A Dose of Reality for Ferguson, Missouri
Unlike much of America, I’ve stayed quiet about the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. As a cop, I know initial media reports about any incident are usually wrong. I also know that many media outlets and internet commentators deliberately twist facts to inflame emotion. They’ll throw out empty, meaningless phrases like “he was shot in broad daylight, in his own hometown” even though that has literally nothing to do with the legality or illegality of the shooting.
And it goes without saying that in any incident involving a police officer, many people with absolutely no understanding of police work or lethal violence suddenly think they’re experts. After Brown’s death I expected a loud chorus of hysterical cries from people who had no idea what the hell they were talking about. I haven’t been disappointed.
“But he was unarmed!”
I’ve lost count of the times I’ve heard the term “unarmed teenager”. Yes, Brown was an unarmed 18 year old. He was also 6’4″ and 292 pounds. Anyone who thinks an unarmed, 6’4″, 292 pound man can’t be a threat has never been punched in the face. Unarmed people can be extremely dangerous.
In 2012 an unarmed 17 year old beat an El Paso police officer to death. The officer was 29 years old, a former Marine and veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan.
An off-duty police officer in New York City was beaten almost to death by an unarmed man last November.
In July, an unarmed 21 year old “felt like killing someone” and beat a 56 year old random victim to death at a train station in San Antonio.
In 2012, an unarmed 24 year old man beat a man to death for raping his daughter.
Those chanting “but he was unarmed” are pathetically ignorant of the reality of violence. Unarmed people hurt or kill others on a regular basis. No, that doesn’t mean every unarmed person needs to be shot; it does, however, mean an aggressive, unarmed person can be a threat to your life. The bigger and stronger that person is, the bigger the threat.
“All Michael Brown did was shoplift cigars.”
No, he didn’t “shoplift” anything. He committed a robbery. Shoplifting is a nonviolent crime, usually committed by people desperate to avoid confrontation. Robbery is violent. When someone uses or threatens force to take anything, no matter how unimportant or inexpensive, that’s robbery. If someone grabs you by the collar, reaches into your pocket and takes a single piece of chewing gum, the problem isn’t the lost gum. The problem is that someone used force to take your property.
Many media outlets refer to Brown’s crime as theft or shoplifting. That’s probably a deliberate lie, chosen specifically to downplay the crime Brown committed. The Daily Kos, which can always be trusted to produce inflammatory stupidity, said “Brown shoplifted some cigars on the day he was killed”, which does not in any way describe what happened (the same article also claimed “Michael Brown was gunned down by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, apparently for the crime of jaywalking”).
Cracked magazine, which usually does a good job of cutting through nonsense, mentioned “robbery” but then decided to go full propaganda: “…the officer (who was aware of the previous robbery) saw Brown walking with the same cigars that had been stolen and suspected that he was the shoplifter.”
No, Cracked. He wasn’t a “shoplifter”. He was a robber. There’s a huge difference between someone who sticks cigars in his pocket and walks out of a store, versus a guy who grabs cigars, pushes a store owner around and threatens him, and then walks out. The first act is simple nonviolent theft, the second is a violent robbery.
Both Kos and Cracked assert the robbery didn’t matter, either because the officer didn’t know about it or because stealing $50 worth of cigars doesn’t justify a shooting. I offer a counterpoint: yes, the robbery is hugely important. We’ve heard conflicting reports about whether or not the officer was aware of the robbery, and I can’t say for certain he knew Brown was a robbery suspect. But Michael Brown sure as hell knew he had committed a robbery. He knew he was about to be arrested for something more serious than shoplifting. Does that mean Brown would likely react more aggressively toward the officer than someone who had committed simple theft? Based on my experiences dealing with suspects who just committed felonies, I’d say yes.
“The officer shot him six times!”
Yes, the officer shot Brown six times. That sounds excessive. It’s not. On TV and in movies, people get shot one time, fly through the air in a spray of blood and immediately die. In real life they don’t.
A police officer got into a gunfight with a robbery suspect in 2009. The officer shot the suspect 14 times with a .45 pistol, and 6 of the bullet wounds were nonsurvivable. The suspect still didn’t go down. The officer finally shot the suspect three more times, in the face and top of the head. The head shot finally stopped him, but didn’t kill him; he died later, at the hospital. An autopsy determined he hadn’t been under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Last year I wrote an essay about what bullets really do (and don’t do). I described incidents I worked where people were shot but didn’t react the way most people think they should. These incidents include a robbery victim who was shot three times including once in the forehead and still ran 500 yards to find help, a young female shot through the thigh who showed no reaction at all, and a man with part of his head blown off who was still conscious and alert.
Police officers are trained to shoot until the threat is neutralized. Under stress we’re not counting bullets, we’re shooting until we’ve eliminated the threat. It is not at all uncommon for a person to take multiple bullets before they stop being a threat.
“The officer should have used his baton, Taser or pepper spray instead of his gun.”
Here’s a little-known reality about intermediate weapons: they don’t always work. In 20 years as a cop I’ve used my baton twice. Both suspects wound up in the hospital… eventually. At the time I was hitting them, they weren’t impressed. I’ve also pepper sprayed around 30 suspects. Pepper spray works on everyone… eventually. Some people don’t react to it right away. And even if you get a hit, that hit might not be enough to stop the suspect.
In 1992 a police officer responded to a domestic disturbance and confronted a violent wife abuser. The officer sprayed the suspect. The unarmed suspect beat and disabled the officer, then fractured the officer’s skull with a stick of firewood. The officer died shortly afterward.
