Ferguson: A question of excessive force

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In a blog I wrote two weeks ago, "Justice...not 'Just Us'," I asserted, "Our lives are constituted by relationships. The question is, 'what is the nature of these relationships?'" I also asserted, "Exploitative relationships result in situations of 'just us' rather than justice."

As I sat listening to Robert P. McCulloch, the St. Louis County prosecutor, return the grand jury's verdict of no indictment against officer Wilson for the fatal shooting of "Mr. Brown," I kept waiting to hear comments regarding how or why officer Wilson was justified in firing several shots at an unarmed teenager.

After spending several minutes complaining about the news coverage and the use of social media, the county prosecutor began detailing the inconsistency of eyewitness testimony and the reliability of "physical and scientific evidence." It was obvious at the outset that the prosecutor was setting the stage for the grand jury's verdict by discrediting any and all witness accounts that suggested Michael Brown was surrendering or had his hands up before being shot several times by officer Wilson. 

While I was not surprised by the grand jury's verdict, what I found disappointing in this case and continue to find disappointing in cases like this one, is the failure to discuss the use of "excessive force" by police. While giving his prepared remarks, prosecuting attorney McCulloch made no comments regarding officer Wilson's use of deadly force against an unarmed Michael Brown.

During the question and answer session, the prosecutor made reference to "justified shootings." Considering the fact that Michael Brown was unarmed, I fail to understand how firing ten shots at Michael Brown as he approached officer Wilson was warranted, and how it qualifies as a "justified shooting."

What does it say about police training if a trained police officer feels his life is at risk because an unarmed teenager is approaching him? What does it say about police training if a "trained" police officer believes he is exercising "self-defense" by firing TEN times at an approaching unarmed teenager? And what does it say about us as a society if we accept and do not challenge a grand jury verdict that there is "no probable cause" to file ANY indictment against officer Wilson? Do we really believe there is NOTHING wrong, excessive, or even illegal when a police officer kills an unarmed teenager by firing more than ten shots at him?

When exactly does a police officer's action to subdue a suspect cross the line of what society is willing to accept? Is the notion "by any means necessary" inappropriate for some people but always appropriate for police officers? What exactly qualifies as "excessive force" for police officers, and when does that excessive force become inappropriate?

In the case of Ferguson, Missouri, the use of "excessive force" by police officers seems to far outpace the national average. According to the Washington Post, six other Ferguson officers—five current and one former—have been named in civil rights lawsuits alleging the use of excessive force.

This means 13 percent of the police department in Ferguson has faced such investigations, compared to a national average of less than one percent of all police officers as calculated by the Cato Institute's National Police Misconduct Statistics and Reporting Project. Clearly there is a history of questionable racial relationships in Ferguson, Missouri.

While I do not claim to have answers to the questions I ask here, as a biblical scholar, a professor of religion, and a tenured faculty at a liberal arts college, I feel I have a moral and professional obligation to raise such questions and to initiate critical reflection regarding what constitutes acceptable and unacceptable behavior (especially by those in power).

In response to the grand jury's verdict, prosecutor McCulloch asserted, "Decisions on matters as serious as charging an individual of a crime simply cannot be decided on anything less than complete critical examination of all available evidence. Anything less is not justice."

I agree with attorney McCulloch regarding the importance of "critical examination." I, however, would assert that decisions on matters as serious as shooting an unarmed teenager six times, including twice in the head, cannot be decided on anything less than complete critical examination and reflection of ALL available evidence. "Anything less is not justice."

McCulloch's comment clearly reflects that he is far more concerned with what he considers to be "justice" for officer Wilson, than he is with justice for Michael Brown and the Brown family.

I'm sure I will be writing and saying more in the near future regarding my disappointment (as well as the Brown family's disappointment) over the inappropriate and violent reactions in Ferguson in response to the grand jury's decision. While I in no way support the rioting in Ferguson, Martin Luther King, Jr. once noted, "A riot is the language of the unheard," and there are many in Ferguson who not only feel unheard but who clearly have been unheard.

Guy Nave

Guy Nave

Guy Nave, professor of religion, has been part of the Religion Department faculty since 2001, focusing on the topics of Christianity, biblical studies, religion and social justice, the social construction of religious meaning, and race-religion-and-politics. Professor Nave is currently researching the power, politics and meaning behind the rhetoric of "change," as well as the role of Christianity in bringing about social "change." In addition to writing for Luther College's Ideas and Creations blog, Nave is the founder of the online social media platform Clamoring for Change and is a guest contributor to a number of online sites, including Sojourners Commentary blog series.

