The endgame for American civic responsibility Pt. III

14 Aug
August 14, 2014

Note:  These essays were, of course, written before St. Louis County prosecutors and Ferguson police relented and revealed the identity of the officer sho shot and killed Mr. Brown.  Both the cost to their credibility in the delay inherent in their delay and to the civil peace of that town remains relevant, however.  Moreover, the problem with federal, state and local law enforcement agencies nationally trying to maintain anonymity in such incidents is on the rise. So the essays stand as argument,  regardless.  – DS

 

August 14, 2014

Mr. Thomas Jackson

Chief of Police

Ferguson, Missouri

 

Chief Jackson:

Regard this as an open letter in light of your department’s unwillingness to properly identify the officer involved in the fatal shooting of Michael Brown in your jurisdiction this last week.

Understand that I am someone with a high regard for good police work.  I covered a large municipal department for a dozen years and spent that time writing in detail on extraordinary efforts by professional detectives and officers, and, too, on systemic and individual failures within that same agency.  I am not unsympathetic to the complex truths of practical policing.

To that effect, I’m offering no judgment as to the legitimacy of the police action in the death of Mr. Brown, nor am I critiquing your department’s militarized performance with regard to the resulting civil disturbances in your municipality. I leave the former for the more careful assessments of prosecutors and, presumably, a grand jury; the latter, I am sure, will be a subject of continued discussion within your community, in Missouri as a whole, and elsewhere in the country.

But for now, let’s simply focus on the notion that you, as head of a police department accountable to the citizens of your jurisdiction, actually seem to believe — along with local prosecutors — that it is plausible for a sworn and armed officer to kill a citizen and do so in anonymity.

Regrettably, I know that you are not alone in this astonishing breach of trust.  More than a decade ago, some of our most authoritative federal agencies began a tragic retreat from basic accountability, shielding their agents from any scrutiny for their use of the most signficant power that a law officer can possess — the taking of a human life as an act of personal deliberation.  Following the lead of the FBI, other large urban departments have since followed suit, or attempted to do so at points.

But the cost to our society is not abstract — and the currency in which that cost is paid is trust.  Your department has shown that you do not trust the public with the basic information about who specifically has, in the performance of his or her duties, been required to take a human life in Ferguson. And that same public is now in the street demonstrating that they do not believe that Ferguson law enforcement can therefore be relied upon for anything remotely resembling justice.  How could it be otherwise?

If you cannot see the contempt inherent in your policy, then you, sir, may need to reconsider both your own role and the premise of law enforcement in a democratic society.   You may need to yield your position to someone who retains the basic notion that your officers, armed with the extraordinary authority of using state-sanctioned lethal force on fellow citizens, are equally burdened by a responsibility for standing by their actions in full. You, your department, and the prosecutors in your jurisdiction are now running from that responsibility. In doing so, you lose the trust and respect of your citizens, your state and the nation.

I know that you wish to claim that the individual officer, if identified, would be somehow vulnerable. But this is dishonest and dishonorable, sir.  Having covered a police department in a jurisdiction even more troubled than your suburban community, I am well aware of the resources available to your department to protect one of its own against retribution. Your officers are the ones with legal authority. They are all armed. And they can maintain a presence anywhere in your jurisdiction.  Moreover, they have, if necessary, the support of your county’s prosecutors and judiciary, and all of the law itself to ensure the safety of a solitary officer.   They are, as police in Baltimore were accustomed to saying, the biggest, toughest gang out there — so much so that the claim of violent retribution against this officer is embarrassing hyperbole. The same claim was offered by a police commissioner here in Baltimore five years ago, in an abortive effort to hide the identities of officers who took life in the course of their duties. When examined in detail, the claim of any serious threat against any officer evaporated into a series of half-baked crank calls and unsubstantiated rumor.  Fears of retribution were not the issue; accountability was the real target. As it is now in Ferguson.

At this point, let’s be frank about the advantages offered to any officer in a legal examination of any use of lethal force.  We both understand, I am sure, that in presenting the facts of any police shooting to a grand jury, your prosecutors will be able to offer your officer the protection of legal standards that do not in any way address whether a given shooting was justified in a moral sense, or as a measure of good and careful police work.  No, the standard for justifying a police shooting anywhere in these United States has come down to this:  Did the officer have a reasonable belief that in using lethal force he was protecting himself or others from serious injury.  That is hole enough for a pretty big truck, sir, and it allows all but the most egregious and unjustifiable police violence to remain free of criminal prosecution, if not administrative sanction.

This may be the necessary legal standard for a world in which individual officers — even well-trained and well-meaning officers — must make life-and-death decisions in an instant. Even the best officer can give you a bad shooting; we both know this to be true.  And it may be that any stricter legal standard would result in officers unwilling to risk their careers or freedom in cases where the use of lethal force was indeed necessary to save the lives of themselves, their fellow officers or other citizens.  I grant you all of that.

But you must concede as well that the legal standard allows for the prosecutorial justification of all but the most outrageous misuses of police force — that the dynamic is already carefully protective of your individual officers.  The game is already rigged against a legal lynching. And similarly, as already noted, anyone seeking to harm one of your officers in an extra-legal manner confronts not only a lone individual, but the combined authority and force of all of your officers, of the county and state police agencies, of your jurisdiction’s prosecutors and judges.  In and out of court, no police officer ever stands alone and vulnerable — not in the manner of the average citizen.  Say, Mr. Brown, for example.

Yet incredibly, you continue to hide from any accountability by speaking of retribution against an officer.  But such retribution is wholly imagined on your part; the damage to accountability and transparency is actual and of the moment: Without knowing the identity of the officer involved in this incident, the citizens of Ferguson cannot measure that officer against his record. They cannot know if this is the first time he has taken human life, or the tenth. They cannot look to his overall performance as a law officer and know if he was inclined to brutality or insult in his dealings with the citizenry, or if he conducted himself with valor and respect for those he served.  He is hidden not from potential retribution, as you claim. He is hidden from accountability and from the discerning assessment of the citizens you serve.

