Think before you act or face the consequences

I have been fighting a battle with myself the last couple of days. Part of me wanted to write about what happened in Ferguson, the grand jury decision and the reaction to it. Another part of me told me to wait. Emotions are still running so high about what happened and too few — on both sides of the issue — are taking a moment to step back, breathe deep and actually consider what happened. Now that we have a grand jury determination that they were going to no-bill Officer Wilson for the death of Michael Brown, we can at least look at the evidence the prosecutor presented. However, that’s not what I’m going to talk about today (even though there are glaring holes in what they did see, holes a good prosecutor as well as a good defense attorney could have used at trial to bolster their cases.)

What I am going to talk about is the response here in the DFW area last night. I will admit right now that Dallas has had more than its fair share of questionable police shootings over the last few years. But I have to give it to DPD for doing what it can to prevent repeat performances. It hasn’t always been a quick response nor has it always been the one the community wanted. However, compared with what DPD used to be like, the response and filing of charges against officers has been much better.

And that brings us to the events of last night. If there has ever been a situation in the last few years when the DPD could have overreacted, last night was it. What started as a peaceful protest over the Ferguson grand jury decision, as well as police shootings here in the area, quickly escalated. The protest grew from a few hundred to more than a thousand by several reports I’ve seen this morning. The protesters went from the area around City Hall through parts of downtown and then purposefully spilling onto I-35. We’re not talking a few people nor are we talking about a low traffic roadway.

I-35 basically bisects part of downtown. It is a major thoroughfare and it is rare when it is not heavily traveled. Last night was no exception. I can only imagine what the drivers thought when they were suddenly brought to a standstill when hundreds of people poured onto the roadway, blocking it in both directions.

They didn’t walk out and form a chain across the road, preventing cars from moving forward. The video I’ve seen shows them moving between the cars, shouting and yelling. They stopped traffic and continued to harass the drivers. Yes, harass. Even if they weren’t shouting at the drivers themselves or rocking their cars, they were harassing them by preventing them from getting home or getting to work to to pick up their kids or whatever they were trying to do.

This went on for more than a few minutes. DPD responded and, as they had earlier with the protest, they basically stood by and did nothing. After a bit, they tried talking to the protesters in an attempt to get them to clear the roadway. By then, the majority of the protesters already had. However, a couple of hundred — maybe less — remained on one side of the road, continuing to block traffic.

What they did was illegal. It could have been life-threatening if an ambulance or other emergency vehicles had been caught up in the traffic. Or if one of the drivers had felt threatened enough to pull a gun to defend himself. But that didn’t matter to these folks. They had a captive audience and, by God, they were going to use it.

By the time everything was said and done, it was after 10 PM and the police finally had to move in and take action. Eight people were arrested for impeding traffic.

So many things could have gone wrong last night with the protest that didn’t. As frustrated as I am that the protesters had no problem violating the rights of others — ironic since they were protesting rights violations — I have to give it to everyone involved and especially to DPD because nothing went wrong. No one overreacted and no one, to the best of my knowledge, was injured. One reason why this was, ultimately, a peaceful assembly was because the police did not overreact. Even when they responded en masse to the situation on I-35, they came in with what appeared to be a sense of needing to keep things under control without escalating it. I didn’t see one riot shield in the videos played locally and no shouting back and forth between protesters and police. There may have been some. I just didn’t see it.

So I give kudos to everyone involved — except for shutting down the highway — for how they behaved.

However, I do not approve of shutting down a major freeway like they did. I’ll admit that I would have liked to see the cops take a bit more action to open the roadway up sooner than they did. But I wasn’t there and I don’t know what orders they were operating under.

Now contrast that to some of the other so-called protests that have happened across the country. Protests that have resulted in damage to private property and injury to protesters or bystanders. There is no excuse for that. The message gets lost in the anger and frustration that follows such actions.

Was the grand jury right in no-billing the officer? I don’t know. My gut tells me it was but I also know how grand juries can be manipulated by a good prosecutor. Should a special prosecutor have been appointed to look into what happened? In my opinion, yes. Ferguson is a smallish town and it would have been easy enough to find a special prosecutor and give at least the air of fairness to the process. A lot of ruffled feathers could have been smoothed with that one simple action.

Were there procedural problems with the investigation? From what I’ve seen, most definitely. But none of them prove the officer lied. What they show is a department that tried its best but one that isn’t as big or as sophisticated as DPD or NYPD or may others.

