On crimes and punishment

Opinions_Crime and PunishmentThe many victims of the Michael Brown incident

By Margaret Matthews, Senior Columnist

While honesty and integrity are of paramount importance in everyday life, there are some who lack self-discipline, fall short of ethics, and succumb to a baser nature. Such was supposedly the case of an unarmed black 18-year-old teenager, Michael Brown, who allegedly stole a box of cigars from a convenience store in Ferguson, Missouri. Later that night, Brown was stopped by Darren Wilson, a white police officer, for “blocking traffic” by walking down the middle of the street. An altercation arose between Brown and Wilson. Brown reportedly did not resist arrest, but held up his hands in surrender. Wilson fired six shots at Brown, one of which—the fatal blow—was aimed at his head, and Brown fell to the ground, dead.

Police brutality can be severe, and sometimes police officers overstep their boundaries in an abuse of power. What are the determining factors used in deciding when to shoot at a suspect, other than in self-defence? What if the scenario was different? What if the thief was a white teen? Would Wilson have fired?

It should be noted that at the time of Brown’s death, there were no legal charges laid against Brown with regard to his alleged shoplifting. Did Wilson overreact to Brown’s “blocking of traffic,” which could have been a teenage prank on the part of Brown? There are “jaywalkers” who violate traffic laws, but do so when they are in a hurry or if there is construction and the normal crosswalk is closed to pedestrians. Are police officers taught to shoot at jaywalkers for breaking this traffic law?

The untimely death of Brown has sparked racial tensions between the black community of Ferguson and the law enforcement officers, and the ensuing riots—resulting in looting, plundering, injury, and vandalism—leave much to be desired.

The protestors defied overnight curfews instituted by Missouri Governor Jay Nixon in acts of civil disobedience. Protestors advocated justice for Brown and that charges be laid against Wilson. Wilson has gone into hiding for security, and peace and solidarity have not returned to Ferguson.

Reports have indicated that a grand jury has been chosen to review the entire case of Wilson shooting and killing Brown, and the grand jury will determine—with all the evidence and witness statements at hand—whether charges will be laid against Wilson. Since the grand jury in Missouri meet only once a week in court, it will not be until October that that determination will be made public.

Being shot and killed for allegedly shoplifting a box of cigars from a store or for “blocking traffic” was too severe of a penalty to be imposed on Brown. Execution on the spot goes beyond reason and definitely deserves investigation.