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  • November 25 2014 at 12:20 pm
    Rob Severson
    Interesting observation on excessive force. The assailant was bigger than the cop. I don't know how much force is excessive in protecting oneself from a tougher man. My issue is why attack an armed cop in the first place?
  • November 25 2014 at 12:42 pm
    Timothy Root
    Professor Nave, I graduated Luther College in 1993 with a degree in Political Science and Sociology. I was privileged to be instructed by professors such as Clarence Williams and Cliff English. I take pride in my alma mater. I am now 44 years old, married 20 years with 4 kids aged 18 - 8. I cannot tell you just how disappointed I am to see this post from you promoted on Facebook as if it somehow enhances the image of Luther College or helps the situation in Ferguson, MO. I have an 18 year old son (or an "unarmed teenager" as you so continuously assert). He will never, ever, be shot by the police. I know this not because he's white but because he will never rob a store. He will never "tussle" with an officer. He will never strike an officer. He will never disobey a police officer who tells him to get on the ground. My son will never DO anything that would cause an officer to shoot him. You concede in your post that Mr. Brown "approached" the officer. Fine, we'll deny the testimony of the officer that Mr. Brown (a MAN - a 6'4" 298 pound MAN, who had ALREADY assaulted the officer as the photos show) that Brown was RUSHING him. What, then, is your assertion? Mr. Brown was in compliance with the officer? He turned politely, smiled and slowly "approached" the officer with his hands raised? You cannot possibly assert that. You can't. In order to assert that you have to believe Officer Wilson is a homicidal maniac who just happened to pick that fine day to play target practice with an "unarmed teenager"? That is no where near reality and every sane thinking person knows it. You describe yourself as, "a biblical scholar, a professor of religion, and a tenured faculty at a liberal arts college". Obviously you are intelligent. You're well educated and entrusted with the enormous responsibility of teaching the next generation of leaders in America. But you can't or won't promote ONE plausible reason why civil rights lawsuits of excessive force against Ferguson police are significantly higher than the national average? Could it be socioeconomics? Could it be the population of gangs? Could it be the racial makeup of the force itself? Could there be a focus on the area by the ACLU or other litigious organizations? Do you believe you have a moral and professional obligation to throw gasoline on an already inflamed situation with such misleading statistics applied completely out of context? The sad, sad, truth is that Mr. Brown (as he would be called as an adult by the courts and any other "official" institution in this nation) instigated his own shooting through HIS behavior. The testimony of the officer indicates that he shot as many times at Mr. Brown as he did because it wasn't stopping him. Other than your predilections and the hardness of YOUR heart . . . what reason could you personally have for disbelieving the officer? Do you really believe he just went wild and shot 10 rounds for . . . no legitimate reason of any kind? I feel very sad for the Brown family. It's beyond terrible for them to have lost their son in this way. It's sad to see Ferguson in such a terrible state of distress. It's sad for the officer who has to live the rest of his life knowing he's killed someone (it's not as if people like you will allow him an opportunity to heal). It is also really sad for Luther College that a professor such as yourself would use a tragedy like this to mislead young minds, deny the truth, misapply out of context statistics and generally "rabble rouse". Perhaps there are some professors still at Luther who can help you understand better your moral and professional obligations. Most sincerely, Timothy S. Root Shakopee, MN Luther College Class of 1993
  • November 25 2014 at 2:13 pm
    Guy Nave

    Mr. Root,

    Since you mention "Clarence" Williams and Cliff English in the same sentence, I assume you are referring to Lawrence Williams. Had you any in depth conversations with professor Williams, he would have definitely shared with you insights and personal accounts regarding racially motivated police violence against African Americans in his beloved home of Louisville, KY.

    My comments in no way suggests that Michael Brown was a "saint" nor that he handled himself appropriately. I never suggested that Michael Brown "turned politely, smiled and slowly 'approached' the officer with his hands raised," but an unarmed teenager (whatever his size) can be subdued by a trained police officer with a weapon without being shot six times (twice in the head).

    You are correct that your son will most likely never by shot by a police, and the sad truth of the matter is that race does have something to do with it. The evidence is staggering and overwhelming that black men are killed by police officers, security guards, and even neighborhood watch groups far more often than white men for committing the same crimes and exhibiting the same behavior. Refusal to acknowledge the evidence and address this disparity only promotes and perpetuates such disparity.

    Not only do I know black men who have been killed by police without provocation,  I have on more than one occasion had a police draw a weapon on me. I was stopped in Iowa for allegedly driving 7 miles over the speed limit and made to get out of the car so the police could check my car for drugs and weapons (none of course were found). After feeling a cell phone on my hip, the police officer drew a weapon on me because he thought the phone was a gun. I had to shout repeatedly that my phone was not a gun. I could have responded "inappropriately" and been killed, but the truth of the matter is that I should have NEVER been placed in such a situation, and I have every right to be angry and resentful about such treatment.

    I have several more personal stories as well as stories of friends I could share with you. I understand that your experience makes it difficult for you to believe and accept the reality that black men are frequently the subject of police behavior that most white men will never experience, and it's not because white men are far more law abide and civil than poor gang banging black men. I'm not "poor" and not in a gang. Most of my black colleagues are not poor or in a gang, but many of us have experiences with the police that most of our white male colleagues have never had and will never have.

    I regret that you feel that I am misleading young minds here at Luther College. No one (regardless of race) deserves to be the object of "excessive" force exercised by police officers. Unfortunately, however, race CANNOT be ignored, especially when there is overwhelming evidence that clearly demonstrates that when committing the same crimes and exhibiting the same behavior, black men are the victims of excessive force by police at a significantly higher rate than white men (for this your son--unlike mine--can be grateful).



  • November 25 2014 at 2:25 pm
    Guy Nave


    As a six year veteran in the United States Army, I can say that I, like officer Wilson, received training on how to subdue unarmed civilians. I can confidently say that there are several methods a trained police officer can employ to subdue an unarmed civilian, regardless his size, with resorting to shooting him six times (including twice in the head). While I have no exact definition of "excessive" force. The shooting of an unarmed Michael Brown six times clearly rises to the level of "excessive."

  • November 25 2014 at 4:05 pm
    former student
    When I was 19, I was expected to act as an adult. I was able to vote, I was able to be out on my own (although yes I was in the 'Luther bubble') and, in the eyes of the legal system, one becomes an adult at 18. So why, WHY, is Michael Brown referred to only as a teenager. The media, and this post, try to turn him into a defenseless child. Yes he was unarmed...but did you know plenty of people are killed each day by another person's hands? Strangling, hitting, shoving...all can be used to end a person's life. This young man was much bigger than the officer he attacked. And yes, the evidence has shown he ATTACKED. Do you blame a victim of domestic violence for using 'excessive force' to get her abuser to stop (and there are plenty of cases in which victims have killed abusers). Victim blaming. That's what you would probably call that example. But no, in this instance officer Wilson gets no support. Could you imagine being in such a position? If Michael Brown had killed officer Wilson, we would hardly hear about it, if at all. But officer Wilson survived an attack...And he is blamed for SURVIVING.
  • November 25 2014 at 4:06 pm
    former student
    Oh and since 'race' is the 'biggest issue ever' here, please note that I am a very proud biracial woman.
  • November 25 2014 at 4:20 pm
    Trying To Figure It All Out
    I agree that if Michael Brown were only coming toward or menacing by approaching Officer Wilson, that Wilson's actions would be excessive. However, if, as stated by Wilson and apparently supported by physical evidence, Brown was inside the car, hitting Wilson and attempting to gain access to his gun, that is an entirely different story. And deadly force (not excessive in that instance) would be necessary.
  • November 25 2014 at 4:52 pm
    Guy Nave

    "Trying To Figure It All Out,"

    As I'm sure you are aware, the evidence and testimony of officer Wilson reveals that it was after Michael Brown had fled on foot and was returning on foot toward him (again, unarmed) that officer Brown fired another 10 shoots, striking Brown 6 times (twice in the head). Michale Brown was not killed during a scuffle for officer Wilson's weapon. 

