Over the years I have covered many stories involving encounters between police officers and suspects.
When I wrote a newspaper column for The Alton Telegraph in Illinois — just up the Mississippi River from St. Louis — I often received requests from readers who claimed they were victims of excessive use of force.
Before setting out on an investigation of such incidents, I always asked the claimed victim: “Did you verbally confront or physically attack the officer?”
If the “victim” said “yes,” I passed on the story.
When someone encounters an officer and responds with a string of four-letter words and, worse, resists arrest or attacks the officer, they cross a line from just being a victim to creator of a dangerous and violent situation.
We may not agree on whether or not the officer should be interrogating but if they are they are representing the law and law should be respected.
If we disagree, we air those disagreements and our case in court, not with our fists or a weapon on the street.
The St. Louis County grand jury that investigated the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, returned “no true bills” against police officer Darren Wilson Monday night in his shooting of Michael Brown and the streets were on fire soon after from protests. That means no indictments or charges against the officer.
Sifting through the mountain of evidence before the grand jury, I was struck by three things:
1– When officer Wilson encountered Brown on the street in Ferguson, the young man was in possession of cigars reported stolen from convenience store. That gave the officer probable cause to question Brown;
2–Brown responded with a string of profanities and punched Wilson in the face before fleeing;
3 — Then Brown charged back towards the officer, made threatening gestures and ignored orders to stop.
Was the shooting and death of Brown at the hands of officer Wilson unfortunate? Yes. Was it legal? Under the law in Missouri it was. The grand jury investigation was monitored by the U.S. Justice Department. President Barack Obama late Monday night called for calm and said the “rule of law” found the police officer’s actions were not illegal and the shooting was justified.
Perhaps there could have been a better way to bring Brown under control without shooting him several times but it was an intense situation that escalated because Michael Brown crossed the line and became both an aggressor and a threat.
Had he allowed questioning by the officer, he faced — at most — a misdemeanor charge for theft of the cigars. He became a felon when he struck the officer.
During St. Louis County prosecutor Robert McCollouch’s presentation of the grand jury findings in a press conference Monday night, a reporter asked if any of the witnesses who said Brown was “charging towards Wilson” were African Americans.
“Yes, they were,” McCollough said. “All of them.”
The grand jury looked at the evidence. Many of those who dismiss their findings looked at social media emotion.
The evidence showed Michael Brown helped inflame a tense situation on the day he died.
Witnesses said Michael Brown took some of the items stolen from the convenience store in Ferguson. He broke the law. Medical examinations of his body showed marijuana in his system and friends say he had a problem with drugs, alcohol and violence.
Videotapes at the convenience store showed he stole the cigars and shoved the store owner roughly into a display cabinet.
Then his response to a police officer questioning him was to hurl invectives and an assault.
The grand jury interviewed witnesses and watched the videotapes. They concluded that Officer Wilson’s action were within the law.
Those who feel otherwise will claim racism ruled in Ferguson.
But an American President who is half-African American said the “rule of law” prevailed in the grand jury.
A United States Justice Department headed by an African-American did not find any reason to dispute that happened in Ferguson.