Rule of law among important issues at stake in Ferguson

Kelly Sloan
Kelly Sloan

Ferguson, Mo., has filled the airwaves these past few weeks. While the main reason it has done so is because rioting makes for good video, it would be a mistake to think there aren’t real issues at play — although they’re likely not the ones on the minds of the wielders of Molotov cocktails.

Any discussion about the troubles in Ferguson should begin with an acknowledgement of what we know and what we don’t know. We know, for instance, the riots, the gunshots, rock- and Molotov cocktail –throwing, looting and destruction of property are not caused by the shooting of a young black man, Michael Brown, by a white police officer, Darren Wilson. Neither are the riots caused by racial tension in the town nor long standing grievances between residents and police.

The riots are, in fact, caused by rioters — people who want and seek excuses to destroy, loot and cause mayhem and found them in the current situation. Now, the protests that provided those excuses might have been instigated by purer motives. But make no mistake: The destructiveness witnessed ad nauseum on cable news shows is caused by people on the fringes of society bent on destruction.

What we don’t know is what happened on that fatal, tragic day in question in the St. Louis suburb. I have no idea whether or not Officer Wilson shot Brown in legitimate self-defense or committed murder. But neither does anyone on the streets of Ferguson. The situation needs to be sorted out as all such matters do — by a legal process that impartially examines available evidence and proceeds in the direction pointed to by that evidence. If the facts demonstrate the act and intent of murder on the part of Wilson, he should be prosecuted accordingly. If facts suggest otherwise, he should be exonerated.

But members of the mob in Ferguson aren’t clamoring for the application of due process. They are, in the bloody tradition of mobs, calling for Wilson’s head.

That might be understandable, if not excusable, coming as it is from a frenzied street mob. But a similar presumption of guilt and demand for blood is also, sadly and inappropriately, coming from Jay Nixon, the democratic governor of Missouri, and from U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.

Government doesn’t have all that many legitimate roles in a free society, but the few it has are important. Chief among them is to provide order — in other words, to protect citizens from the arbitrary and capricious whims of a mob. And yet, here we see the government reinforcing them.

Episodes like these also inevitably bring up — or at least ought to —concerns over the root causes of crime and other social problems in the affected communities. The hard fact is that Officer Wilson was in the area in the first place responding to a crime and that Michael Brown was by far no angel. Would the entire tragic episode been avoided if the base causes for local social ills — which data invariably points to as being the alarming and growing rate of illegitimate births among afflicted populations — were properly addressed?

Discussions about the “militarization” of police have also surfaced out of this. This trend merits attention. Certainly the EPA, Department of Agriculture and other agencies shouldn’t have SWAT teams. But police tools, tactics and protective equipment need to evolve with the times and the threats police face. It strikes me as a bit ironic these arguments were being brought up as police in the embattled town faced bullets, rocks and homemade bombs.

These deeper issues won’t be resolved on the streets of Ferguson. Unfortunately, the approach taken by the mob and their liberal supporters will make most of the problems worse. Incessant resuscitation of the racial element will keep the real causes of social problems from being addressed. And the greater the threats to the police, the greater their need to protect themselves.

But the worst injury could be to our foundational legal process. Rule of law is not a concept that entirely endears itself to the left owing to its natural constraint on radical, arbitrary change and its origin in the Anglo-western tradition, which the left sees as the source of most evils. But it is a concept that has long separated civilized order from chaos and, ultimately, tyranny.

The frenzied cries for Wilson’s blood by the Ferguson mob — and the more officious cries for it by Nixon and Holder — would, by themselves, be disturbing. When juxtaposed with a semi-official and repeated disregard for the rule of law by the nation’s chief executive, the picture looks a little more ominous.