Simple, Right?

In the ongoing tragedy that is Ferguson, MO, one of the most tragic aspects of all is the hardening contempt each side of the conflict feels and expresses for the other. As a white conservative I am ashamed of the grossly simplified generalizations that characterize the discussion on the right. But more than anything, I am grieved by the widening gulf, on this and many other issues, between neighbors, fellow citizens and, most especially, fellow believers.

After the Grand Jury decision not to indict Wilson was announced last night, the usually thoughtful Matt Walsh opined this morning, “Brown instigated this encounter, tried to hurt the officer, and paid for it with his life. That’s it. That’s all. This whole outrage was based on rumor and false testimony. You either accept the facts, or you brand yourself a liar and a fraud.”

No, Matt, that’s not it and that’s not all.

In France, 1789, the explosion of rage, murder and destruction we call the French Revolution ignited a fifty year period of chaos and death. The world looked on in disbelief as the desperation-fueled heroism of those who stormed the Bastille gave way to Robespierre and the reign of terror. Observers all over the west shook their heads as centuries’ worth of cultural, religious and political effort was dismantled and destroyed, and waxed philosophical in their armchairs over the sheer stupidity of the French public. If any people could be accused of destroying their own city – even beyond that, of destroying themselves – the French peasantry of the late eighteenth century were guilty.

Edmund Burke criticized the French Revolution in a series of pamphlets, speeches, etc. In his first pamphlet he accused the French people of rebelling “against a mild and lawful monarch, with more fury, outrage, and insult, than any people has been known to rise against the most illegal usurper, or the most sanguinary tyrant.”

This accusation drew the ire of the American author Thomas Paine, who replied, “It was not against Louis the XVIth, but against the despotic principles of the government, that the nation revolted. These principles had not their origin in him, but in the original establishment, many centuries back: and they were become too deeply rooted to be removed, and the Augean stables of parasites and plunderers too abominably filthy to be cleansed by anything short of a complete and universal Revolution. … Perhaps no man bred up in the style of an absolute king, ever possessed a heart so little disposed to the exercise of that species of power as the present King of France. But the principles of the Government itself still remained the same. The Monarch and the Monarchy were distinct and separate things; and it was against the established despotism of the latter, and not against the person or principles of the former, that the revolt commenced, and the Revolution has been carried.”

Paine went on to lash out at Burke for his aristocratic sympathies and his refusal to even attempt to see the revolution from the perspective of the oppressed people of France. “Not one glance of compassion,” he wrote, “not one commiserating reflection that I can find throughout his book, has he bestowed on those who lingered out the most wretched of lives, a life without hope in the most miserable of prisons. … He pities the plumage, but forgets the dying bird.”

Ouch.

Burke and Paine both made legitimate points, and both were blinded by their own prejudices. In his sympathy for the horrific suffering of the French people, Paine glossed over many of the terrible crimes and excesses they committed. But his critique of Burke on this point was devastatingly accurate. Burke saw the sins of the French Revolution in a political and historical vacuum. He saw them as a grave threat to the relatively orderly subordination of English society and to the aristocratic system. He failed to acknowledge the crushing weight of centuries of accumulated oppression and how that history shaped the French people, and he failed to distinguish between the many aspects of the revolution and the motivations of its various groups and factions.

Those who look with contempt on the whole mass of protesters in Ferguson – without distinction, without even an attempt to perceive their widely different motivations – are guilty of just such an error. The killing of Michael Brown, whether justified or not, occurred in a decades-old context of unchecked law enforcement brutality and deep-seated hostility between people of color in Ferguson and their police. Back in the late ’90s journalists described the area as a racial volcano destined to erupt. In 2012 Ferguson police officers mistakenly arrested an innocent black man and beat him savagely in a holding cell, only to discover their mistake afterwards. Rather than risk the consequences of a public acknowledgement they charged him with destruction of government property for bleeding on their uniforms. While a judge dismissed those charges, none of the officers involved were punished. In this context it would be shocking if the black community were to calmly accept a grand jury decision not to indict. They have no faith in the system, and for good reason.

Then, too, there is a fundamental distrust of this particular process that is equally understandable. No one expected the grand jury to indict Wilson. Jonathan Blanks, writing for Rare today, observed that “The law enforcement apparatus in and around St. Louis County treated the citizenry with open contempt. In his press conference yesterday, St. Louis County prosecutor Bob McCulloch sounded more like a defense attorney for Wilson rather than a prosecutor who failed to get an indictment.”

