Friday, September 12, 2014

Thoughts on Ferguson

This is not the most timely of posts, but at this point, nothing on my blog is timely. I've been mulling over what to write about this for a little while, and the additional time has allowed the emotions to run down.

As far as I can tell, the two major camps on this issue are as follows:
Opinion 1: A Ferguson cop shot an innocent, unarmed black kid for walking in the street.
Opinion 2: A Ferguson cop shot a black thug who had just robbed a store, and was charging him.

These two opinions as stated here are obviously the simplified forms of the longer narrative, but I think that they serve as a useful distillation. There are also a few facts that both sides (except for the most extreme) can agree on. The Ferguson police officer did shoot an unarmed black teenager, Michael Brown, six times. There was at least one shot fired inside the car. Michael Brown had just previously robbed a store.

These facts are not really disputed at this point, but the real story is definitely the aftermath. The initial statements and evidence did not include the information about the robbery, or any forensic evidence of where Brown was shot, just leaving the shooting of an unarmed black teen. This instigated protests against the police, using the phrase 'hands up, don't shoot' as a rallying cry. Some destructive individuals decided to use these protests as a jumping off point to loot and vandalize some local stores. This lead, somewhat predictably, to a larger police response.

In some ways, I think the police response is the bigger story, and it has highlighted something that Libertarians have been talking about for years: the militarization of the police force. Suddenly the mainstream press started to care about the use of military equipment and resources by the police. In a most ironic twist, the people who were saying that we need more gun control, and that self defense with a gun is not needed because of police, were now saying that the police are brutal and should not be trusted, but protested.

There has also been a lot of discussion about the race aspect of the conflict. The population of Ferguson is mostly black, and the police are mostly white. I think that certainly plays a part in this, but I think that the power of the police is more significant. We should not be trusting a police force just because they share skin colors with the people that they are supposed to be policing. We should be holding them accountable.

One measure that I think is reasonable for the police (or any public official) to take is personal cameras. While I can understand that some operations (undercover, for example) would require the removal of the camera (assuming that you consider those necessary, which I'm not sure if I do), I think that police should have to wear cameras and microphones that record all of their activities. While it would be a breach of privacy for the officers on duty, it is a sacrifice that should come with having legal power over others. The citizens that are interacting with the police are already at risk of legal action, but this would mean that the officer would have to tell the truth about any incident they report, rather than being able to embellish or fabricate the scenario.

Some police departments are experimenting with this already, like in New Orleans. I hope that this particular trend continues so that we can better hold law enforcement accountable.