In Baltimore, I covered many police shootings, most of them necessary, if tragic, and a few that were indeed questionable or dubious, if equally tragic. But in all of those incidents, a police department that remained fully accountable to its citizenry never failed to do one basic thing when a life had been taken: It stood by the body. All of those officers who took a life owned both their authority and their responsibility.  They were identified before their public, and the sunlight of public knowledge was never denied to any moment when an agent of the state, as a matter of personal deliberation and presumed professional necessity, ended the life of a fellow citizen. This was elemental, and democratic to its core.  If our country is to cease its drift toward a militarized police state, it is elemental still.

And beyond the democratic imperative, one other practical cost to Ferguson of your professional failure has yet to be tallied, but is certain and fixed: Your department, in order to solve crimes and maintain order, is dependent on the cooperation of witnesses — fellow citizens willing to trust in the process of arrest and prosecution, and in their own personal safety should they properly contribute to that process.  Yet by offering up the dishonorable claim that your department, and all the authority of the supporting law enforcement and judicial communities of Missouri, cannot protect a single officer from a series of unsubstantiated threats, or that the officer might be more vulnerable to public ridicule than, say, Mr. Brown was vulnerable to actual police gunfire, you have made this question entirely relevant:

If Ferguson police can’t protect one of their own — a fellow officer who is armed, who is allied with an entire department of armed comrades, who are themselves buttressed by their jurisdiction’s prosecutorial arm, who have the full weight of the law at hand in support of that officer — then how in hell are they going to protect me when I go down to the courthouse and testify?  How can they ask me, an ordinary citizen with no armament, alliance or authority, to stand up in open court and be identified?

The answer is you can’t.

The decision of a police agency to hide the identities of its officers behind a veil of secrecy, while asking the public at large to risk all in open court, is not mere hypocrisy. It is cowardice. It is an abdication of your professional role and your basic integrity. Your actions, sir, stand not merely in support of your rank-and-file, or in defiance of a mob; that’s how you wish to be seen, and likely, it is how many will view you within the cloistered culture of the roll-call room. But to the greater public that you serve, your decision is, again, void of all honor or courage.  You have done your uniform, your department and your city a great disservice.  Some reflection and a change in policy is required before anyone in Ferguson, Missouri can be assured that you, Chief Jackson, actually remain in service of law and order in your city.

Respectfully,

 

David Simon

Police Reporter

Baltimore Sun, 1982-1995

 

80 replies
  1. Migelito says:

    David,

    I, and I’m sure many others, would be very keen to hear your thoughts on the Grand Jury decision and events thereafter including media coverage and the role of social media.

    Apologies for badgering you and thanks in advance!

    M

    Reply
    • kt says:

      I’d be interested too, but I think it would be tough for him to speak on it. He did say upfront in this letter that he was commenting solely on the decision of the department not to reveal information about the shooting, not on the aftermath and how it was handled.

      I think if we are expecting a big anti-police screed we are going to be disappointed. HOMICIDE and THE WIRE are not anti-police pieces, although they do acknowledge that police may do many wrong or corrupt things. But they are also sympathetic to the police and the difficulty of the work, and they were written with the input of police and ex-police.

      The other tough thing for me is that as a Baltimorean, I have to be honest; I do not think this is a situation which would bring charges in Baltimore, relative to the few recent situations I can think of wherein a BPD cop has in fact been indicted on criminal charges. It is very, very difficult to indict a cop, and Mr. Simon knows that, so I don’t know how satisfying his opinion on it would be.

      I think that’s part of the point. The authorities in Missouri know that too. The system is ALREADY biased in cops’ favor. They did not have to withhold information, plant false rumors, or provoke the populace with a militarized response to peaceful protest; they could have appointed a special prosecutor. The legal risk to the officer was minimal regardless. When considering why this particular case has so galvanized the public, when questionable police shootings happen all the time, I have to conclude that it is specifically because the authorities’ handling of every aspect of the aftermath has been so disrespectful to Brown’s family and the community, and so indicative of pervasive, systemic racism, that it could not help but cause long-standing tensions to explode.

      Like I said, I think a shooting like this could happen in Baltimore, and the officer would probably not be charged. But I also think the department would handle it with more sensitivity, and it helps a lot that the racial demographics of the BPD are much more in keeping with those of the city it serves.

      I know you’re looking for Mr. Simon’s opinion and not mine, sorry, but there’s my take nonetheless…

      Reply
  2. Mr. Bones says:

    Came across this today, and thought you might enjoy it. You can at least use it for some posters.

    http://www.yourlogicalfallacyis.com

    Reply
  3. Francis says:

    Mr Simon

    Long time lurker first time poster.I am a criminal defence lawyer based in the irish republic.While the average cop on the street in ireland is unarmed and the level of gun ownership is very low – there are special organised SWAT type units called the emergency response unit (ERU) and the armed response unit (ARU) and over the years they have shot and killed a considerable number of people.Noone from these units has ever been killed in the line of duty and the only member ever shot was in fact shot by his own colleagues by mistake.It is Irish police policy (and the irish police are the most secretive in the democratic world as they also operate as the primary national security agency as well as a policing body) to NEVER reveal the names of ANY officer in ANY shooting.In the history of the state none has ever been revealed and in fact it is a criminal offence for the press (whose crime correspondents act as a cheerleading squad for the police anyway) to do so.The level of accountablity in US policing in relation to police shootings far outstrips the irish force.

    Reply
  4. Bryan C says:

    As a lifelong Royals, we are going to get an essay from you on the upcoming O’s-Royals ALCS series right? Also, maybe a hint as to why you made Templeton wear a KC star shirt?

    Reply
  5. Stephen Round says:

    The underprivileged classes of this world are being farmed by their peers as a blue collar Englishman I know that they always have been exploitedsystematically but now the science of exploitation is refined and maximised.to make the biggest return. The cause …. I know the cause it comes from where I live I have come to the realisation that there is something wrong with what was once ….. our …Language our verbalism is prostituted to depress demean disguise and deprive.

    Where did that mechanical and …undemocratic word “Employee” come from it turns us into objects to be quantified. Why do so few of us recognise that we all of The Human Race? The word Race is being used as a cover for a polity which manufactures social inequalities to maximise screwball returns on …”investments?” which are obscene and morbidly ….psychopathic!