Most of all, unlike some folks who I’ve seen calling for an automatic presumption that any cop who pulls his gun and kills someone is guilty of murder, I still believe in the presumption of innocence. Should a cop be held to a higher standard? Absolutely. But we should not hold him to a standard that is so high that he basically has to sacrifice his life and not defend himself or he has to wait for someone else to be hurt or killed — and it must be done in his presence — before he can clear his holster.

Ask yourselves this: if you were in the same situation as the officer — as described by him and as accepted by the grand jury — what would a reasonable man have done? I don’t know about you, but I have a feeling I’d have done the exact same thing. If someone grabs my gun and I fear they are going to try to use it on me, I will defend myself. I will defend my loved ones.

That said, if there is reasonable evidence to show the cop lied, well, he ought to feel the full force of the law.

The grand jury said there was not enough evidence to indict.

Like it or not, that is what members of the Ferguson community, black and white alike, male and female, decided. Until we know better, we have to accept it. Yes, if you feel the need to protest, do so. But do so within the bounds of the law. Otherwise, don’t yell and scream and cry about finding yourselves on the receiving end of a citation or a trip to jail. Freedom of speech and assembly doesn’t mean you do say whatever you want wherever you want.

And ask yourselves this, those of you who had no problem breaking the law last night — be it in Dallas or elsewhere — how would you have felt if the roles had been reversed and you had been the one stuck in traffic for several hours or if it had been your business burned down?

6 Comments

  1. But Amanda that’s different!!!! [Very Big Sarcastic Grin]

    I’m getting very cynical about the so-called “community organizers” who appear to want riots or “peaceful” mobs to harass others. They’re safe because they often aren’t out there “leading” the mobs.

    1. Sorry for the delay in responding. You’re right about the so-called community organizers. I’d love to see, just once, someone charge them when violence occurs after they call for “action”.

  2. Amanda all told I did nine years in law enforcement. Had I been in Officer Wilsons place I would not have gotten hit. The thug would have died when he refused to behave in a rational manner. Once he refused to leave the street he was endangering other people’s lives. The officer’s life and anyone driving along who came upon him and had to take evasive action trying not to hit him! The jury would probability have indited me, and that is why I got out of law enforcement. I watched two offices die trying to keep a guy on Angel Dust safe. One was struck by a car and the other had his neck broken by the man he was trying to save. The individual had hurt three other people and the higher said we needed to subdue him rather than shoot him! I call Bullschise on the whole attitude about dealing with people actively breaking the law.

    1. Gary, I hear you. I’ve worked with law enforcement and know a number of folks who are LEOs. That’s why I tend to get more than a little hot under the collar when I see people suggesting that there should be a presumption of wrong-doing on the officer’s part anytime a cop has to draw his weapon. I want to tell them to spend a month patrolling with a LEO on the bad side of town. I want them to see what it is like to face down someone high on PCP or the like. I want to see how they react when faced with someone who wants to commit suicide by cop and who doesn’t care how many folks he kills in the process.

      Are there bad cops? Sure. But there are a heck of a lot more good ones and I hate seeing what happened to Officer Wilson. Had I been in his shoes, I’d probably have reacted as you say you would have. Then I’d be the one up before the grand jury.

  3. ” a peaceful assembly was because the police did not overreact”
    No. It is not peaceful to stop block people in their cars on the public highway. It’s a form of false imprisonment.
    Violence was implied. It was a violent challenge because the only practical response to escape would have been violent.
    It avoided violence towards the demonstrators because the police ALLOWED UNLAWFUL BEHAVIOR.
    The violence of holding the motorists hostage was simply ignored as long as they weren’t hurt.
    It was a hostage situation but nobody will acknowledge that.
    So we are one more step away from being a nation of laws.
    The behavior was rewarded and will happen again – easier.
    People can block you in your car and detain you with no consequences.
    If you run them over you will be charged for escaping.
    This is like charging a bank clerk for escaping a hostage situation that resulted from a robbery gone bad if a robber gets hurt. It’s madness. The police have taken the side of the law breakers.

    1. I’m going to disagree with you. It was not a lawful assembly but it was peaceful. There was no property or personal damage done. It is nitpicking, but it is the truth. As for the rest of it, we’re pretty much in agreement. I would have loved to have seen more arrests. Heck, I want to see folks like Sharpton arrested and charged for inciting riots and as accessories before and after the fact for all the violence that happened in Ferguson and other areas.

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