  • November 25 2014 at 5:04 pm
    Guy D. Nave

    "former student" (#1)

    Calling Michael Brown an "unharmed teenager" is not portraying him as a "defenseless child." It's simply stating a fact. Nineteen is still a teenager (have you ever tried purchasing car insurance for a teenage boy? Despite being able to vote at 18, society still understands teenagers NOT to be "adults." Were you able to purchase alcohol as a 19 year old student when you attended Luther?). 

    My comments are not an issue of "blaming the victim." Unlike a victim of domestic violence, police officers are trained to respond to violence in ways victims of domestic violence are not trained. Victims of domestic violence are not expected to "protect and serve," nor have they chosen to make a living placing themselves in potentially dangerous situations daily. We cannot compare "victims of domestic violence" to trained police officers. As I commented in my response to Rob, "as a six year veteran in the United States Army, I can say that I, like officer Wilson, received training on how to subdue unarmed civilians. I can confidently say that there are several methods a trained police officer can employ to subdue an unarmed civilian, regardless his size, with resorting to shooting him six times (including twice in the head)..."

  • November 25 2014 at 5:23 pm
    Mr. Nave, as a parent of a student at Luther and a resident of St Louis County, I do not appreciate any attempt to upset more people in a way that does not serve to help the current situation. People in St Louis are trying to get through a very difficult time and we would appreciate support instead of condemnation. I ask that you pray for peace and understanding just like we are doing.
  • November 25 2014 at 5:34 pm
    Kevin Olson
    It is appropriate to refer to Michael Brown as a teenager. It is a fact that teenage brains are still developing and lack the risk averse nature of the adult brain. Yes, Michael brown's behavior does not seem logical to me, but then again neither do many of my teenage behaviors.
  • November 25 2014 at 8:03 pm
    Professor Nave, I am a 2004 Political Science and Sociology Luther graduate (proudly then and now!) I greatly appreciate the questions you pose about police training and what constitutes excessive force. As members of a democracy, these are questions we have a responsibility to ask in order to hold those in power accountable. I agree also that it's a great injustice that the facts could not have been explored to the fullest through an indictment and subsequent trial. This case is so complex, but I don't understand how even with the contradictory witness testimonies, a formal trial will not ensue. The first commenter asked, "why attack an armed cop in the first place?" I have been pondering this myself all day. I read Officer Wilson's entire testimony first given in August. It feels as if something is missing. What happened between the time of him telling the two young men to walk on the sidewalk and Michael Brown having an altercation with him in his car? Office Wilson said that one of the men responded with "F*** what you have to say" when he told them to walk on the sidewalk. What did Officer Wilson say in return? Why was Michael Brown motivated to attack him in his car? Was a racist comment said? Obviously these are hypothetical questions, but questions which will sadly not be explored in a court of law. Here are a few more I have... I'm not a police officer, but why was it never an option for Officer Wilson to hit the gas and use the power of his vehicle to drive away from the altercation and get Michael Brown out of his car window that way? How was Officer Wilson able to draw his gun amidst such a scuffle in the car but he wasn't able to use a basic self-defense strategy like jabbing Michael Brown in the eyes to divert him? In the absence of a just trial, I hope that some positive change can come of this. One hope I have is that police training includes more anti-bias education, teaching concepts like white privilege and the historical legacy of institutional racism so that officers have more empathy for and knowledge about marginalized groups. If this were to occur, perhaps there would be fewer cases of disrespect and defiance towards police officers in communities such as Ferguson because the citizenry would feel more understood. Thanks again for your words here, as well as your service at Luther! I look forward to reading more of what you have to say.
  • November 25 2014 at 8:52 pm
    A current Luther College parent

    First, to "Marnie" above.  You say that you read Officer Wilson's "entire testimony first given in August".  That is very interesting as his "entire testimony" was sealed until the past 24 hours when the Grand Jury decision was revealed.  So, I suppose it is possible that you were on the Grand Jury.  But, if not, please refrain from such ridiculous prevarications -- especially as it taints Luther College political science major graduates as either dishonest or just plain stupid (possibly true).

    As for Professor Nave, your discussion of "excessive force" has a taint of ex post facto analysis.  The situation itself, occurring in a matter of seconds, hardly warrants the calm retrospectoscopic analysis you give it.  The overwhelming majority of police experts have said that under the circumstances Wilson's response was not excessive.  And as long as you have played the "I was in the Army" card, my son has far more experience at much higher levels of military expertise (and currently continues to operate at the highest level beyond the average Ranger) and indicates that he could understand why that officer responded in that fashion given the circumstances outlined by the evidence.  In fact you have even questioned as to whether or not "all the evidence" was reviewed.  On what basis?  Do you mean to say that the Grand Jury has either failed to gather all the evidence or has ignored existing evidence?  Why would you make such a claim?  It would seem that your view is being poisoned by some inner enmity that you are hiding for there is zero evidence anywhere that "all the evidence" has not been considered. 

    Then you go further over the edge -- possibly for the same hidden reasons -- and state "McCulloch's comment clearly reflects that he is far more concerned with what he considers to be "justice" for officer Wilson, than he is with justice for Michael Brown and the Brown family."  On what basis do you make that ridiculous claim? 