    The race to the bottom is the race we should be fighting against that and the corrupt centralist perverted democracy abusing governments which comply to an agenda demanding our systematic denigration hiding behind the bastion of a fundamentally perverted highly militarised econoscientific separatist community. It has happened before their Mansions Castles and Cathedrals still dominate my own landscape history repeats itself.exponentially .

    Reply
  6. Joe A says:

    David-
    I tell you this in complete ass-kissing truthfulness and sincerity…
    I was asked recently by one of my students to list my all-time favorite writers. My list included (among others):
    F. Scott Fitzgerald, Tim O’Brien, Hunter S. Thompson, Mark Twain…and David Simon.
    Your pieces on Ferguson are just some of the many, many reasons why you belong on that list. The best writers not only tell the best stories; they also grab the world by the hair and say “Look at the big picture, folks…”
    Thank you for refusing to let the shit that matters get drowned out by the shit that doesn’t.

    Reply
  7. Melba says:

    Each year Cops shoot 100 yet 5000 die from b on b crime.
    Nobody talks about that. MLK would be appalled.

    Reply
    • David Simon says:

      Melba,

      This is one of the most specious rhetorical offerings that we encounter when trying to address ourselves to any specific issues. To wit, it is possible to be concerned about two important things — and often many more — in the same lifetime. I’ve spent a good portion of my professional writing life addressing black-and-black crime, the drug war and the root causes that produce economic disparity and social deprivation. Can you see how it is intellectually dishonest to suggest that by also being concerned about undue police violence and the decline in police accountability and transparency, I am somehow ignorant of or indifferent to the former issue? The human heart is large enough so that it is offensive to imply that a concern over one societal problem neglects concern over another.

      Reply
    • katie says:

      Or, to put this another way:

      The people we pay to protect and serve us are only responsible for a small percentage of deaths in this country, so we shouldn’t talk about it. Once they start killing more people, I’ll pay attention.

      See how ridiculous that is? Or do you truly believe that this is an acceptable cost of being American? Sure, the police might kill you, but it’s only a small chance, so that’s ok.

      Utter moral bankruptcy.

      Reply
    • Monica says:

      “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, then are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

      You may find this interesting:
      http://m.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2012/04/why-dont-black-people-protest-black-on-black-violence/255329/

      Reply
  8. Anne says:

    This is the issue that stuck out for me the most too. If I were to kill someone, my name, address and names of family members would immediately be published, whether the shooting was justified or not. I wouldn’t have the protection of a police department.

    I have no idea what happened in the shooting, an it is not the issue of my comment or David’s letter. The issue is that the a government run agency, in this case, the Ferguson police department decided to put the public on a “need to know” basis on the identity of someone, justified or not, who killed a fellow citizen. Then, smugly acted as if they had the right to do so and we were just being silly in crying foul. As if they were a tier above us in class, intelligence and importance. “There there, children, we’ll decide if, how, and when you can handle it. But if you’d like to know the names and addresses of any other non-government employed people who killed fellow citizens, whether they are homicides, accidental or self defense, please talk to the nice lady by my side and she’ll give you all the details.”

    Reply
  9. Ryan O'Malley says:

    Wow its like a guilty white liberal convention in here . Its easy to see who has never had to live in or even near a ghetto. How is the view from ivory towers?!

    When your ready to get realistic about crime stats and not sweep it under the rug with a politically correct broom, gimme a call.

    Reply
    • David Simon says:

      My favorite obliviousness of the week.

      Do you know whose blog this is? Do you know where I live? Do you you know what neighborhoods I covered daily for a dozen years? Do you know where I camped out to report and write The Corner, every day for three years? Do you know that I can count the distance between that corner and my home in blocks?

      Where do you live, Mr. O’Malley? On what block of West Baltimore or East St. Louis have you spent time gleaning all of your hard-won insight? This is of course, me arguing back at the man rather than his argument. But wait, you don’t have an argument. You came here with ad hominem only, so back at you, Goofus.

      Reply
      • Ryan O'Malley says:

        Of course I know you covered those areas , and I’m sure you managed to convince your self there was some greater force responsible for the independent actions of all those criminals for all those years. Like those 4 youths who stabbed and robbed that kid Sal the other day in Baltimore , they are not responsible lets blame a system that forces them to stab Sal who would have started Grad school in a month. They don’t come from a culture that praises gangsters and embraces the no snitch policy no its all all of our faults, meaning everyone but the people who committed the crime. I can write my article deflect responsibility because thats how I sleep at night and feel superior.

        And speaking of the no snitch game, thats exactly what the Ferguson community would do if Michael Brown’s killer was black and not a cop. Clam up and not say a word , and America never would have learned his name.

        Did you write about Detective Joseph Walker a black cop who killed an unarmed white motorist and was acquitted of any wrong doing? Never heard of him? The whole world would know his name and be screaming for his head had he been white and the motorist black. Don’t pretend like this would not be the case.

        Michael Brown assaulted a cop and tried to take his gun, 10 times out of 10 you should get shot in the head if you do this. No matter what color , this is the world we live in. I’m sorry all those years on the beat in Bmore did not teach you this.

        Reply
        • David Simon says:

          Mr. O’Malley,

          If “of course” you know that I am entirely familiar with West Baltimore and that my work isn’t from an ivory tower — and you have no clue as to the histories of others who post here — then an honest effort by you would not be denigrate or falsify the backgrounds of those who disagree with you. That’s weakass rhetorical fallacy. It falls apart just as soon as you stack it. Which everyone here, accustomed to a better class of argument, recognized immediately.

          Instead, make an actual argument using actual facts — something you failed to do in your original post. Content matters. Here, your argument seems to be that 1) You know, clairvoyantly, what happened in the Ferguson shooting and what the outcome should have been. This is remarkable since a grand jury hasn’t even been convened, nor the federal investigation completed. Indeed, the local department has not even issued a narrative or incident report. So your certitude and predisposition to make a specific judgment based on your racial distaste is obvious.

