Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Troubling Presence of Either/Or Propositions in Ferguson

I have not followed the news in Ferguson closely. If there are any factual errors or misleading statements in this post, please feel free to point it out and I shall look into it and correct it accordingly.

In this post, I want to address a very specific pattern I’ve seen in the discourse.

The loudest voices concerning what should be done about Darrell Wilson seems to lie in two main camps:
  • He should be indicted and put behind bars for the rest of his life. I actually completely agree with this. However, given unfortunate political realities, I find it unlikely that that will happen, and if protesters will continue until such demands are met, then they will be stuck protesting for a while.
  • The grand jury decision was fair and he should walk away completely scot free. What a ridiculous and indefensible position to take. To rationalize this senseless view, these people often paint Michael Brown as aggressive and at fault, with very obvious racist undertones (i.e. look at that intimidating and strong black guy).
I want to establish this: I think the Brown family deserves justice and, consequently, Darrell Wilson should be punished. I understand that he is symptomatic of a larger system of institutionalized racism and indefensible police brutality, but that doesn’t stop the fact that he clearly did it.

Even if he had every reason to discharge his weapon in self-defense, the benefit of the doubt died with Michael Brown after the first “warning” shot on his hand. Assuming the worst, that Michael Brown had an intent to do harm, he could have simply driven away and gotten backup.

However, I think there are plenty of perfectly acceptable intermediate outcomes that can be realistically reached. From least to most severe:
  • One heck of a hefty fine. While I personally believe this to be a slap in the wrist, the least that can be done is that Darrell Wilson be responsible for the funeral costs of Michael Brown and that he shoulder substantial compensation for the Brown family’s tragic loss.
  • Permanent and explicit disbarment from serving as a police officer and from owning or operating a firearm. To be fair, Darrell Wilson has already been suspended from the police force, and it is unlikely he will ever return. However, I think it should be made unambiguously clear that he be unable to be nowhere near firearms, which is designed to explicitly kill someone, let alone continue being an officer. 
  • House arrest. This could range from several years to the rest of his life. He would be able to live a comfortable life (I know, highly unjust), but he will be permanently barred from a wide array of freedoms.
  • A 5+ year prison term. Yes, murder does not deserve only 5 years. But prison sucks, and, to quote from The Dark Knight, “How long do you calculate [he] lives?”
Yes, compromise sucks. It is frustrating. It doesn't feel right. It is probably unjust.

But dismissing compromise as an option makes it likelier that Darrell Wilson go completely unpunished.

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