    You state, "It was obvious at the outset that the prosecutor was setting the stage for the grand jury's verdict by discrediting any and all witness accounts that suggested Michael Brown was surrendering or had his hands up before being shot several times by officer Wilson."  Based on what exactly?  Obvious to whom?  You have a great responsibility as a tenured professor to be clear, concise, and fair in your teaching and opinions.  This is most definitely prejudicial and smacks of personal views in addition to being embarrassingly amateurish for a gentleman of your stature.  Your commentary contributes very little to the discussion outside of being clearly inflammatory, largely inaccurate, and basically disappointing.







  • November 25 2014 at 9:07 pm
    Professor Nave, I appreciate your need to bring a religious and biblical perspective to these current events. However, it cannot be understated that your expertise is in biblical and religious matters, not law and certainly not police tactics. I believe that you have over-stepped your boundaries here. I am a police officer and have been for a number of years, so allow me to speak on what is my expertise. Police are trained: That is a true statement, but their training centers around many skills such as interviewing suspects, investigating crimes, collecting evidence, solving problems, etc. Police officers do receive training with firearms and defensive and arrest tactics as well, but most police departments value an officer's ability to physically fight and to shoot far below almost any other trait. As a person who has participated in my department's hiring process and conducted background investigations on potential recruits for years, I can assure you that this is true. From what we see in Hollywood one might think that every officer is a martial arts expert and and a sharpshooter, but that couldn't be more false. This ridiculous expectation just sets officers up to be viewed as excessive when they resort to a baton or a gun instead of imitating Bruce Lee. I work with a lot of talented officers who have a wide variety of skills that are an asset to the department and the community. If I were pitted against many of these officers, however, if they were in full duty uniform and I were "unarmed", I believe I would be able to easily disarm and kill many of them with my bare hands. I am not an expert at fighting (and I am nowhere near as big as the "teenager" from Ferguson), but if I were properly motivated (or on drugs), I guarantee you it would take multiple gunshots to put me down. Again, most officers weren't hired as muscle for the department, they were hired for their other skills, and I wouldn't have it any other way. The majority of officers nationwide never shoot their gun on duty in their whole career, after all, and many never get in a knock-down-drag-out fight, so why not focus on the skills that they actually use on a daily basis? When a shooting is deemed "justified", it is thought to be acceptable based on the circumstances and what the established legal standards are. Police shootings are assessed in terms of the tactics and legality. In terms of being morally justified, I am sure that to many people there is no such thing as a justified shooting. The moral justification of taking a life, however, is outside of my area of expertise, but perhaps it is more in line with yours.
  • November 25 2014 at 9:34 pm
    Flame Wars
    10 Thoughts: 1. Racial inequality exists 2. Any killing of an unarmed person by an armed person will draw excessive force claims and likely result in long drawn out civil suits. 3. Please use your critical thinking skills and debate the issue with someone holding a differing opinion on this case in real life. Email and Facebook discussions are far too onesided and make articulate people seem petty using personal attacks and personal experiences to sway opinion. 4. Pray for peace. Peace to live without fear. Peace between people of all races. Peace for communication to occur not polarization. 5. Teach your kids right from wrong. Morality is colorblind. 6. The police are not the military and shouldn't be armed as such. A six shot revolver will stop most anyone. 7. We have swat teams for a reason. Riots may be the voice of the unheard but realize that protests should be peaceful or people will be hurt. 8. Class warfare is a real issue and needs to be addressed. Poverty and lack of opportunity breeds violence. 9. If you graduated from Luther you are privileged - work to build bridges not tents. See #9. 10. Go Norse - thank you for the lesson that learning never stops.
  • November 26 2014 at 2:24 am
    @Christopher You ended your statement with: "The moral justification of taking a life, however, is outside of my area of expertise, but perhaps it is more in line with yours." I could have sworn you started said statement by claiming to be a police officer. Or do you mean to say that the moral justification of taking a life is sort of a let-God-sort-'em-out kind of thing? Not exactly something we should leave to "professionals" and/or "peace officers"?
  • November 26 2014 at 5:38 am
    Luther grad
    @Christopher...your response is nothing short of brilliant and you deserve respect. I can't imagine what it's like to be a police officer and be willing to do what you do. Police officers are not only willing to put themselves in danger, but now they must deal with people like Mr. Nave and Seth. I'm sorry that this is what things have come to. Thank you for attempting to shed light on your job, even though a lot of people simply will not listen.
  • November 26 2014 at 8:31 am
    @ "A Current Luther College Parent": I just wanted to say that I read Officer Wilson's entire testimony yesterday (that he had first given in August). Maybe the way I phrased it sounded like I was saying I read it in August, but obviously that wouldn't be possible. Rather than attacking someone and calling them dishonest and stupid, it would have been much more respectful had you asked for clarification instead of making an angry, insulting assumption. This forum is not for name calling, but rather for dialogue. We have to be able to share differing opinions in this world without such anger and disrespect.
  • November 26 2014 at 8:40 am
    Paul Scholtz, Class of 2010
    Thank you for your thoughtful post, Professor Nave! You are an invaluable asset to our Luther community. You're also brave to allow anonymous comments! Paul
  • November 26 2014 at 4:10 pm

    @Seth You asked for clarification about my statement that I believed Professor Nave was more qualified than I am as an expert in the morality of taking a life.  I absolutely do not subscribe to the “let-God-sort-‘em out” philosophy of taking lives, I would like to make that clear. 

    Although I am not an expert at interpreting the Bible and I cannot speak on behalf of Christianity as perhaps Professor Nave could, I have my own personal beliefs on the morality of killing that are based on a combination of what I was taught by my religious leaders growing up, my interpretation of the Bible, and my own life experience.  I am against the death penalty, because I think if we can lock up a dangerous person and keep them from victimizing others ever again, we don’t need to end that person’s life.  I do think, however, that a killing may be justified if it is responding to an imminent threat on another life.  If I am ever put in the tragic situation of having to take a life as a police officer, I believe that God will forgive me for taking that life and understand that I tried to make the best decision I could while fulfilling my duties as a police officer and doing my best to keep my community safe. 