          Go back to my essay. Note that it actually makes no claim as to what happened in the shooting. I don’t know what happened yet. Neither do you. One of us has summoned the honesty required to acknowledge this. The essay is not about what Michael Brown or the officer who shot him did or didn’t do. Not a word. The essay is about institutional accountability REGARDLESS OF THE CIRCUMSTANCE OF THE SHOOTING. Accountability whether the cop is black or white. Whether the victim is black or white. You are the only one bringing the ugly racial tangle that is in you head to the table here. Not me.

          In fact, my next posting will be a detailed accounting of an FBI Agent who shot two unarmed people in separate incidents. And the efforts that the FBI went to hide the details of both incidents, and why knowing the Agent’s identity and the circumstances of the first shooting could have prevented the second. And, oh yeah, the Agent is white. His first victim was black and a felon and no one cared a whit how bad the shooting was. So he got a second chance, and the second victim was white. And then the world took some notice. But see, that’s me just citing an anecdotal racial configuration. As irrelevant as you running around citing the anecdotes that please you and validate your racial predisposition.

          The anecdotal can’t prove much, other than that it can provide insight into process. The essay is interested in process and accountability. I say that society is better served when every law officer who shoots at or shoots a citizen is properly identified, as all citizens are when they use lethal force and become known to authorities for doing so. Do you have any interest in the actual issue here. Or did you arrive merely to vent your racial anger and fear?

          Reply
        • katie says:

          Dude. There is so much wrong with what you’ve written here. A few off the top of my head:

          – That you seem to think you can tell anyone what they should or shouldn’t write about.
          – The idea that unless you write about every crime that happens every day, you don’t have the legitimacy to write about any single crime at all
          – That anyone is excusing personal responsibility.
          – That there are no institutional and systemic forces at work in society.
          – That what you think might or might not happen in a different set of circumstances is relevant to anything or anyone.
          – That Brown assaulted a cop, when no report has been filed.

          I guess we can stop there for now, but this list is by no means exhaustive.

          Reply
        • kt says:

          Ryan, I would attempt to coherently respond to any of this, but I feel like I have been doused with racism and can barely open my eyes to read the details of your ridiculous argument. I don’t even know where to begin other than to point out that you are not a prophet or a mindreader, and you do not know what Mike Brown did (none of us do, since again, we do not have the incident report or video of the shooting itself), what the Ferguson community would do, what the whole world would do, who the readers/posters on this blog are, or where they live.

          If you do, how about you just wave your magic wand and get rid of all brutality in the world since apparently you are God?

          As for Joseph Walker, you’re using *that* as an example of egregious police violence? Really, that’s your cry for the poor oppressed white man in America? A cop that identified himself as police, showed his badge, gave a warning, and fired on a hostile aggressor (who had been driving with a blood alcohol level verging on the legal limit, I might add) advancing on him, in defense of himself, his wife and his children? A case in which the police union — including many, many white law enforcement officers — stood steadfast behind him and raised money for his defense? Kinda contradicting your whole “gotta respect the police! Can’t bum-rush ‘em!” angle there. But I get that you are desperate for an example to support your bigotry. Try questioning your prejudices instead.

          Reply
    • katie says:

      Way to know your audience, Ryan.

      Reply
      • David Simon says:

        Master of research that he is?

        His tower ain’t ivory, and his head ain’t in the clouds. But it’s somewhere, alright.

        Reply
        • James Elson says:

          This isn’t the first time somebody has pulled the “ivory tower” card here. Those who do so here all seem to have one thing in common which is that they are not interested in debate so much as calling you and others out with those tiresome cliches surrounding what I feel is a ridiculously polarized modern political landscape. It’s almost as if they don’t want to think hard about the issues surrounding the United States (or the world for that matter) in modern times. I often wonder just what they are really hoping to achieve even though I have a pretty good idea. It’s very sad to see how low people are willing to set the bar for debate these days, though it really does seem to be a cover for their own personal fears. I’m not saying I’ve never been guilty of that sort of thing myself (as I have occasionally let my emotions control my choice of words) but I’d like to think that if I could learn from such mistakes so could a whole lot of others as well.

          Here on this website regarding those who have taken such cheap shots at you and others: Their absences thereafter tell their own story, don’t you think?

          Reply
    • Ed says:

      Love this comment, Ryan. Next time I don’t have an argument, I’ll just pull rank like you’ve demonstrated here.

      Reply
  10. Drew says:

    Why don’t you hold the media accountable too? The Ferguson Cops have made this situation 1 million times worse by arresting journalists, using tear gas and riot gear, and basically acting like wanna be soldiers playing with new gear. But the media should be accountable for their mistakes too.

    At first he was shot in the back. Wrong. 2nd he was a saint. Wrong, that same day he had done a robbery and assaulted the store clerk. Now those aren’t capital offenses, but they aren’t something that should be over looked. What else are they going to be wrong about?

    Holding the media accountable isn’t siding with horrible police practices, but pointing out how they have made everything much worse should also be done.

    Reply
    • David Simon says:

      Anything that is reported incorrectly is a signal failure on the part of news organizations. At the same time, please acknowledge that AS WE ARE A WEEK INTO THIS SITUATION AND THE POLICE AND PROSECUTORS HAVE NOT EVEN RELEASED AN INCIDENT REPORT ON THE SHOOTING, which is public record, the media is operating in what is known as a news blackout. Information is being released selectively and at a time and place of the government’s choosing, and in that vaccuum, the chance that the media will be led astray by less definitive facts is compounded.

      When the authorities abdicate on their responsible to provide accurate information in a timely and unbiased fashion, the less viable claims of other witnesses and claimants will of course fill the void. Complaining about the results and blaming the media for operating in this vaccuum is real cart-before-the-horse criticism.

      Oh, and given that he apparently had no weapon in robbing some cigars from a store, I don’t see how his sins are at all relevant to his being shot to death on the street at some later point. He could’ve robbed the Glendale train with the James and Younger brothers at some earlier point, and if he wasn’t armed when doing it, and he wasn’t armed in the street — what sort of insightful revelation is it? Nothing that has any bearing whatsoever on his death by police gunfire.