Here’s a video of a March 2014 encounter between a police officer and suspect in a Philadelphia train station. The officer pepper sprays the suspect and hits him with a baton, to no effect. During the fight the suspect tries to disarm the officer.
Here’s one of an officer who pepper sprayed a combative suspect. It didn’t work. He then shot the suspect. The suspect disarmed the officer and tried to shoot him, then almost beat him unconscious.
But what about Tasers? Tasers work great, except when they don’t. If there’s not enough spread between the darts, the shock won’t disable the suspect. If one dart misses, no shock. If one dart gets hung up in clothing, no shock. If the Taser itself malfunctions, no shock.
And any intermediate weapon takes time to deploy and properly use. If a large, aggressive suspect charges me, I know I have mere seconds to choose a force option and hope it works. Whatever I choose, I know it’ll likely be the only weapon I can employ before the suspect is on me. Batons, pepper spray and Tasers all have significant failure rates. In some cases, the best option is to go straight for the pistol.
“Witnesses said Brown was giving up when he was shot.”
Witnesses have said a lot of things. Brown’s friend insists he and Brown were innocently minding their own business until an evil racist police officer cursed at them, ordered them out of the street, grabbed 6’4″ Brown around the neck (without even getting out of his patrol vehicle!), shot Brown as he was running away, then shot him again after Brown put his hands up in surrender.
There is no reason to disbelieve this version of events. Except for the fact that Brown’s friend was with him during the robbery, has a warrant for theft and giving a fake name to police, and, being Brown’s friend, is biased in his favor. Oh, and the multiple autopsies that show Brown wasn’t shot in the back.
This might be a shock to some, but sometimes people lie to protect their friends. Every time we cops show up to a bar fight, it’s practically a comedy routine from each “victim” and their friends. “Officer, I was walking by the pool table and that guy bumped into me. I said ‘Excuse me sir, I didn’t mean to bump you and I profusely apologize’, but the guy punched me! For no reason!” I’ve lost count of the hours I’ve wasted taking statements from bar fighters and their friends who insist they’re all sweet innocent angels who were viciously attacked for no reason.
I worked one shooting where the victim’s girlfriend swore – SWORE – that her boyfriend’s ex-wife had driven by and shot him as he and the girlfriend were leaving a restaurant. No other witnesses said anything even remotely like that. No physical evidence corroborated the girlfriend’s story. Eventually investigators figured out the boyfriend was shot by an unrelated woman during a fight between eight drunks in the parking lot. The woman even confessed. But the girlfriend still swore – SWORE – it was the ex-wife. Amazingly enough, witnesses with an axe to grind sometimes lie.
There are witnesses who insist Brown was attacked for no reason whatsoever. But at least two of those “witness” statements don’t match up to the physical evidence.
“Johnson [Brown’s friend] said the officer hit Brown with another round as he was running away and fatally gunned him down after he stopped and raised his hands in surrender.”
“Brady [another alleged witness] said Brown and Johnson then ran away, while Wilson got out of his car and began shooting.”
No, the officer didn’t shoot Brown in the back as he was running away, unless all three forensic pathologists managed to miss the gunshot wound in his back during their autopsies. Call me crazy, but I’m not going to take their “That cop shot Brown for no reason as he was running away” statements as gospel. Another as-yet-unidentified witness made a statement in the background of a video taken right after the shooting. He said a shot was fired in the police car during a struggle, then Brown ran away, then was shot repeatedly after he turned and charged the officer. The witness statement begins around 6:30.
We will likely never know the identity of that witness and I’m sure that statement will never reach any court. But I think it was from an actual unbiased witness, and is probably closer to the truth than any other “witness” statement we’ve heard.
You’ll notice I said “I think” the videotaped witness statement is true, instead of saying “I know”. I’ve formed an opinion but can’t claim I know what actually happened. Officer Darren Wilson may have stopped Brown for walking in the street, then shot him repeatedly for absolutely no reason. Crazier things have happened.
But you know what’s more likely? Wilson simply ordered Brown and his friend to get out of the street, then realized they were robbery suspects and tried to stop them. Instead of complying, Brown shoved Wilson back into his vehicle, punched him (and maybe broke his eye socket), then ran away after Wilson fired a shot. Wilson jumped out and ordered Brown to stop. Brown chose to charge Wilson, who fired until Brown fell dead.
That’s what I think happened. But I don’t know for certain.
Since I don’t know the actual truth I’ll keep this opinion in the land of conjecture, where it belongs. I won’t scream about racism. I won’t demand prosecution as a way to curry favor with a particular demographic. I won’t excuse the thieving, brutal punks who use this alleged injustice as an excuse to be the murderers and looters they already were. I won’t let dumbass fantasies like “unarmed people can’t be a threat”, “he could have just used pepper spray” or “there’s never a reason to shoot someone more than once” influence my opinion. Instead, I’ll stand by and wait for actual evidence.
If that evidence shows Officer Wilson murdered Brown, I’ll fully support his prosecution. But if the evidence shows Wilson acted both legally and morally, I’m 100% on his side. Either way, I won’t let emotions drive my decision. Maybe a few others on TV and online, and a whole bunch of people in Ferguson, should try to keep their emotions in check as well.
Chris Hernandez is a 20 year police officer, former Marine and currently serving National Guard soldier with over 25 years of military service. He is a combat veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan and also served 18 months as a United Nations police officer in Kosovo. He writes for BreachBangClear.com, Iron Mike magazine and has published two military fiction novels, Proof of Our Resolve and Line in the Valley, through Tactical16 Publishing. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on his Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/ProofofOurResolve).
Filed under: Writing | 678 Comments
Tags: ferguson missouri, michael brown, police shootings, veteran authors
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