                What I meant in my earlier statement (The moral justification of taking a life, however, is outside of my area of expertise, but perhaps it is more in line with [Professor Nave’s]”) was that I was conceding that Professor Nave is arguably an expert on biblical morality and the religious perspective on deadly force… so his perspective on the Ferguson incident would be much more valuable and appreciated if it were focused on that area.  In the same way that I think we should be skeptical of the advice on police tactics given by people who have never been shot at, never had to arrest a violent suspect, and never had to walk into the middle of an angry domestic disturbance, I think that we should be cautious of every Joe Citizen (myself included) offering their take on the morality of taking a life.  Different people have different topics that they are qualified to speak on authoritatively.  Professor Nave cannot speak authoritatively on the issue of police tactics, but he can speak on morality and religion.  I cannot speak authoritatively on morality or religion, but I can on police matters and certain things pertaining to the law… that was my point.  In complicated and tragic national incidents like the one in Ferguson, we need to consider the source of our information and be mindful of the areas of which we know nothing about. 

  • November 26 2014 at 5:05 pm
    Brian, Luther Parent
    Michael Brown's death was a tragic event -- for everyone involved. He lost his life, his parents lost their son and the officer will regret the events of that day forever as no police officer relishes having to fire his/her gun toward another person. Making matters worse are people with absolutely no personal knowledge of the event offering commentary and opinion as if it is fact based. Professor Nave, you ask how or why Office Wilson was justified in firing several shots at an unarmed teenager? There are many questions that ought to be asked and hopefully the evidence will provide answers, but we all need to understand that the answers may not exist. However, to call anyone fighting or wrestling with an armed police officer 'unarmed' is a characterization based upon a false premise. If one is fighting or wrestling with an armed police officer both people must be considered armed in the moment as both have the ability to possess the officer's weapon. You also characterize Officer Wilson's use of force as excessive in spite of the fact that you are in no position to know whether that is an accurate description. There are circumstances in which even the use of deadly force is justified, so one cannot simply equate use of deadly force with excessive use of force. For example, check out the YouTube video "Centennial Bridge Shooting". The man in the video that the officer is attempting to engage had just assaulted a volunteer at a soup kitchen, knocking the volunteer unconscious with one punch. During the engagement he ignored the officer's commands and attacked the officer. What you cannot see in the video is his initial attack put him on top of the officer on the bridge deck where he is pounding the officer's head on the cement and struggling to gain control of the officer's pistol. Nearing the point of losing consciousness the officer discharges his weapon. When the suspect re-enters the camera's field he has been shot twice and succumbed to his injuries. Following your line of argument the suspect could be characterized as 'unarmed' since he did not bring a gun into the incident. Because he had the opportunity and was attempting to gain control of the officer's weapon by fighting or wrestling with the officer, he is considered to be armed for use of force analysis. I know of another officer who was knocked unconscious by a suicidal individual. After knocking the officer out the individual took the officer's gun and killed himself. It goes without saying that he could have easily killed the officer if he had wanted to. You write, "McCulloch's comment clearly reflects that he is far more concerned with what he considers to be 'justice' for officer [sic] Wilson, than he is with justice for Michael Brown and the Brown family". The use of terms such as "clearly" and "far" seems to reveal a personal bias since you have no personal knowledge of the facts so as to be in a position to know, comment on or compare McCulloch's concern for justice for Officer Wilson vis-a-vis justice for the Brown family (unless you have a special ability by which you can read McCulloch's thoughts). So too, your concluding paragraph. You state that you in no way support the rioting, but immediately follow that up with a MLK Jr. quote that appears to provide a rationalization or justification for rioting and then state that many in Ferguson "clearly (there's that word again) have been unheard". Upon what personal knowledge do you base the comment that they have clearly been unheard? Is it possible that much of the anger stems from the fact that people did not hear what they wanted to hear (which is altogether different from being unheard)? Seems I recall a similar stories in the Bible. Mark Twain said, "It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so. Perhaps, the descriptions and characterizations you included in your commentary "just ain't so?" Recent reports of a police-related shooting in Milwaukee included statistics that 80% of all homicide victims in Milwaukee are black. The same percentage applied to victims of assault, 80% of the people who survived gunshot wounds in Milwaukee were black as well. Milwaukee's population is 65% white and 27% black. Almost all of this violence is black on black. As a society we tend to examine police-related shootings to the gnat's eyelash, yet we casually turn our backs on the vastly greater problem. Allen West observed, "Ferguson must awaken in all of us the notion that individuals are responsible for their actions -- and there are consequences. . .Where are we going in America when there is no compunction to tell the truth when it comes to the life of another human being? We must understand the closed grand jury hearing was necessary in order for the truth to surface and those who could speak it could do so without fear of retribution . . .We have a problem in America with media sensationalism and the truth. We have a problem with the respect of the rule of law. We have a problem with victimization and the politics of race and the advancement of a 'by any means necessary' skewed vision of justice." West concluded, "Would [America] feel better if [it] had buried Wilson? Would there have been incessant media coverage and protests (for black youth kills white police officer)? Sadly, we all know the answer to that question. Our law enforcement officers die and no one really cares, save for the families who go missing a loved one -- as seen in the murder of Captain Kevin Quick in Virginia." There is a lot about what happened on August 9th in Ferguson, Missouri between Michael Brown and Officer Wilson that I do not know. That is why it is disappointing to hear so many others, who know just as much (or as little) as I do, sounding off about that day and its events as if they are omniscient. In my opinion all that does is increase the discord and widen the divide; it does nothing to resolve the underlying causes. We should ask the questions, but we should be very careful in attachment of adjectives or characterizations in their phrasing.
  • November 26 2014 at 5:35 pm

    @Flame Wars I like most of what you wrote.  In your post you stated “The police are not the military and shouldn't be armed as such. A six shot revolver will stop most anyone.”  I would like to respectfully object to that statement.  I believe I see where you are coming from, but it is possible that you have a limited understanding in some areas that may have led you to an over-simplified conclusion. 

