Nov 262014

man with no eyes - cool hand lukeIf my friend’s statuses are any indication, in the wake of Monday’s acquittal there’s been a wave of people defriending each other on Facebook. Which is both the least important impact of the Brown situation, and the only one personally felt by almost everyone in my social circles (which says a lot on it’s own).

The vitriol gets heated, because both sides are obviously right, and both sides know that they are right, so the other side must of course be evil monsters. In the interest of maybe helping to re-humanize the other side and de-escalate the new civil war we’ve been sliding towards over the last decades in the USA, please consider why the other side is right. First, to my blue friends:

Darren Wilson wasn’t indicted, because he’s most likely innocent. Larry Correia covers the legalities of shooting people in a recent post, which gives us some groundwork to work from. The objection of course is that Darren Wilson was never in danger, Brown had his hands up, etc. That is not what the grand jury found. We are all very good at telling climate change denialists that when 97% of the experts in a field, those with the relevant knowledge and expertise, all agree that the planet is warming due to greenhouse gasses being emitted by human activity, they don’t get to say “nuh uh” just because they really dislike those results. But when the evidence doesn’t support our pre-determined conclusions, suddenly we forget all that. The evidence that is publically available is both limited and contradictory. When the entirety of the evidence was placed before a panel of jurors they determined that there was no reason to charge Wilson with a crime.

For us to demand that their judgment be overturned is the same thing denialists are doing when they dispute global warming. In both cases it’s the willful dismissal of the facts determined by those who are best qualified to determine them. It is the shunning of the evidence-based approach in favor of emotion and gut-feeling. Unless you have a compelling reason to think there was misrepresentation of evidence or jury-tampering, we should feel compelled to defer to the evidence-based system that is in place. Even when it produces results we dislike. Accepting reality even when it says we are wrong is an extremely difficult skill, and it is the reason most people can’t do science.

To my red friends:

Michael Brown was the victim of a racist system. In much of the country, black people still live under a system of state-sponsored terrorism. To them, police are not protectors and allies. They are the stormtroopers that you have to avoid and kow-tow to on a daily basis to avoid having your teeth kicked in. Here is a collection of short anecdotes from parents of black boys telling them how to avoid being targeted by cops at shockingly young ages (7!). For large portions of the black population, life isn’t unlike residing in a country occupied by a hostile force. Under these conditions, tell me you give two shits if one of the occupiers was justified when he killed yet another of your friends. This retaliation is not against an individual person, because individual people are not the problem. This is anger and outrage at an entire system of oppression.

That is the mistake people make when they say “The owner of that Little Ceaser’s they burned down sure was taught not to be a cop shooting black kids!” This is not personal retaliation. This is an attack on the entire system. Humans aren’t completely retarded, history has shown us how to threaten a system. The senators of the Roman Empire constantly worried about the anger of the mob, and they weren’t the first by far. The dispossessed don’t have much to worry about from rioting and looting – they don’t have much to lose anyway. Those who are threatened are property owners and, nowadays, business owners. You know – people with power. Maybe not a lot, individually. But that’s why you don’t threaten them individually. That would be dumb. You threaten the entire structure, burning and looting businesses and interests of (semi-)powerful people at random, so that anyone could potentially become a victim. The Walton family is never going to personally feel the loss of one store, but you keep the business centers of major cities on fire for long enough and you bet eventually the people who can make some actual changes will take notice. What actions they will take are unknowable, but the bet is that things can’t get much worse.

So, rather than screaming at the other side “You want to lock up an innocent person! And you’re punishing other innocent people who were entirely uninvolved!”, or yelling “You want to perpetuate a system of terror and oppression!”, please acknowledge that the other side has a valid fucking point, and realize that we are extremely similar to each other. We’re simply focusing on different aspects of the situation, because different things are more or less personally relevant to us. And maybe we can find a way through this without further polarizing into parallel words of mutual hatred and misunderstanding.

And while I have your attention, let’s get more police wearing body-cameras while on duty, until we get to the point where any officer not wearing one is viewed as a renegade operative, and testimony without camera back-up is viewed as inherently untrustworthy. This helps both sides.

(*this blog post’s title is shamelessly stole from Jai’s blog)

  4 Responses to “Almost No One is Evil; Almost Everything is Broken”

  1. There absolutely was a misrepresentation of evidence. Providing ‘all the evidence’ for a grand jury trial is by itself a misrepresentation, since it is not how grand juries are supposed to work. Grand juries are legally structured with the assumption that the prosecutor will present the evidence in favor of a prosecution; since there is almost always some evidence that, out of context, suggests guilt, this is an extremely easy standard to meet. Flooding the jury with evidence, including personal testimony from the defendant (which is EXTREMELY irregular, totally unreliable, but often irrationally convincing, especially from a policeman/authority figure) demonstrates that contrary to his duty, the prosecutor made no actual effort to bring Wilson up on charges. With treatment this nice, OJ Simpson would have had a decent chance to avoid being successfully indicted. The prosecutor was manifestly not trying.

    Seriously, do your research. would be sufficient.

    • I’m just going to quote Alonzo Fyfe on this, as he says it succinctly:

      Prosecutor Robert McCulloch presented all of the available evidence to the grand jury looking at indicting officer Darren Wilson for the shooting of Michael Brown.
      People have noted that this is unusual.
      But it should not be.
      The common practice of presenting a grand jury only part of the information, forcing the accused to undergo the expense of a full trial even when the police have evidence that would support his innocence, undermines the whole purpose of the Grand Jury.
      Grand Juries were invented to prevent law enforcement officials from harassing people with the threat of a trial. It was feared that, without such protection, the police would target individuals they did not like, trump up charges against them, and force them to endure an expensive trial if they did not do what the police wanted. So, they required that the police present their evidence to a Grand Jury, and let the Grand Jury decide if the accused must endure the expense of a trial.
      Yes, Robert McCulloch’s actions were unusual, and he could have probably manipulated the Grand Jury to give an indictment if he had tried.
      But that fact is not something to be celebrated. It is something in need of changing. The only unusual case is that Robert McCulloch did something in this case that prosecutors should be required to do in every case.

    • Prosecutors aren’t supposed to indict unless they think there are quite substantial odds that a crime was committed. And there is no point in indicting unless they think a trial will deliver a conviction. In this case McCulloch clearly didn’t think the guy was guilty and certainly didn’t think there was sufficient evidence to convict him in a trial. And he is almost certainly right. Normally McCulloch would never have gone to a grand jury with this. That part was likely an attempt to mollify public opinion.

      There’s this idea floating around that “a trial is where we found out whether someone is guilty or not”. But I really, really do not want a society where prosecutors go to court with any old crap they find. If prosecutors started thinking “yeah, I don’t really think he did it and the evidence doesn’t amount to much – but let’s press charges anyway, just to be on the safe side” that would be horrible. Being charged and put on trial is a horrible experience. People should not be lightly dragged through that.

      • This is true. And, as discussed above, the entire point of grand juries is to prevent this (far more than 11 times out of however-many-hundred-thousand). However, in this case, where the prosecutor didn’t think he was guilty of a crime, and went to grand jury anyway, he imposed his own biases into the evidence presented. If he had thought Wilson wasn’t acting in self defence, the grand jury most likely would have indicted. So the question becomes, why did McCulloch believe what he believed? Probably, because of a pre-existing bias on the issue, just like almost everybody else who thinks they knows what happened there.

        There is no way for Wilson to have gotten a fair trial, because pretty much everybody in the nation is already biased one way or another, and I don’t trust a sitting grand jury, a handful randomly chosen people for the hypothetical trial, or any prosecutor or defence attorney to be unbiased on the issue. One consequence of this is that I don’t think it’s possible to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he was not acting in self defence, and so he should not be convicted in a full trial. Another is that there will always be reasonable suspicion. Probably cause is the hazy middle ground between the two; I haven’t personally examined the evidence, but I would not be surprised if it did exist, or if it didn’t. I just don’t trust the result of the grand jury on the issue either way.

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