      Reply
      • Kevin says:

        To the gentleman who posted the question about the media. Is the question the media’s reporting or you not liking what the media has reported and the balance, or lack thereof, in which they are reporting? Correct me if I am wrong, but as I just turned on the television 30 seconds ago, a national network, aka the media, re-broadcasted an interview from a show on the radio, aka the media, in which a woman described what happened from a third person account. Something about a kid being high and crazy enough to reach for a cop’s gun, say fuck it change his mind and run away, and then say fuck it again and change his mind and run towards bullets being sprayed at him.

        I don’t think you are that dumb to believe that. I doubt you think anyone else is that dumb to believe that. I think by you being in the powerful majority, emboldened by a rich history of doing and getting away with whatever the hell you want, arrogantly put forth Chicago-black on black crime-what about the media red herrings and let your friendly media, or laws, or police or whatever allow things to stand.

        Reply
    • kt says:

      Wait, what are we defining as “the media” here? Blogs? I’ve read all kinds of stuff on blogs — I read on several blogs that Mike Brown may have actually paid for the cigars he allegedly stole (thus explaining why the store owners did not file any report). But I don’t know if any of that is true, yet.

      You can’t believe everything you read online. I don’t think you need to lecture Mr. Simon on that.

      The mainstream media — legitimate newspapers and magazines and their online counterparts (I am not including TV here, since it is sensationalistic at best), conversely, have not really reported much in terms of Mike Brown’s shooting. How can they without the incident report? All they can report on is what witnesses tell them or what they hear from other media sources.

      But in any case I object to your entire argument here. A story ALWAYS changes as more facts are revealed. It is your duty as a citizen to seek out reputable sources of information (not blogs, not unsubstantiated social media, not gossip) and to pay attention as the story unfolds. The original headline in the Watergate scandal was something along the lines of “two random guys caught burglarizing a hotel”. That changed a lot too.

      Keep paying attention.

      Reply
    • Monica says:

      Funny how folks get all up in arms about media accountability when there’s a furor over black lives, or the taking of, or the anguish and outrage of those who care about such things, yet some of these same folks are silent when their government outright lies to them, and when the same media peddles those same lies on their respective front pages. Or when in the interest of being “fair and balanced”, media gives the same attention to crack pots as it does to experts.

      Yellow cake? WMDs? Death panels? Swift boats? Fast and Furious? Obamaphones? Welfare queens? Global climate change isn’t real? Pretty much anything Paul Ryan says about poverty? Am I the only one who remembers these things, at best, reported without refute, and at worst, reported as fact?

      Oh, but yes, by all means, let’s start holding media accountable for 100% accuracy 100% of the time with the facts surrounding Mike Brown, because the standard for reporting on the case of a black kid shot to death by a cop is so much higher than that of the case for a war with a six figure death toll, or impending environmental events that could end us as a species.

      Media reporting should be accurate, period. And if something is incorrectly stated, it should be corrected posthaste. But as more facts are released, then the reporting will change. Welcome to the 24/7 news cycle.

      Reply
  11. Linda says:

    So, our governor called in the National Guard. I did not greet this news with relief or joy. Instead it sent shivers down my spine. I was young when Kent State happened. Today, I’m a lot older and a lot more pessimistic about this country and this world of ours.

    Somehow, I just can’t believe that arming the police with military equipment is well meant. Taken together with what is happening to the U.S. Constitution, I fear the worst.

    As a middle class white American, I can say with assurance that I will never vote for a tax increase for “public safety” again. When the police have random drug tests and have to have bake sales to buy kevlar, then I may rethink.

    Reply
  12. Kevin says:

    Mr. Simon:

    The criminality of black men….the dirty go to trick it seems in all of these incidents of black kids being murdered is the doubt created by insinuating their menacing and criminal intent. Michael Brown, a kid, attempted to take a gun…from a cop. Trayvon Martin, a kid, whom after being followed and criminally (and racially) profiled, attacked…a grown ass man…who had a gun. Jordan Davis, a kid, while blasting loud music in a car with his friends pointed a gun out the window…at a grown ass man. Forget believing those racist narratives, why are they even entertained? Is this America?!??!?

    While pondering that question and trying to detox from everything Ferguson related, my born in the 80s, wet behind the ears self turned on HBO and watched their recently released Nixon in his own words documentary. GODDAAAAMMMN!!! Blame it on my public school education, I never been floored and gut punched by what I saw and heard, and Im not even talking about the Watergate stuff. His level of criminality and immorality is off the chart.

    I don’t know if I could connect Ferguson or other cases with Nixon, but the basic question is, is this America? Look, im the furthest thing from being an angry black guy….but today, I am more inclined to be so. I watch the Ferguson stuff and see people being put forth to present a narrative of “if black people care about this, why not Chicago?” (Sorry, even if that was true, I hold cops and adults who kill kids to a higher standard of serving and protecting). I get worn tired with the ever lucrative political punditry hustlers from all directions. I even find myself saying to myself stuff like, “if we cant change anything after a congresswoman and hella kids in Newtown, black people are fucked.”

    But as a non angry and threatening black guy (you’re welcome) with a united nation level of loved ones and interests, hope always wins out. Until this Nixon shit. I watch the film and every black people conspiracy theory, according to Nixon’s own racist, sexist, homophobic words, I could now say I cant discount those theories on drugs, HIV/AIDS, and others. Every motherfucker in that film went on and some continue to have lucrative careers, book deals, tv shows, other things that made their actions profitable in the long run.

    Not to sound like the sky is falling, but not only is this America but has this always been our country?

    Reply
  13. Joe says:

    Mr. Simon,
    I understand your sentiments, and I’m familiar with your history and experience. But with all due respect, I disagree with you.

    No public needed to know the name of this officer, at least not at the current time. His name was not a secret to the FBI investigating the incident. And I have no doubt that he would’ve been identified eventually.

    Perhaps the worst offense by the FPD was not releasing the officers name immediately. I think if they would have done that (which seems to be reasonable to me) then there wouldn’t have been a big deal about the whole thing, and chances are the violence that followed would have been greatly reduced.

    But does the public really need to know? I don’t think so. They’re just being nosy I didn’t need to know his name. You didn’t need to know his name. The only ones that deserved to know his name were MIchael Brown’s parents and family.