    First of all, a six shot revolver may be able to “stop most anyone”, if all six rounds hit that person in areas of vital organs or the central nervous system.  The reality is, however, that due to the fact that police shootings tend to be in volatile and dynamic situations involving suspects who are fighting or moving, the likelihood of all six rounds hitting the suspect at all, let alone in vital organs, is almost zero.  The national average for the “hit ratio” in officer-involved shootings over the last 20 years is somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 percent.  That figure is referring to any kind of hit, a grazing, a flesh wound, or a lethal hit to a vital organ.  When an officer is involved in a life-or-death fight or a shooting, fine motor skills (such as manipulation of a firearm) diminish sharply.  That is a fact.  So based on information from thousands of police shootings, your six shot revolver may at best reliably give you two “hits”, and even then, there is no guarantee that they will be to vital organs likely to stop the threat.  Beyond that, what is the officer supposed to do if he is confronted by more than one suspect?  Those six rounds are not going to get an officer very far.  Unlike what we see in Hollywood, people routinely get shot multiple times without instantly dying and dropping to the ground.  I can personally attest to that fact.  It is still very possible to fight run, and shoot back after being shot multiple times. 

    Having had experience dealing with armed criminals, I can tell you that the last two I arrested (who were suspects in an armed robbery where a man was shot) each had a loaded semi-automatic pistol, with a lot more than “6 rounds”.  Until we are able to successfully remove such weapons from the hands of street criminals, I would appreciate it if I were continued to be allowed to carry my modern-day service pistol.  Whatever anyone’s stance is on gun control, as long as John Q Public is out carrying one, the police should have access to one as well.  I would love to live in a world where there were no guns whatsoever, but I don’t see that in our future. 

    The scenarios that SWAT teams are best equipped to handle are: armed and barricaded suspects, hostage situations, high-risk warrants.  These situations are often longer drawn out events where the SWAT team’s half an hour arrival delay is acceptable.  Active shooter situations (Columbine, Aurora CO, ect), along with responses to armed robberies, home invasions, and other such incidents happen way too fast for a SWAT team to get there, so patrol officers need to be equipped to respond.  The call comes out on the radio that an armed home invasion is taking place, and you have a couple minutes at the most before those suspects are out of the area, so whatever patrol cars are nearby are all you have. 

  • November 26 2014 at 9:05 pm
    Mr. Nave, I would encourage you to ask students at the Luther campus if any of them plan on careers in law enforcement (quite a few of my fellow Luther grads have chosen that career path). When you do find students who say that is the career they are pursuing, will you be able to look them in the eye and tell them that, should they find themselves in a similar situation, they should die rather than use their weapon?
  • November 27 2014 at 2:49 am
    Evin Lantz '13
    If the information provided to indict Officer Wilson was essentially deemed inconclusive or ambiguous, does that in itself justify the murder? If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, did it make a sound? Do we just shrug our shoulders and say "I don't know, whatever?" It is clear, a better answer is needed. Luther is a safe place for critical thinking, expression, and challenging conversation. At Luther, students learn to think for themselves and these conversations help them develop that ability. I am proud Professor Nave wrote this blog post to share his thoughts and emotions.
  • November 30 2014 at 1:38 pm
    Guy Nave

    Allow me to begin by thanking everyone who took time to respond to this blog post. One of the reasons Luther College started the Ideas and Creations Blog page was to generate a broad range conversation across the ever growing Luther College virtual community.

    After taking a few days to enjoy my Thanksgiving with family and friends, allow me now to reenter the conversation by echoing the comments of Marnie, who with much grace and restraint points out, "This forum is not for name calling, but rather for dialogue. We have to be able to share differing opinions in this world without such anger and disrespect." Marnie's comments reflect what I and many members of the Luther College faculty try to help students at Luther understand. Part of the problem in society today is the lack of "civil" dialogue in the midst of disagreement.

    Rather than try to respond to all of the comments that have been posted, allow me to make two general comments. First, it should be pointed out that my blog never raises the question of race. Several of the responses to my blog respond as though I have made race the issue in this blog. While most of the conversation about Ferguson has been about race, and while there is much I could have said about race had I desired to make race the issue, and much I could have written to challenge virtually every statistic that "Brian, Luther Parent" raises, my objective was not to create a dialogue about race. As the title of my blog suggests, I intentionally shifted the focus from race to one about police use of "excessive force." While many of the cases of involving the use of "excessive force" by police officers involve white police officers and non-white suspects, my blog does not raise the race issue, it simply raises the issue of the use of "excessive force" by police officers.

    There have been a number of conversations recently about the police use of "excessive force."  The following quote is from an ABC News article entitled, "What is Excessive Force?"


    Many police use a “force continuum” to guide their actions, Powers said: first polite requests, then demands, then chemical sprays, then physical force (ranging from grabbing, punching and kicking to the use of batons), then lethal force. Officers should only use the level of force that’s being used (or is threatened to be used) by suspects against the officers, Powers said.

    Heat of the Chase

    All-too-human police officers can lose their heads in the heat of a chase, Collins says. Stressed and full of adrenaline, they can get angry, she said.

    "The issue in Philadelphia and in Georgia are similar situations; this whole post-chase adrenaline and anger situation that happens with a lot of police officers ... your heart gets racing, you get scared, it’s very, very tense, and that’s when a lot of abuse happens," she said.

    Powers, who is quoted above, is Chief of Police of Fredericksburg, VA, and head of the International Association of Chiefs of Police "Use of Force Committee."

    While many respondents have criticized my calling into question the level of force used by Officer Williams, Chief of Police Powers clearly states, "Officers should only use the level of force that’s being used (or is threatened to be used) by suspects against the officers."