Legal blogger and defense attorney Scott Greenfield was more specific. “All the evidence,” he writes, “is a phrase that applies to a trial. A trial is a procedure that happens in an open courtroom, where adversaries zealously present their case and challenge the other side’s case. It is transparent because we can watch it unfold, develop, happen before our eyes. We hear the questions and answers, the objections and rulings. We hear the request to admit evidence and the voir dire and challenge to its admission. We hear the opening arguments and summations. … Whether Darren Wilson would have been convicted after trial remains unclear; perhaps the case against him for the killing of Michael Brown wouldn’t have survived scrutiny. Perhaps the structural benefits given law enforcement to kill without fear would have allowed him to circumvent conviction. Perhaps he wasn’t guilty. We will never know. … The merit of the grand jury presentation relies entirely on our acceptance of Bob McCulloch’s office desiring an indictment against Darren Wilson. Just as a prosecutor can indict any damn person he pleases, he can similarly make sure a person is not indicted.” (Read the whole post – it’s worth your time.)

When was the last time you saw a police officer indicted, let alone convicted, for excessive use of force, without a viral video either leaked or recorded by a bystander? Even in those cases where a concerned citizen is in the right place at the right time to make such a recording, how often are officers actually prosecuted? Answer those questions honestly, and then tell me why, in that context, any of us should be expected to accept the grand jury’s finding as fact?

Wilson may have been completely justified. But to dismiss those who distrust the process as liars and frauds is either tragically simple-minded or disingenuous.

Advertisements

About Patrick G. Kocher
Patrick G. Kocher is a liberty minded Republican activist from southeast PA. He is a constitutionalist and history junkie whose political thinking is heavily influenced by Jefferson, Madison, Bastiat, Hayek and, most recently, Ron Paul. A committed Christian, Patrick is a member of Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. He and his wife, Georgina, live in Chester County, PA with their four children.

8 Responses to Simple, Right?

  1. jonolan says:

    Wilson may have been completely justified. But to dismiss those who distrust the process as liars and frauds is either tragically simple-minded or disingenuous…or completely accurate since self-delusion is as much a lie as one told to another.

    As for you false equivalency between the Blacks and French peasantry, I don’t even think we can discuss that since you seem to actually be able to say it with a straight face as it were.

    • Your inability to understand a parallel does not constitute an argument against it. In this case blindly trusting the process is the delusional position.

      • jonolan says:

        I agree that “blindly trusting the process” is delusional and add that it’s also lazy. The Blacks, however, do not distrust the process; they reject and the nation that corrected it. They also reject that they are ones that created a practical system that is weighted against them to some extent by that very rejection of the process, nation, and culture which they live surrounded by.

      • Clarify something for me, please: who are “The Blacks?” I can’t address the claim without knowing who you’re talking about.

      • jonolan says:

        On the off chance that question isn’t just bait, I’ll define them for this purpose as the “Black Community” or those Blacks that maintain a separate and antithetical culture to that of Americans. And no, I don’t consider them to be Americans and neither do they consider themselves to be such except when it suits them or gets them something.

      • Okay, fair enough. It might be helpful to know how you define American (culturally), but then again it might not make much difference. In any case, your definition of The Blacks doesn’t describe the majority of the protesters in Ferguson, which is to say, you are off topic.

        I presume you agree that identifying as black does not, in itself, conflict with being American?

      • jonolan says:

        Don’t make that presumption as it makes a difference how one defines “identifies” and “Black.” And yes, I’m aware that is almost Clintonian when written out.

        I would also say that it DOES describe the majority of the protesters in Ferguson and the other cities where they’re, to a much lesser extent, causing problems right now.

      • In that case it really doesn’t make a difference. We could play Clintonian Circles all day long, but with that last sentence you’ve made my point for me.

        In this post, without claiming equivalency, I drew a parallel, not between “The Blacks” and the French people, but between Burke’s argument and yours. That parallel absolutely holds up under close examination, with the one exception being Burke’s mastery of the English language. Thank you for the object lesson.

        There is no meaningful definition of black that would allow you or anyone to correctly make such sweeping assertions regarding the motives, beliefs or purposes of the protesters in Ferguson, let alone the rest of the country. You may be – I think you are – correct in attributing evil motives to some, but by painting with such a broad brush you demonstrate willing, colossal ignorance.

        There are at least four loosely defined but nevertheless very distinct types of people involved in these protests. But we probably can’t even have a discussion about that since you can lump them all together with (I presume) a straight face.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: