Ferguson

Although this has nothing to do with the philosophy of religion, I’d like to make an exception and dedicate a post to what happened in Ferguson, Missouri. I have zero expertise or authority on any of the several issues involved here. My main goal is to provider readers a chance to discuss in the combox here if they are so inclined.
In order to get the conversation going, I’ll offer a few points / observations / links.

  • I’m white; I live nowhere near Ferguson, Missouri; and I have no idea what it is like to be an African American there or anywhere else. The website Quartz published an excellent article, “12 things white people can do now because Ferguson.” I’ve only skimmed the titles of the 12 things, but I think I agree with all of them.
  • As a white person, I can’t help but think that, collectively, whites have lost our “moral authority” in cases like this and it would have better if there had been all-African American Grand Jury, prosecutor, and judge. (Similarly, whenever I hear about allegations of sexual abuse in the military, I wonder if men have lost the moral authority to investigate, prosecute, and decide such cases. Maybe it would be better if we let women be in charge of all of that until we have earned their trust.)
  • It’s a shame that racism ever existed, but it’s even more appalling that exists in the year 2014.
  • Because I haven’t examined the specific evidence against the Officer, I have no idea if he should have been indicted or not, BUT….
  • The acclaimed website FiveThirtyEight.com, which is as credible a statistical organization as any you’ll find, published an article summarizing their research into the base rate for Grand Juries returning an indictment. Here are the results: the base rate for getting an indictment is 161,989/162,000 or 0.999932. The base rate for NOT getting an indictment is 11/162,000 or 0.00006790123457. This means that the prior probability that the case deserved an indictment is 0.999932099. If you believe that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” (ECREE), this incredible statistic suggests that, prior to examining the evidence against the officer, the claim he should not have been indicted is an extraordinary claim.
  • Similarly, FiveThirtyEight.com also determined that allegations of police misconduct rarely result in charges.
  • The National Bar Association, who (unlike me) is qualified to evaluate the legal evidence in this case, is outraged by the failure to indict the officer. This is also prima facie evidence, for non-legal experts like me, that the Grand Jury got it wrong.
  • Incidents like the shooting of Michael Brown make me think that law enforcement (LE) officers should be required to wear bodycams all the time while on duty. There was a petition–now closed–to the White House for a Mike Brown law, which gathered 154,747 signatures. Mine was one of them.
  • I wonder if and how police training contributed to the shooting. Do we train our LE officers to use excessive force?
  • Whether you agree with it or not, many people do believe that the non-indictment of the officer is at least partially due to institutional racism. I’m told that the protests which are happening in cities nowhere near Ferguson are to raise awareness about continued racism. (HT to @blue_bec, @BasicallyKhleah, and @sirenqoh for helping me to understand this point, which should have been obvious to me, but wasn’t.)
  • I wonder if the U.S. federal government can independently indict the officer in federal court. If so, could President Obama order the Department of Justice to do so? Or is a Federal Grand Jury indictment required?

Hopefully this is enough food for thought to get the conversation going. I look forward to reading your thoughts. As always, please keep it respectful.

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