    The Darren Wilson situation is an example of a "post-chase adrenaline" situation. Many of the responses to my blog describe the situation between Officer Wilson and Michael Brown as though Officer Wilson killed Michael Brown during their "wrestling over Officer Wilson's gun."  As all of the testimony (including Officer Wilson's) makes clear, the scuffle between Wilson and Brown had ended and Officer Wilson was chasing Michael Brown, who after quite a distance turned and faced Officer Wilson and began running toward Officer Wilson. According to MANY police officers and officer training manuals (yes, I have read several), an unarmed suspect running toward an officer does not merit the use of "deadly force" (especially ten bullets--six landing and two landing to the head).

    My blog post simply raises a question regarding the "appropriate use of force," which according to Chief of Police Powers' definition of the "force continuum", Officer Wilson clearly exceeded.

    Lastly, regarding my statement that, "McCulloch's comment clearly reflects that he is far more concerned with what he considers to be "justice" for officer Wilson, than he is with justice for Michael Brown and the Brown family," McCulloch repeatedly made reference to officer Wilson's testimony, testimony that is rarely (if ever) submitted to a grand jury.

    Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who is one of the most conservative Justices on the bench, points to several problems with the Ferguson grand jury situation. As Scalia points out, the decision not to indict Officer Wilson, was "the result of a process that turned the purpose of a grand jury on its head." As Scalia goes on to say, "neither in this country nor in England has the suspect under investigation by the grand jury ever been thought to have a right to testify or to have exculpatory evidence presented." 

    As Judge Atonin Scalia and the following article point out,


    the choices McCulloch made with regard to his handling of the grand jury were made to reduce the chances that the grand jury would indict Darren Wilson.

    Once, again, I thank those who took the time to respond to my blog post, and I welcome and encourage civil dialogue that does not resort to name calling, slander, and uniformed character insults. While I accept there are those who may disagree with my post, supporting that disagreement with uninformed personal attacks and criticism against me in no way strengthens your argument. I may not be a police officer or an attorney, but I do try to ensure my comments are based on credible information and research. There are many (credible critics-including police officers) who rightfully question the level of force used in the Officer Wilson/Michael Brown situation, and there are many credible critics (including a Supreme Court Justice) who question both the Ferguson grand jury verdict and Attorney McCulloch's handling of the grand jury process.

    That being the case, I see nothing wrong with the question that I have posed regarding Ferguson being a case of an inappropriate use of "excessive force."  

  • November 30 2014 at 1:40 pm
    Danielle (Nelson) Werbick '96
    Thank you Professor for leading such a thought provoking discussion on an extremely volatile issue. One thing I cherished about my time at Luther was the ability of nearly all my professors to instill critical thinking and face the tough questions head on. I'm so glad to know that is still happening at a high level!
  • November 30 2014 at 2:10 pm
    Guy Nave

    Thank you, Danielle. It's important to grapple with the "tough questions," and to do so with an attitude of respect and civility. I'm glad to hear you "cherished" the experience of engaging in critical thinking while at Luther, and I wish you the best as you continue the act of critical thinking and engagement in the rest of your life.

  • November 30 2014 at 3:37 pm
    Gereon Kopf
    I would like to thank my colleague, Dr. Guy Nave, for using his blog to start a discussion on a topic that is not only controversial but also divides the country. The explosiveness of this topic makes a civil discussion all the more important. Dr. Nave's attempt to start a discussion on what the phrase "excessive force" means and what the criteria of "justifiable force" are seems timely and important. Having civil discussions on topics of importance to our time is the purpose of this blog page. Ad hominem arguments (better known as "name calling") are not. It saddens me that too often (also in this thread), we seem to resort to this kind of discourse. Why do we feel the need to demonize those who disagree with us and those we deem different? Why is there the need to figure out if the author of a blog or a response to it is on "my side" or on the other? The Liberal Arts, Luther College stands for, are committed to civil discussion and listening to a diversity of perspectives. Dr. Nave’s blog reflects this commitment.
  • November 30 2014 at 5:49 pm
    Ross (flame wars)
    Thank you to Prof. Nave and Luther for an open forum on such a polarizing case. Let's all meet again after the civil suits are settled and discuss excessive force. 10 shots, 2 head shots - size difference and all factors aside it was excessive. The assailant was unarmed and high capicity firearms make it all to easy to empty a clip in a stress setting. We all would fight to protect our lives but Michael Brown could have had injuries to disable him but not be life ending. Officer Williams and his department will now be subject to a long fight of life sucking law suits. No one wins. Life is lost and the militarization of the police will certainly come into question. Distrust grows and class warfare becomes reality. (Now off to buy stock in Taser to be able to send my kids to Luther)
  • November 30 2014 at 10:29 pm
    Sharei Green- Class of 2011
    I whole-heartedly appreciate that professor Nave took the time to post this. I'm not sure I can properly verbalize some of the feelings provoked by reading some of the comments to this post. I feel that it is easy to speak on a situation that one has never personally experienced. I am very proud of my Luther education but I can honestly say that I didn't know what true racism and discrimination was until I lived in Iowa for 4 years. That being said, everyone is entitled to the way they feel but I urge people to have more compassion in this situation.
  • December 1 2014 at 10:27 pm
    Peter Hoesing
    Many thanks to Dr. Nave for re-centering this discourse on a central issue that potentially affects all Americans. Statistically, the excessive use of police force clearly affects some populations disproportionately, but I appreciate that Dr. Nave took the high road on that one by generalizing this to a human question. Those questions that affect us all are, after all, the purpose of humanistic discourse in the liberal arts. I find it fascinating that Dr. Nave, Dr. Kopf, and Marnie all issued the same corrective to those who would resort to uncivil tactics in a forum intended for civil discussion. In gently persuading opponents to return to acceptable terms, the discourse itself proves the need for the question regarding excessive force. As a Luther graduate ('03, Music and Africana Studies) and a current professor at a small, Christian, mostly undergraduate institution, Dr. Nave's influence continues to inspire my best efforts at cultivating critical thought on this and other important issues. Thank you, dear teacher, for educing from us those noble potentials to love learning and to learn to love our brothers and sisters.
  • December 1 2014 at 11:15 pm
    Guy Nave

    Thank you, Peter. I am encouraged that you have chosen to use you gifts in the service of cultivating critical thought. I wish you all the best in your endeavors as an educator. May you always remain true to the calling of inspiring and encouraging the best out of your students!

