29 November 2014

Ferguson: We’re Missing the Point; or, How We Can Bloviate Endlessly

On Black Friday, assorted malls, Walmarts’ and other retailers were inconvenienced by citizens protesting the whole Ferguson, MO, situation.  (Even so, the retailers scored about an 8% increase over the sales on Black Friday last year.)

First, we need to separate the “Ferguson-Incident” from “Ferguson-the-Issue.” The concept that the St. Louis grand jury got it wrong and that “we” need a do-over is a suckers' bet. [See note 1]   If anyone defines “success” as what will happen in Missouri, they had missed the point.

The Ferguson-Incident really matters to the people who directly experienced it and to those with direct contacts to it. It matters to the decedent’s family and friends. It matters to the officer. [See note 2]  It matters to the witnesses. It matters to the authorities who are responsible to find out what happened in that particular incident.

But the rest of America is substantially impaired to judge this Ferguson-Incident.  If it represents a starting point for a national discussion, that’s fine.  But the Ferguson-Incident is one data-point in the discussion. No more. No less.

Maybe an out-of-control officer assassinated an innocent victim. Maybe a bad guy ran into an officer minding his own business. I don’t know. If I express an opinion, it has to be based on third- (or more) hand information. There is no way any of us can fairly judge from what evidence has been leaked from the grand jury, almost invariably by someone who has a dog in that fight. Even forensic evidence is merely evidence. Humans have to interpret that and sometimes humans get it wrong.

What? I hear a lot of You-have-to-be-kidding-me’s. A video from a few minutes before shows thus and so.  On the other hand, the ballistics show thus and so.  One witness says one thing and another witness says another. I read it in the the news, so I know what happened.  Don’t I?

As important the Ferguson-Incident is to the people directly involved, the rest of us are doing little but counting faeries dancing on the head of a pin.

Here is the real point: A significant part of the national community perceives that justice is racially biased.  Another part of the national community perceives that it’s not, but if it is, it’s rational.  That’s the issue.  

We need to accept that the majority of folks speaking out actually believe what they are saying. They are right. They are wrong. It doesn’t matter. People act on beliefs which are sincerely held.  When the beliefs clash, human nature seems to tell us to shut our minds, marshal our arguments, and defend our position to the last man.  

After all, if we can prove that the other side is wrong, they will fold their tent and go home.

Won’t they?

Not hardly. The normal human response is to dig in.  Then, ultimately, some belief is accepted by a bare majority. And then you have others who are royally – and genuinely – pissed off. 

Oh, I hear the You-have-to-be-kidding-me’s again.  Can I not see that [whatever] is the truth?

Actually, no.

That’s why the this Ferguson-Incident represents only an example of how we look at race to determine the bias of justice.

Oh, of course the justice system is biased. You are biased.  I am biased.  All God’s children are biased, especially those who are aghast that anybody dares to say that they are biased.  In my experience, the justice system is heavily biased against people who do harmful things to others.  We expect that bias. But the devil is in the details. What other biases exist that we agree is unfair or yields a poorer quality of justice.  

I have some ideas. Other people have different ideas. I suspect that all of the notions have a degree of truth in them. This American social experiment is complicated. There is no single cause for a single effect. We have a constant competition of ideas, all going on at once.

What is a mature society to do?

1 – Slow down. The Ferguson-Incident is a data point. While it is important to the people involved, if the rest of us claim “a piece of the rock,” we make whatever happened in Ferguson the whole point. 

2 – Speed up. Actually, we need to go from a dead stop. Americans say they want answers to the problems of American life. But we want simple answers when the answers are not simple. We need some real answers.  We need to accept that this is a continuing process of never-ending improvement. We need to invite dissent, not merely tolerate it.

3 – We need to confront the entire problem of justice, not just futz around making it look better. If you have a turd, spread icing on it, and decorate it with candles, it’s still not a birthday cake.

A rare group  moderate Senators had an intriguing on how to handle the gun debate.  Some suggested a “National Commission on Violence,” where the participants have not already decided what to conclude.  

How about dealing with a much larger issue: A National Commission for Justice, Violence, Economics, and Responsibility.”  I can picture it letting others than the Al Sharpton’s or Rush Limbaugh’s of the world be heard --respectfully.  I can picture – I think – that we might listen and participate in the discussion without automatically going into a defensive mode.  

This is important stuff.  If we pay attention to that because it because of the Ferguson-Incident, so be it.  But now it’s time to STFU and actually find some answers.

Note 1:   Actually, a do-over is possible. The government can present a case to the grand jury again and again until the grand jury issues an indictment.  I don’t really imagine that any future grand jury would have any more information than the grand jury which is already sitting.  That particular grand jury said that the evidence did not satisfy even a probable cause standard.  That is the easiest proof standard. Also, a federal investigation is possible.  But a federal civil rights violation would be still harder to prove. The Feds have to prove a specific civil-rights-related intent.

Note 2: I use “decedent” and “officer,” rather than any of the victim vs. bad guy, officer vs. bad guy, etc.  I still was not there when it happened. 

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