The violence, media frenzy, statements by public officials, and involvement of federal officials following the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri on August 9, 2014 by Officer Darren Wilson is creating an environment in which Officer Wilson’s right to due process and equal protection under the law may be jeopardized.
The shooting of Michael Brown by Officer Darren Wilson must be thoroughly and fairly investigated. Every American has an interest in ensuring that police use appropriate force when executing their duties. In cases where the use of force is fatal that requirement for scrutiny goes up. When the victim is unarmed the standard is even higher in determining justifiable or unjustifiable homicide.
There is a great deal of pressure on authorities to perform a thorough investigation into the death of Michael Brown. One wonders at what point the desire to stop violence and state and federal official pressure goes beyond the calming of the community and begins to corrupt the investigative and prosecutorial process with undue pressure.
Law enforcement officers face real danger and are asked to execute their duties under the most difficult of circumstances. On average 60 officers annually lose their lives in the line of duty. They are the front line of protection in communities. They deserve and are entitled to fair treatment by their departments and the criminal justice system when an investigation is warranted.
There is also a societal interest in ensuring that law enforcement personnel are supported. A law enforcement community that perceives mob rule and political expediency as the controlling factors in their destiny for performing their duties will not be there when they are needed most by their communities.
Investigators, prosecutors, and the grand jury have one duty at this point. They must determine if there is adequate evidence to establish probable cause that Officer Wilson committed a crime in taking Michael Brown’s life. Riots in the streets, the rants of hot heads, and the comments of officials should have no bearing the actions of authorities involved in assessing evidence for potential criminal case proceedings.
The issue at hand is whether Officer Wilson had an objectively reasonable belief that his life was in danger when he fired at Michael Brown. Some contend that because Brown was unarmed the objective standard cannot be met. However, Brown was a very large and powerful man at 6 foot 5 inches tall and nearly 300 pounds. Video of him conducting a strong-arm-robbery goes to his state of mind that day. Reports that Officer Wilson has a fractured eye socket, if true, will lend further support to a reasonably perceived threat to his life if Mr. Brown charged the officer prior to his fatal shots.
The truth will take time to unveil with some projections that the grand jury may not conclude until October. But foremost in the process should be the rights of both parties – Michael Brown’s right not to have his life taken without just cause, and Officer Brown’s right to due process and equal protection under the law.
President Obama and Attorney General Holder have rightly placed great emphasis on stopping rioters and looters, calming the community by assuring them a fair investigation will be conducted, and ensuring peaceful protest is allowed to proceed. But they should also at least mention that Officer Wilson is entitled to fair treatment and prepare the community for the possibility that he was justified in his actions. Too many who are calling for “justice” are in fact calling for “revenge” regardless of facts and the President and Attorney General need to confront that sentiment.