  • December 1 2014 at 11:37 pm
    At Chris all police officers are not truthful? My nephew was killed by a police officer a Couple of years ago! In Iowa so let's keep it 100! You're defending on your on beliefs but let's keep it real at the end of the day is it because you love your job or just Doing your job?
  • December 2 2014 at 2:52 pm
    Josh Carroll '98
    Thank you professor Nave for this dialog. I too fall into the camp who greatly appreciated this type of discussion while attending Luther. It was through those experiences that I came to understand the value of allowing yourself to open up to other perspectives and constantly question the things that we hold as "truth" so firmly and immutably. On this topic, having participated in self defense education for most of my life, I can really appreciate Christopher's perspective here. I have worked with several Law Enforcement personnel both here and outside the state. One of the organizations I was a part of regularly works with LEP specifically on sharpening their hand to hand combat skills as well as weapons training--with a particular focus on training with the use of a sidearm under duress--precisely because of the issues both Christopher and Professor Nave spoke about earlier. (Please understand that I personally did not lead or assist in those portions of the training as I am not an expert in firearms, but I am aware of the training that occurs and the specific topics/issues involved.) I can say through personal experience, having been attacked by armed and unarmed individuals, and through working with other people who have experienced similar attacks, that there are a wide range of responses to these events. Additionally, not everyone responds the same way in different situations. There are a large number of factors that go into a person's disposition in that type of stressful situation. The only thing that seems to level the field is consistent practice to help shape and structure individual responses to these types of events. I agree that it is often assumed that law enforcement personnel are experts in the areas of self defense and firearms. As Christopher stated, this is very often not the case. They have some training, but not everyone becomes a "specialist". Those skills need to continue to be developed throughout their career. This is where I think the topic of excessive force is especially important to discuss. We need to look at how people are trained, and how to gage their responses. I can respect that police officers put themselves "in harms way" and as a result must have a degree of latitude in the judgement leveled at their responses to these types of events. In the case of Darren Wilson however, I believe his response to Michael Brown exceeded what I personally would consider the limits of that flexibility. Much of that perspective comes from the very varied reports surrounding the confrontation and the apparent lapses in procedure that surrounded the event. A journalism student from Kansas University did a very thorough job of collecting these inaccuracies along with their sources. I encourage you all to take a look at the list. I haven't seen anything so far to discredit this list of issues. If you do, please let me know, but I think it lends a lot of weight to the argument that there should have at least been a trial. http://kansasexposed.org/2014/11/29/ku-journalism-major-shreds-case-against-mike-brown/
  • December 2 2014 at 2:56 pm
    Josh Carroll '98
    * I apologize for the poorly formatted body of text. I apparently need to use a different Web browser for formatting.
  • December 2 2014 at 4:12 pm
    Guy Nave

    Thanks, Marg. I remember the killing of your nephew. Sorry these events (comments) cause you to relive that loss.

  • December 2 2014 at 4:22 pm
    Guy Nave

    Thanks, Josh, for the insightful response and the Kansas University link. After reading the piece, I've chosen to post it on my Facebook page.


  • December 4 2014 at 4:57 am
    Fay in Anderson
    Thank you Dr. Nave. Officer Wilson & Michael Brown same height people. Yes Mike weighed more. This was excessive force for this situation.
  • December 8 2014 at 11:29 am
    A Real Jew
    John 8:32-36 32 And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. 33 They answered him, We be Abraham's seed, and were never in bondage to any man: how sayest thou, Ye shall be made free? 34 Yeshua answered them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin. 35 And the servant abideth not in the house for ever: but the Son abideth ever. 36 If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed. The story that didn't make cnn, fox, or any major broadcast station... Below is a link to an article of the indictment of officer Dawon Gore, a now EX officer of the Ferguson police department (who is a so called "Black" man) who struck a 24 year old passenger on a light rail with a baton after breaking up a fight, in the act breaking three of the passenger's fingers. Officer Gore was released from the Ferguson Police department, is being charged with a felony second degree assualt (facing up to seven years in prison), and received a mere $25 dollars from the same police fund which Darren Wilson has been greatly paid from. I think the evidence speaks for itself of the hypocrisy taking place in Ferguson and throughout the entire nation in the treatment of "Black" people. http://newpittsburghcourieronline.com/2014/11/26/black-st-louis-police-officer-charged-after-striking-metrolink-passenger-on-the-hand/
  • December 9 2014 at 5:03 pm
    Current Student of Prof. Nave
    As a current Luther student who has the wonderful opportunity to be educated by Professor Nave, I am deeply saddened to read all of this extremely over-opinionated posts. Prof. Nave is trying to teach all of us to remain civil in times like these. All he wants is change, as do all of you, I'm hopeful. Yes, we all share vastly diverse backgrounds, but let's set those aside for a moment and think about the current situation. An unarmed man was shot and killed by a police officer. Why did this happen? Michael Brown was not fighting him or trying to end his life. Shooting a man SIX times (twice in the head)….think about this. How is that not excessive? All of you have opinions on this current devastation, myself included. Some of these comments are so outrageously uneducated and are greatly disrespectful. As Luther parents, former Luther students, and current Luther Students, shouldn't you use your education in a positive way instead of criticizing a man for his beliefs? You all should know better than this and know to look for the real facts instead of being influenced by your biased news sources. With all of your "highly educated" backgrounds, you should know better than to state information that isn't true and criticize Prof. Nave. Have respect for someone else's thoughts, like Prof. Nave has done for yours. You all would never have the audacity to tell another person these things to their face.
  • November 23 2016 at 11:53 pm
    Very nice article. I read your article and comments as well. Everyone has their own views. But i will say everyone has their personal life and they all have rights to do the things. The training provided by officers is really hard. Interesting article.

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