Death in Ferguson & New York City–Ethical Reflections on the Deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner
1. New York City contributed to Eric Garner’s tragic and unnecessary death with its “holy war” on tobacco, similar to the war it attempted on soda (imagine a street vendor resisting arrest and being taken down for selling illegal “big gulp” drinks). Absurdly high taxes are an invitation to many to bootleg cigarettes on the street. Still, there should be little wrong in what Mr. Garner was doing—perhaps warranting nothing more than a ticket. There’s a caveat in legislation, “Don’t pass a law without thinking someone might get killed over it” because that might well happen someday, somewhere. We are simply over-regulated, and in this case a price was paid. NYC should learn!
2. No person should resist arrest—EVER. At that point, police cannot back down. It greatly heightens the danger level, besides leading to worse charges.
3. Eric Garner’s case is very different from Michael Brown’s case in Ferguson. Mr. Brown had already, just minutes prior, demonstrated his propensity and willingness to do bodily harm through his strong-armed robbery and battery against a convenience store owner (all captured by a store camera).
4. The constant mantra-like use of the adjective “unarmed” needs to be reconsidered. Sometimes it isn’t relevant. Someone with a fake weapon is “unarmed”. Someone using a child as a hostage and threatening to twist its neck is “unarmed” and yet lethal force may be justified. One’s body can be a weapon, especially in a close-range situation (as Mr. Brown demonstrated at the store and at the police car).
5. My judgment is that “justice” was pre-determined by many, regardless of the specifics of the Ferguson incident. Many good, sincere and concerned people saw the incident as parabolic—pointing to moral issues beyond the actual incident. With a parable, truth is in the lesson to be learned, not in the specifics of the story. The story is shaped to support the truth-principle it conveys. The problem I have is this: in parables the people who are doing right or wrong are nameless and figurative. The Ferguson incident has names and faces and details open to examination. It is not a parable, but a reality situation where conclusions and justice must be based on actual facts.
6. My comments above (#5) do not at all mean there shouldn’t be some serious examination of relationships between residents and law enforcement in many communities. For that matter, war-like vehicles and tactics belong in the hands of the military (in this case, the National Guard) and not in the hands of community law enforcement.
7. Officer Darren Wilson resigned from the Ferguson police force and obviously cannot return to his home, the address of which was released. What he can do in the future, as his attorney said, is “anyone’s guess.” He should receive a retirement stipend since he is unable to perform his duties as a law enforcement officer. This is a regrettable prospect, but many have received retirement from law enforcement with less justification than this.
An important concluding word—these thoughts are not shared in a vacuum. I speak with a high degree of personal memory. In 2010 a neighbor of mine was shot and killed by police in Long Beach, California for pointing a garden hose nozzle that appeared to be a pistol when he was drunk and approached by the police. I conducted his funeral.
No big protests for him.