    Reply
    • David Simon says:

      Your understanding of how law enforcement investigates its own with regard to the shooting of civilians leaves a lot to be desired, I have to say. Suggesting that the public does not have a right to know the name of those who shoot and kill civilians under sanction and authority of the state does not take the following into account: Until an officer is named and his history, credibility and reputation are reported,there is no way to know if he has exercised respect and restrained in his use of his authority, or if he has failed to do so.

      Your suggestion that the FBI is likely to be an impartial arbiter of police who use lethal force is entirely oblivious to the actual performance of that agency with regard to police actions and civil rights violations. Indeed, the FBI itself is among the very worst agencies at transparency and self-discipline with regard to the use of lethal force.

      I can’t do all your research for you. But you can be more aware by googling the NYT series last year on the FBI’s whitewashing of its own sad performance with regard to the shootings of civilians. Then google the name of FBI Special Agent Christopher Braga in my home state of Maryland. Two unarmed people have been shot by the same agent for no good reason, years apart, because the FBI kept his identity and the details of his performance quiet from the public. And know, further, that in April three FBI agents shot a citizen on a mall parking lot outside Baltimore — and four months later the public still doesn’t know if that suspect was armed, if his actions justified the shooting, the identities of those who fired their weapons and whether they have killed five other citizens, or twenty, or just this one. We don’t know anything. For you to be comfortable with the FBI, operating in darkness, without transparency, makes me sure that you know very little about that agency and its practices.

      I was a police reporter too long to trust in law enforcement deciding best what the public should know. That is a recipe for a police state. And we are well on the way to cooking such a thing up in this nation.

      Reply
    • Henri Helvetica says:

      What farce. You don’t want to be accountable to the public, do not go for a publicly funded jobs. It’s that simple. Tax payers pay your remuneration, you answer to tax payers.

      What David has written here is something I’ve been saying all week: a small town chief w/ some town chief values and procedures, has been exposed when seasoned national journalists – already angered by the imprisonment of 2 of their own – swooped in and essentially questioned him seeking factual evidence – none he could ever provide. Where are the pics/shots of the so called facial injuries Officer Wilson contests receiving? But did provide a video and prints of a teenager stealing from a corner store – or what the chief has called a strong arm.

      Most jobs i’ve known of, you can get fired for being late. Why has the chief yet to fall on the sword?

      Reply
    • kt says:

      The name is important. The name is everything. Let me attempt to demonstrate.

      In Part II of this series of posts, Mr. Simon detailed a situation in which a city officer shot a citizen 15 times. Below that, in the comments, I detailed a situation that took place the following year, in which a city officer shot a citizen 13 times.

      On the surface these situations would seem to have little to no difference between them. And yet in the second circumstance the officer was charged and convicted with voluntary manslaughter and the first (to the best of my knowledge) the officer was cleared of any wrong-doing. Lacking any other information, can you tell me why?

      Is it important to know that the first officer was a physically diminutive female with only 5 years of force experience, in fear of losing her service weapon, who had lost her weapon in a previous altercation?

      Likewise, is it important to know that the second officer refused a breathalyzer on the scene, had been previously censured for shooting a suspect in the foot while under the influence of alcohol, and been involved in at least one other questionable shooting?

      Yes. It is.

      The conclusions that I, as a city resident, have drawn from this and other details of recent police shootings and violent incidents, which I only learn about from the press, are that the city police department is overworked, understaffed, accordingly unselective about who they accept for and keep on duty, enacting unsustainable policies regarding officer service terms, and sorely in need of both mental health care resources and better mediation and weapons training.

      I want to point out that it is not at all to the detriment of the department that I, as a member of the public, have come to these conclusions. I may very well be more likely to pick up the phone and dial 311 to report potential criminal activity if I think I am dealing with an entity that is struggling and needs help, as opposed to one that is perfectly healthy as well as powerful, and yet still regularly empties chambers into citizens willy-nilly. I’m certainly more likely to advocate, at the ballot box and elsewhere, for them to get the funding and resources they need.

      But I could not come to any of these conclusions if reporters had not acquired the names of these officers and thereby, been able to access their service records, descriptions and other information.

      Reply
  14. Kevin says:

    “Dont matter who did what to who at this point. Fact is we went to war and now there aint no going back. I mean, shit, its what war is you know. Once you in it, YOU IN IT! If its a lie, then we fight on that lie. But we gotta fight. ”

    I take solace and comfort in the words of Slim Charles. Because that mindset for which he and his comrades adhere to, it shows that they may be keeping the gangster and mob culture alive, it is still a culture that was invented by the police. The behavior of the Ferguson police is that of a mob and the actions of their police chief is that of a gangster, who like Slim Charles, is fighting on a lie.

    A strong arm robbery?? Get the fuck outta here. The entire video I saw shows what appears to be a dispute. According to the store owner, they didn’t even call the police. To release such video in pieces and to characterize it in the worst possible way was clearly meant to demonize that young man and create cover and protection for that cop, a cop of whom we still know little about, specifically his actions that led to the killing of that kid. That’s some true gangster shit right there.

    Reply
    • Monica says:

      And now that we know that the DOJ A) asked that the video not be released because it was inflammatory and B) DOJ opined that it was not actually a part of any FOIA act requests…this is a 1964 playbook, plain and simple. Bull Connor’s 2014 counterpart Thomas Jackson is just more media savvy; no need to rail against “outside agitators”, etc., when you can simply release video stills and edited pieces to create a twisted narrative. To continue the Slim Charles theme – “Game ain’t changed, just got more fierce.”

      Reply
    • kt says:

      Shameful.

      They had already stated that Michael Brown was not stopped in connection with any crime. It is completely irrelevant, even if there is any credibility to it, and Chief Jackson has already demonstrated that he has not earned any credibility.

