Great Moments in Law Enforcement
November 18th, 2014

This video of Officer Darren Wilson was released a few days ago, but it’s worth highlighting for a number of reasons:

* What you see in the 15 second video is a citizen interacting calmly and respectfully with a police officer.

* The police officer, on the other hand, responds with casual profanity, saying, “I’ll lock your ass up.”

* Once again, the civilian acts like a professional and a grown-up while the officer of the law acts like thug with no responsibilities–despite the fact that he’s getting paid for the interaction and is carrying the gun.

* But more importantly, the civilian has a firmer grasp of the applicable laws that the police officer does. The civilian believes he is allowed to videotape the encounter. Officer Wilson claims he is not. Wilson is, as a simple factual matter, incorrect.

* Wilson then arrests the civilian, based on his faulty understanding of the law. When police officers either don’t understand the law or refuse to follow it, they are engaged in legal nullification. What good is it to have a law allowing you to videotape police encounters if the police will lock you up anyway? This is a chilling effect on steroids and it ought to be stamped out vigorously by prosecutors and the courts. (Here is an example of a happy ending: When a cop tells a citizen who is legally recording him “I’ll fucking kill you” and then, when asked his name, replies “Go fuck yourself,” he’s removed from duty. That’s the way it should work. Though he should probably lose his job altogether. One imagines that if a check-out clerk at, say, Target, told a customer, “I’ll fucking kill you” he’d be fired in less than five minutes; no second chances.)

* Click through that link and you then see copies of Wilson’s report of the encounter which is somewhat revisionist.

* So we have a cop talking like a thug, acting on an incorrect understanding of the law, and then lying about it after the fact.

Maybe Darren Wilson’s shooting of Michael Brown was justified, maybe it wasn’t. I haven’t followed the case closely enough to have an informed opinion. But it strikes me that he probably shouldn’t have been on the streets carrying a gun in the name of the law in the first place.

You ought to be able to condemn the looting and race-mongering in Ferguson without lining up to take sides with police misconduct. These two things are not incompatible and it is a foolish politics which tries to make them so.

(Though if you had to order them in terms of importance, it’s hard to see how police misconduct isn’t worse–much worse–than looting. Looters are normal citizens whose law-breaking is individual and discrete. Police officers who break the law do so as agents of the state entrusted with the use of deadly force.)

  1. Dave S. November 25, 2014 at 10:53 am

    Here’s something I never thought I’d write about one of your pieces: