Wednesday, November 26, 2014

"He didn't deserve to die"

Over at Pyromanics, Frank Turk has an oddly reasoned post on the Ferguson affair:

You can't have it both ways: either the system is working, or it is not working. 

Actually, I can have it both ways. Sometimes the system works, and sometimes it doesn't. It would be simplistic and inaccurate to stake out a uniform position on whether or not the system works. I can point to instances where it works as well as instances where it doesn't. 

What if we start here: it doesn't matter what Trayvon Martin  Michael Brown was doing in that neighborhood.  He didn't deserve to die. He wasn't putting anyone's life in danger; he didn't deserve to die.  Until and unless you are willing to say that out loud -- and I don't care which side of the argument you are on here -- if you can't say that Trayvon Martin Michael Brown did not deserve to die, you frankly have no place in this discussion. Your moral compass and your real empathy for other people are both broken.  You can't do anything to make this or the future better until you deal with that.

Whether or not he "deserved" to die is a red herring in this situation. The question of just deserts is only germane to punishment. 

But according to the defense, Wilson's action wasn't punitive. Wilson didn't shoot Brown to mete out justice. 

Rather, according to the defense, Brown was trying to seize Wilson's gun. Assuming that's true, Wilson acted in self-defense. 

In that situation, the moral justification for potential use of lethal force isn't predicated on whether the assailant deserved it. Maybe he did and maybe he didn't. That has no bearing on the moral justification.

Rather, when an assailant puts someone else's life in jeopardy, he puts his own life in jeopardy. By his action he forfeits the prima facie right not to be harmed by another. If he commits a life-threatening action without due cause, the would-be victim has a right to repel the attack by any means at his disposal. The assailant has forced his hand.

Keep in mind, too, that he has forced the would-be victim to make a snap decision. You can't put someone in that situation, then blame them for making a split-second judgment call. It's your fault for putting them in that predicament in the first place. 

So Frank's argument is morally confused. 

If you're going to challenge Wilson's action, the proper way to do so is to challenge the facts of the case. Did he have good reason to fear for his life and safety? 

Now, in response to comments, Frank amplifies or amends his original claim:

Michael Brown, whilst walking down the street, was not putting anyone's life in danger.
That is where this incident started. Officer Wilson did not come upon a fight or a robbery: he came upon two men walking in the street. That's where this started, and to see it otherwise is not excessively clever.
i) I agree with Frank that police shouldn't accost citizens engaged in lawful conduct. 
ii) However, that's a euphemistic description in this case. Hadn't Brown just committed strong-armed robbery? Wasn't that caught on the security camera? 
iii) He wasn't shot because he was walking in the street. According to the defense, he was shot because the situation rapidly escalated to the point where the officer's life was in danger. That's why he died. 
You can try to challenge Wilson's version of the events. But that's a different issue. 


  1. Steve- I am in complete agreement with your assessment of the matter. If you follow Frank's reasoning to its logical conclusion, then the use of deadly force is never justified.

    Let's say that a police officer pulls over a driver for running a red light. Pretty minor offense, right? After running the driver's information through the system, the officer finds out that the driver is wanted in connection with a recent bank robbery. The officer asks the driver to exit the vehicle and proceeds to apprehend him. A tussle ensues and the driver reaches for the officer's gun, and the officer winds up shooting him and he dies.

    Was the use of deadly force justified? Of course! How is this any different than the Michael Brown case?

  2. I don't think Big Mike or Trayvon Martin "deserved to die." But each deserved to have lethal force used against him.

    You shouldn't try to grab someone's gun or bang someone's head against the concrete.

  3. Big swelling moral pronouncements sans the heft of an actual argument are less than compelling. Methinks Turk's tilting at windmills once again.

  4. Frankly, I'm surprised that we live in a country that is so caught up in football games, who agree with the idea that "you can't overturn a call without seeing definitive evidence that the call was incorrect" yet who somehow cannot grasp the legal concept that someone is "innocent until proven guilty." Unless there was definitive proof that Wilson murdered Brown, we *MUST* assert, "Innocent until proven guilty." So far, it seems the only "evidence" against Wilson was from eyewitness accounts that a) contradicted each other and b) contradicted the forensic evidence (i.e., claims Brown was shot in the back when the autopsy shows all bullet impacts were to his front), and that means that even if Wilson did murder Brown there is simply no legal basis by which he could be charged.