      Reply
  15. katie says:

    Mr. Simon, did you happen to hear today’s StoryCorps episode on NPR’s Morning Edition? Another story of police brutality and fortunately the kid survived. Excruciating listen.

    http://www.npr.org/2014/08/15/340419821/after-a-traffic-stop-teen-was-almost-another-dead-black-male

    Reply
  16. Jonah Paritzky says:

    David,

    Isn’t the failure to identify the officer just symptomatic of a society that’s increasingly more comfortable with,as you said, drifting towards a militarized police state? All across the country condemned men are being injected with untested, experimental combinations of chemicals and subsequently experiencing deaths that could be considered anything but rapid and humane. Drugs most commonly used in executions are now in short supply because drug manufacturers refuse to supply state governments with their products for the purpose of state-sanctioned murder. States now must resort to sourcing these drugs from unlicensed drug manufacturers (compounding pharmacies) . In fact, the State of Missouri is using the unsubstantiated threat of retribution against these suppliers to maintain the secrecy of their identity. Not only does this, once again, violate freedom of information laws, but what’s even more alarming is the complete absence of public outcry. The more cruel and unusual the punishment, the better. In some states, it seems it has become beneficial to a politician’s approval ratings to express support for botched executions. I know we all want to blame the police, but aren’t people of privilege to blame? Aren’t the police just a reflection of what they want? After all, what happened to Michael Brown isn’t something that could ever occur to them

    Reply
  17. Rose says:

    This is a really great letter and I would hope eye opening to all the closed minded LEOs in Ferguson right now.

    Kevin – Those are a lot of good suggestions on procedural changes that could be made. A lot of them just seem like a combination of comment sense and fairness.

    Reply
  18. Andrew says:

    According to CNN, they plan on releasing the name tomorrow. Couple that with how vastly different the police response to protests have been tonight and I can only assume that a bunch of people got replaced and/or got wise to the national narrative in the past 24 hours.

    Reply
    • Mark Gately says:

      Yes, and look hw quickly and dramatictically it altered and improved thestuatin the streets. A bit of simlecommon sense and putting the right people in the right place can make a tremendous difference.

      Reply
      • kt says:

        Yeah, the immediate de-escalation lends some credence to the allegation that maybe, just MAYBE, that county police department has in fact been exercising unnecessary force as a standard policy for some time now.

        As I heard it succinctly put elsewhere, “now that we’ve all met the St. Louis county police, do we really believe they politely asked Mike Brown and his friend to stop?”

        Reply
  19. rich says:

    That’s a terrific letter, but I fear you should have dumbed it down. The Chief probably fell asleep after the first paragraph. “Janice! Bring me some donuts! And what does crit-i-king mean?”

    Reply
    • kt says:

      How horrible is it that we have so little faith in the intelligence of the people that have been given the legal power of life and death over us?

      I suppose now that we have come to that realization there is only one option — well, there are two, if we’d like to consider the jackboots on our necks and the concentration camps & all of that. Otherwise, there’s only one — we the people, their employers, take their power away.

      The people of Ferguson, and by extension the governor of Missouri, have taken away that power from the St Louis county police tonight. We’ll see what difference that makes. I have high hopes because the people aren’t the problem. We’re all motivated by love. It may be that we’ve just got to fire the middle managers.

      Reply
  20. Mark Gately says:

    Very balanced and fairly argued. Well done. Thank you.

    Please note, as you may know, that any person, not just a police officer, has the legal right to use deadly force to defend themselves against the threat of death or serious bodily harm.

    Reply
    • David Simon says:

      State-sanctioned. They are unique in that they act as agents of the government and are so armed and trained to take life as an act of personal deliberation.

      Reply
      • Mark Gately says:

        Agree. The legal right is the same, but the State sanction, significantly the reality that they are armed, certainly
        alters the overview in a most real and potentially deadly way

        Reply
        • Jonah Paritzky says:

          Mark,

          another difference is that a police officer can confuse a wallet for a gun and get away with it; a private citizen probably isn’t afforded the same margin of error

          Reply
          • Jdm8 says:

            I’ve heard of a case where a Wii controller was confused for a gun. It seems it’s time to tighten the realm of plausibly belief of danger when that entails excessive paranoia to justify what the police get away with.

            Reply
  21. Kevin says:

    As a black man who has never been arrested or been in any legal trouble whatsoever, I hate the police with a passion. And I am a guy from a city recently voted one of the top 10 places in America to raise a family, a quiet suburb where everything shuts down at 10pm every night, AuntBeaVille basically.

    The reason I hate the police with a passion is not because they tend to stop me for no reason. I am a black man living in the American south, I’ve come to grips a long time ago with the consequences of being black. I hate cops because in all the 30 or so times they have stopped me for no reason, they put the burden on reassurance on me…..in other words, I must reassure the cop to a ridiculous level of submission pretty much, that I wont do anything to harm HIM!

    The benefits of being from AuntBeaVille and having a great upbringing with responsible parents, siblings and all others out in the community is that not only am I afforded opportunities and experiences that allow me to see the big picture and have much more to live for (than proving a racist cop wrong) but it has taught me in a white man’s world the very important skill of conflict resolution or basically how to make white people feel comfortable with you. A cop pull me over, even if he and I both know he is in the wrong, I have NO problem with being extremely gracious, giving him my best behavior and warmest pleasantries and complying with his directives even before he gives them: let all windows down, turn the light on in the car, stick hands out the window, exit slowly, keep hands up at all times, answer all intrusive questions he asks. Take my black ass home alive.

    Unfortunately, every negro isn’t from AuntBeaVille. Everyone doesn’t have a great job or family to go home. Nor great friends. Nor great education to rely upon. Nor an overall jolly happy-go-lucky overall life. That doesn’t excuse any potential illegal activity they may or may not have been involved in. But everyone just isn’t equipped for whatever reason to not just comply with cops but to make them comfortable enough to where dying isn’t an option. Damn I miss the days when cops just beat the shit out of you.

    Possible solutions: In all encounters, cops MUST identify themselves with full name, rank and badge number. In a technological age, cops must notify the person they are encountering that they are recording the encounter and allow that person to record it as well. They must be given the option of having another cop appear on the scene. They must clearly notify the person why they are being stopped and they must not exceed the purpose for which they are pulling them over; if you pull over for a speeding infraction, you aren’t allowed to run his information to see if he has outstanding warrants, or search his vehicle or invent some probable cause to extend the encounter beyond the speeding infraction.

    Reply
  22. Monica says:

    Eloquent and frank – thank you.

