Editor's note to readers: Before you read Dr. Nave's response blog, we just want to reiterate that Luther College encourages conversation and discussion of important issues and ideas. As such, we welcome comments on our blogs from readers. In order to make this a useful and productive conversation, we ask that all comments adhere to the Blog Commenting Policy.
As many of you know, I wrote a blog the evening Robert P. McCulloch, prosecuting attorney for St. Louis County, announced the grand jury's verdict of no indictment against officer Wilson for the fatal shooting of Michael Brown. In that blog, "Ferguson: A question of excessive force," I raised the question of whether the firing of 10 shots by officer Wilson at an unarmed Michael Brown constituted "excessive force."
The post sparked a fury of responses on both the Luther College blog page and the Luther College Facebook page. While I welcome and always seek to promote civil dialogue and conversation about tough issues, I was surprised and disappointed by the degree of incivility displayed on both the Luther College blog page and the Luther College Facebook page.
In an attempt to participate in the conversation, I echoed the comments of a Luther alum, who, after being criticized and called "stupid" by a parent of a Luther alum, wrote, "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." While I have witnessed inappropriate comments on many public webpages, I expected a higher degree of civility, curiosity and even humility on Luther College webpages.
Many of the comments to my blog responded as though I had made race the focus of my blog. While much of the conversation regarding Ferguson has been about race, and while there is much I could have said about race had I desired to make race the issue, my objective was not to initiate 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."
There have been a number of conversations recently about police use of "excessive force." The following quote is from an ABC News article titled, "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, Virginia, and head of the International Association of Chiefs of Police "Use of Force Committee."
While many respondents 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 described 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.
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.
While I limited my comments to Officer Wilson's use of force, many people (some police officers and others connected to police officers) criticized my blog and insinuated that I was making a blanket accusation against all police officers. While I never suggested Officer Wilson's conduct reflected the behavior of most police officers, an article published by "The American Conservative" titled, "Seven Reasons Police Brutality is Systemic, Not Anecdotal," presents data demonstrating how police brutality is not simply a case of a "few bad apples." According to the article, "A Department of Justice study revealed that a whopping 84 percent of police officers report that they've seen colleagues use excessive force on civilians, and 61 percent admit they don't always report "even serious criminal violations that involve abuse of authority by fellow officers." If this is the case, it seems to me it's time we as a society begin addressing this issue.
Lastly, regarding my statement in my original blog post 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 Scalia points out, the choices Attorney 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.
It should be pointed out that the purpose of the grand jury is not to determine guilt or innocence, but to decide whether there is "probable cause" to prosecute someone for a felony crime. Despite the confidence with which Attorney McCulloch announced the grand jury’s verdict, recent public revelations would seem to suggest there was (and remains) enough ambiguity and probable cause to warrant an actual trial.
While I accept there are those who may disagree with my views, supporting that disagreement with uninformed personal attacks and criticism against me in no way strengthens one's 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.
As before, I welcome conversation about the issues raised here. I would trust respondents to a blog posted on a Luther College webpage would be able to respond with civility (even when presenting informed disagreement). If we as members of the extended Luther College community are unable to model civility and respect, what is our hope for a world where civility and respect are practiced?
I strongly believe that the end will always reflect the means. If we want "civil" ends, we must approach it through a "civil" means.
Let the conversation begin.
Soli Deo Gloria!