Facts of Ferguson 5.0

Dorian’s morning starts off like any other; playing video games and hanging out with his friend, Michael Brown. Things get weird when Brown starts acting out of character; robbing a liquor store and assaulting the clerk before strolling down the middle of the street without a care in the world. Soon, Dorian’s legitimate fears become reality: the police show up. 

 

The officer, as described in earlier episodes, uses profane language and demands they walk on the sidewalk. When Dorian tells the officer that they’re “not but one minute from their destination,” the officer takes offense and forcefully opens his door, slamming it into Brown. This angers Brown and the scuffle begins. Despite Dorian admitting that Officer Wilson would have to be “superhuman” to “overpower” Brown, Wilson is able to grab and hold onto Brown with just his left arm. As he tries to “escape”, without ever entering the window of the SUV or hitting the officer, Brown is able to get “the best of the officer” during this struggle. 

 

DORIAN AUDIO CLIP

 

This supposed “tug of war” continues until the officer draws his gun, points it out the window, and shoots Brown in the chest. Dorian takes off running with Brown right behind him. He ducks behind a car as Brown run’s past as says, “Keep running, bro.” From his crouched position, Dorian watches as the officer runs past him in pursuit of Brown. He fires a shot, hitting Brown in the back. Brown puts his hands up in surrender and turns around. “I don’t have a gun!” The officer continues to close the gap. Brown starts to repeat that he is unarmed when the officer, still moving forward, fires at least four shots and kills Brown. 

 

Despite his apparent front row seat to the event, Dorian’s story changes each time he tells it, indicating he is fabricating much of it. While he likely did see what happened initially, after the first shots were fired, he was much more concerned about himself than what was happening between Wilson and Brown. Witness 123 and 133 were in a white Monte Carlo right behind Wilson’s cruiser when it all went down. This excerpt provides some insight into what Dorian (witness 101) was up to as the foot pursuit took place: 

 

Witness 123 ducked after the second shot and, therefore, could not see if Brown was injured. Between four and six seconds later, he looked out the front windshield to see Wilson emerge from the SUV with his gun held low. At about the same time, Witness 101 approached the Monte Carlo’s passenger side door, which Witness 123 had already opened to allow him more room to duck. Witness 101 asked if he could get into their car, but Witness 123 would not permit him to do so, instead instructing him to duck down. Witness 123 then turned his attention to Witness 133, who was shaking. While Witness 123 attempted to calm Witness 133, Witness 101 disappeared and they never saw him again. 

 

Other witnesses indicated Dorian fled the scene prior to the final shots being fired. In fact, he admits he left the scene to change his shirt so he wouldn’t be recognized by the police. By the time he talked to investigators, he had already lied to the Brown family and national news media, further spreading the virus.

 

It is impossible to know exactly why Dorian and the other “inconsistent” witnesses provided testimonies we know aren’t true. Assumptions, empathy, common sense and other stated reasons give us some insight, but they don’t get to the core of why this virus spread like it did. The Department of Justice studied the Ferguson Police Department after this incident. The findings shed more light on why the Ferguson community’s immune system was so susceptible to this virus. 

 

In it’s 105 page report, the Department of Justice explains that the City of Ferguson, from town hall, to the courthouse, to the police department, had created an environment of distrust and resentment between the police and members of the community. They’d been doing the opposite of community policing, using police officers and the courts as a revenue collection system rather than a public service. The report also indicates that black members of the city had been disproportionately affected by this focus on “revenue policing” due, in part, to what the DOJ calls “racial bias.”  

 

This is certainly no excuse for the community’s response to the Michael Brown shooting. Burning down innocent people’s livelihoods and intentionally supporting a false, racially charged narrative was wrong. But if the City of Ferguson’s practices created an environment in which this virus could thrive like it did, finding a cure starts by talking about these very issues. What is the role of the police? How can they protect every citizen equally while maintaining a good relationship with the entire community? How can we all avoid infection the next time an incident like Ferguson sets the world on fire? 

 

The sad irony is, due partly to the atmosphere created by the City of Ferguson, this virus is now an epidemic. I have seen firsthand the degradation of regular, law abiding people’s faith and trust in the police based on an overwhelmingly negative perception created by the media. Hopefully, as more people learn the truth, some of that trust can be restored. But trust is needed on both sides of this discussion; it is a two way street as we all know. Unfortunately, because of the response to Michael Brown’s death, officers around the country don’t trust the system either, which has created the Ferguson Effect. 

 

I never wanted to rise above sergeant within my own police department. As a patrol officer or patrol sergeant, your focus is on the real police work. Go any higher in the ranks and you become more of a politician than a police officer. This isn’t a shot at those in command positions, but rather a commendation for standing in the gap between the public and the officers on the street. You can never make everyone happy. No matter what you do, someone thinks your department and officers are too aggressive or militaristic, while others want you to get tougher on crime. This is nothing new. 