    As KT suggests, the people who need to ‘hear’ this the most won’t get it; they see the communities they police as ‘Other’, or as one officer in Ferguson was caught saying on camera, “I’ve got 4000 animals here…” Trust and accountability? Jackson, and the department he leads, must first see the citizens they serve as human beings worthy of basic respect.

    Reply
  23. Howard Marks says:

    I just wanted to add that the police in order to have any moral authority in enforcing the law need to scrupulously OBEY the law. Telling the media to shut down cameras before firing tear gas, arresting reporters without charge for working in a nearby fast food establishment and the like are clear 1st amendment violations.

    Even worse withholding the officer’s name is a clear violation of the MO open records law. The Chief should be charged and perp walked for that alone.

    Reply
  24. kt says:

    A beautifully written letter, and really one that every police chief in the country should take to heart as though it were addressed to them.

    If only I had any confidence that this particular individual had the intelligence, common sense or personal integrity to read or understand any of it.

    Until we get justice…not just for Mike Brown but for Eric Garner and Trayvon…and hell, for MLK Jr. and Fred Hampton…and all the rest…see y’all in the streets.

    Reply
  25. Kevin Stevens says:

    Thank you for so eloquently expressing the need for accountability.

    Reply
  26. katie says:

    “He is hidden not from retribution, as you claim. He is hidden from accountability and from the discerning assessment of your citizens.”

    Exactly. Thank you for using your influence in this way.

    This brings to mind your oh-so-controversial post last year about the possibility of an ordinary citizen picking up a brick.

    Reply
  27. Derrick Fogle says:

    Here’s a tweet I saw that sums up the utter farce of this “officer safety” issue rather succinctly:

    “they won’t release name of the cop who shot Michael Brown, for fear of his safety. but, ya know, assault rifles pointed at the rest of you.”

    Reply
  28. Robin C. says:

    Open Letter to Chief Thomas Jackson, the officers of the Ferguson and St. Louis County Police Departments and Governor Jay Nixon

    RE: Ferguson, Missouri
    Instead of stepping aside, the time has come to step forward. For the past several days, I (and many others) have questioned your actions in Ferguson, Missouri. What you are doing is not a miscarriage of justice; rather it is a complete abortion of the notion of justice at all. If you seek peace in your community, then you must admit to your mishandlings and wrongdoings. Your citizens have questions that are reverberating internationally, but you cannot even hear them in your own front yard. The only way to proceed from this point is with complete transparency. Due to the nature of dissemination of news covering this event and the following demonstrations many more questions have arisen through the proliferation of conjecture, primarily via Twitter. These questions need answers before the truth becomes any more muddled. Your citizens are not terrorists or thugs. You can and should negotiate with them. Releasing the name of Darren Wilson a week after the event while simultaneously releasing footage and an incident report of an irrelevant robbery (yes, the robbery is irrelevant to the question of whether Michael Brown was murdered while surrendering with his hands raised) shows that on some level Chief Jackson acknowledges what the citizens want while deliberately and maliciously trying to change the narrative to suit those with authority and power.
    You cannot and will not find the road to peace using a map of war. Your actions and reactions provoke more anger and questions, and the tension has bubbled over beyond your jurisdiction. The road to peace is honest dialogue with community leaders such as Alderman Antonio French, Brother Shahid, and the many other citizens willing to meet in the middle. You must respect the citizens’ constitutional rights to assemble, to film and photograph, and to ask you hard questions. You must act from this point forward with honesty and transparency. If you find yourselves unable to do so, then the most ethical and high-grounded thing to do would be to resign your positions in favor of those who are actually willing and ready to affect positive, non-militaristic change.
    Forget everything else for one minute. You are fathers and mothers. Has your child ever misbehaved or made a mistake? Did they die because of it? If your child died on their way to grandma’s, what questions would you have? What would you ask if you knew your teen’s life ended at the hands of another human, justified or not? Imagine the last person you know who died. How was their body handled after death? How long did you wait for an autopsy? How long did you wait for a funeral? If you find yourself unable to empathize with the citizens of your community, then what are you doing there at all?
    You will not be allowed to make Michael Brown’s death an inconvenience to the force, like the deaths of Eric Garner, John Crawford, and so many other men whose cause of death was skin color. Your citizens will not simmer down and go away. You cannot squash them; they have a country of patriots and a world of support to raise them even higher. Give your brave, proud, admirable American citizens the justice they deserve.
    -A Concerned Supporter of Ferguson, civil rights, and the Constitution of the United States of America (which includes Missouri)

    Reply

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] surmise, is that in America, many black-men do not trust the police. David Simon’s blog about Michael Brown’s death has a great comment […]

  2. […] the street for four hours throughout this ordeal, law enforcement officials have lied, leaked, and obfuscated at seemingly every opportunity. The release of the shoplifting video under false pretense and […]

  3. […] of police, the burdens they bear, and the value to a democratic society. For the full letter go here (which is the most recent of three missives — thanks to our Hillsdale […]

  4. […] if the public doesn’t trust them or respect them to do their job. As longtime police reporter David Simon so pointed out in his letter to Ferguson police chief Thomas […]

  5. […] Simon, who brought a lot of these issues to life vividly in The Wire, wrote about the problems with the initial refusal to identify the officer who shot Brown and what it says about how the police force relates to the […]

  6. […] Tom Clark has been honourably illustrating the current lunacies. Simply considering Ferguson, there’s THIS, and David Simon’s reasonable letter […]

  7. […] because it took so long to share the information. Here’s The Wire’s David Simon with an open letter to the Ferguson police chief: “The decision of a police agency to hide the identities of its officers behind a veil of […]

  8. […] Watters pointed me to an open letter David Simon wrote to the Police captain in Ferguson titled “The Endgame for Civic Responsibility Part iii” that frame the loss of accountability and closing ranks that is what follows this scene when […]

  9. […] because it took so long to share the information. Here’s The Wire’s David Simon with an open letter to the Ferguson police chief: “The decision of a police agency to hide the identities of its officers behind a veil of […]

  10. […] * Ferguson, Missouri, is still the most important story in the country right now; I put up a bunch of links related to the crisis there last night. A letter from David Simon. […]

  11. […] Lettre de l’auteur de la série TheWire, David Simon, au chef de la police de Ferguson : Th… […]

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