time for the African-American Black Power movement of the 1960s to adopt a new game plan based on economic participation, rather than unrest, marches in the streets, looting, and violence?