 

When I was still an officer, I never worried very much about having to stand before a grand jury, having to take someone’s life. I trusted my training, my instincts and my principals. If I shot someone, it would be justified. Just like my approach with Police Academy, I trusted that the truth would always be my redemption. I trusted the system would work, that my department and community would defend my actions. Deep down I knew things wouldn’t be so clean and tidy, but at least it helped me sleep at night. 

 

Since Ferguson, every police officer in this country has (or at least should have) considered whether the rightness of his or her actions would be enough at the end of the day. They’ve had to ask themselves, no matter how justified, will I have my job, my home, my freedom when the truth is made clear. Before Ferguson, even a realist like me could at least tell myself I would. Now it is obvious to all of us that the truth just isn’t enough.

 

Darren Wilson’s actions on August 9th, 2014 were as justified as they come. Since that day, every officer in the country has seen what has happened to his life. He’s been accused of being a racist murderer, lost his career, and now lives a secluded life. He is no longer a free man, despite the fact that the grand jury and DOJ vindicated his actions. If it can happen to him, it can happen to anyone in uniform. 

 

There has long been talk about whether officers and departments have changed their ways in the wake of Ferguson. Are police officers backing off, choosing to ignore obvious crimes to avoid the possibility of becoming the next Darren Wilson? Are departments creating policies to reduce risk rather than protect the public? Is the Ferguson Effect real? A recent investigative study conducted by Blake Consulting and Training indicates that it is very real and surprisingly pervasive. 

 

http://www.blake-consulting.com/index.php/blake-blog

 

In this study, which surveyed almost 500 police officers, we see that both officers and departments are shying away from proactive policing. 49% of officers said they’ve cut traffic stops by five to ten a month; 47% said the same for pedestrian checks. Police officers are backing off and this study gives some insight into why.

 

A huge majority of officers, 94%, think the media is "somewhat or completely biased toward a negative representation of law enforcement.” Hmm, I wonder why… But their departments have their backs, right? Depending on which department they work for, I’s say the response is somewhere between I hope so to hell no! 50% felt unsupported by their department’s response to current trends and 74% said new training was no benefit at all. 

 

No department spokesperson will admit to the public that their officers are doing this. As I said before, there are plenty of people who would raise hell if they knew their community’s officers were putting the blinders on and avoiding enforcement action; but they are. NYPD, LAPD, Baltimore, Atlanta, Detroit, you name the city, I can personally guarantee there are hundreds of officers doing this. You don’t have to take it from me. This is an excerpt from an LA police officer who writes under the name Jack Dunphy:

 

“As we drive slowly along 83rd Street, we see gathered near the entrance to an alleyway just east of Avalon a few members of the local street gang, one of whom is perhaps responsible for killing Jermaine Murray.

 

What do we do?  We drive on, for we are not police officers in an ideal world.  We are police officers in Los Angeles in the year 2016, and we know there is little to be gained and much to be lost if we get out of our car and engage these young men.

 

And if one of them runs?  Well then we might have to chase him, and if we catch him we might have to hit him, an incident that will be captured on cell phone video and posted on YouTube and, if the footage is sufficiently inflammatory, broadcast on local television news.  And if one of these young men is armed and we have to shoot him, and if video of the shooting does not clearly demonstrate that we were fired upon first, we will see our chain of command abandon us and pronounce our tactics unsound, this despite the fact that few of our superiors have actually stood in our shoes.  And we might see that video become a national news story, one that will prompt the police commissioners, the mayor, the governor, and even the president of the United States himself to offer their unschooled opinions on the deficiencies of our actions.

 

So, as we are not fools, we drive on.  And if one of those young men should later fall at the hand of a gang rival, or if one of them should venture over to Main Street and shoot some other member of Jermaine’s gang, well then, we’ll go code-3 to the crime scene and ring the area with yellow tape and stand around while the homicide detectives sort things out.  And we’ll go home and tell our family and friends how sad it all is, but what can we do?”

 

I know some of you listening to my voice right now don’t like what you’re hearing. If a police officer isn’t going to do his or her job, find a new one; right? Part of me agrees, I have to admit. I despise the excuses, often thrown up by the more veteran (and jaded) officers, for their laziness and apathy toward the job. This is different. The current environment is such that, even if an officer does everything right, they could end up just like Darren Wilson, or worse. These officers aren’t shying away from the risks of the job, they are making a calculated decision to protect themselves and their families from a culture that doesn’t understand what they do, a society who will crucify them based on little to no real information at all. It’s called the Ferguson Effect for a reason, and it is real. 

 

Outro

 

This series is a small part of the answer. The truth is a vaccine of sorts; it reminds us take everything we hear, especially from the media, with a giant grain of salt. If this series has opened your eyes to what happened in Ferguson, realize that most of the people you know are still blind and sick with the virus. The more people who know the truth, the fewer who will make decisions based on the lie; decisions like executing someone because he or she is wearing a police uniform, or rioting the next time we are short on details but full of frustration and anger. Share it. Spread the cure. Save a life.