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Unarmed Man, Six Shots
These details are important, but not the end of the matter.

Protesters demand murder charges against Officer Darren Wilson. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

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The central question in the case of Michael Brown remains as it has always been: That is, “Was Officer Wilson justified in his decision to pull the trigger?” As it stands, we cannot answer this in any useful or definitive manner — and, crucially, we should not try. We have not heard directly from the shooter himself; we do not yet have any way of determining which of the witnesses are reliable and which are not; and, in the absence of reliable testimony from those who do know what happened, we do not have the raw information that we would need in order to come to a conclusion. Thus far, everything has been mere speculation.

This being so, it has become increasingly irritating to watch those who are longing for a particular outcome begin to draw conclusions from the detritus. Over the last week or so, reports that Michael Brown was a) “unarmed” and b) shot six times have been spun in some quarters into “evidence” that suggests that his killing was either unjustified or overblown. This, I’m afraid, is a considerable mistake.

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Let’s start by restating what should be palpably obvious: It is wholly possible for an “unarmed” man to pose a threat. That some people are naturally stronger than others is precisely why weaker people arm themselves, recruiting weapons to their side in order to counteract the advantage that their potential assailants enjoy. Day in, day out, across the world, men beat and abuse women with little more than their fists, sometimes fatally. In the United States alone, more than 800 people are murdered by “hands and fists” each year — twice as many as with all types of rifle. That Michael Brown was unarmed is important. But it is by no means the whole story, and it is certainly not enough to spur claims of innocence. With nothing but his own body, Brown could still have posed a mortal threat to Wilson. He could still have charged Wilson. He could still have gone for Wilson’s gun, as a handful of eyewitnesses suggest that he did. Crucially, he could still have made Officer Wilson reasonably fear for his life. Did he? We have absolutely no idea. Simply saying “he was unarmed,” however, as if it suggests that this must have been an execution? Well, that’s premature and silly.

Equally peculiar is the lamentation that six shots were fired. Providing that Wilson had cause to draw his gun — and, again, we have no idea if he did — an officer’s using six rounds during a fight is by no means abnormal or egregious, and it should not necessarily be seen as “excessive.” It is well documented that people shoot extremely poorly during emergencies; that, in the heat of the moment, shooters are unable to tell whether their rounds have hit their targets; and that panic leads a significant number of those with guns to pull the trigger repeatedly, without too much concern as to where the bullets are flying. It is also well documented that it is difficult to stop large men with a 9mm handgun unless one shoots them repeatedly. Bottom line: If — if — Wilson made the right call, then multiple shots were all but inevitable.

This is important. As a general rule, if one is justified in shooting somebody once, then one is justified in shooting them multiple times. In fact, if one’s life is genuinely in danger, one is justified in continuing to shoot at a threat for as long as that threat remains extant. Contrary to what one sees in old movies and on CNN, there is no such thing in either police or civilian self-defense protocol as “shooting to injure”; one doesn’t ever shoot a firearm at somebody unless one is prepared to kill them, and there is no abstract “ideal” or “fair” or “reasonable” number of shots that should be fired in one’s own defense. Instead, there is justified lethal force and there is unjustified lethal force. If Brown did need to be taken down in the moment, then he needed to be taken down in the moment — however many continuous rounds it took. The autopsy seems to suggest that the first four shots that Wilson fired hit Brown in the arm, and that this was not enough to incapacitate him. If this was the case, and Brown kept coming, of course Wilson kept firing: He wanted to stop his target, not placate the uninitiated.

Certainly, I have no idea what happened that day. Almost nobody does. But I do know the right question to ask. That question, as always, is not “Why did Wilson shoot Brown so many times,” but “Did Wilson need to shoot Brown at all?”

Charles C. W. Cooke is a staff writer at National Review.


Clashes in Ferguson
TUESDAY, AUGUST 19: The daily protest gatherings appeared to heed calls for calm on Tuesday evening, only to see a return to violence aimed at police forces and a resulting crackdown that once agin filled the air with lights, sirens, and tear gas.
As with previous days, the gatherings and marches during daylight hours were largely peaceful affairs, punctuated by heated rhetoric directed at law enforcement, as authorities strove to keep demonstrators moving through the usual location.
Some arrests were made during the daytime demonstrations.
Missouri State Highway Patrol Captain Ron Johnson again walked among the crowd to call for an end to the violence.
Law enforcement and Ferguson community leaders appealed for a night of calm to help ease tensions. A noticeably smaller crowd remained after dark, changing the mantra “Hands Up! Don’t Shoot!” that has become the protesters rallying cry throughout the unrest.
A young demonstrators waves a sign that reads “Justice!”
After clashes broke out with police, some in the crowd stove to prevent further escalations, locking arms and confronting those in the crowd bent on violence.
A man stands between police and protesters to appeal for calm.
An older man appeals for calm from a group of younger men wearing masks and face coverings.
Some demonstrators and onlookers took shelter inside a nearby business.
A business owner tussles with a young demonstrator, forcing him outside.
Verbal confrontations escalated later in the evening after bottles were thrown at police.
A policeman speaks with demonstrators as tensions escalate.
Authorities reported that some protesters had thrown urine at police, and additional threats were made from a passing vehicle. In all police made 47 arrests on Tuesday evening.
MONDAY, AUGUST 18: More clashes shook the streets of Ferguson on Monday as the arrival of the Missouri National Guard and the cancellation of the midnight curfew failed to quell the growing crowd of protesters and the growing anger surrounding the investigation of the death of Michael Brown more than a week ago.
Authorities report at least 31 persons were arrested in renewed clashes, which saw the air along Florissant Avenue once again filled with smoke and tear gas as police and demonstrators vied for control.
Missouri State Highway Patrol Captain Ron Johnson told reporters that there was information that some of the more disruptive participants had travelled to Ferguson from as far away as New York and California. Pictured, protesters tip over a porta-potty onto Florissant Avenue.
Johnson had been sent to Ferguson to try and reduce tensions between police and local residents, but that mission appears to have failed as clashes have only increased in intensity since the weekend.
As on previous days, earlier demonstrations were largely peaceful, though arrests did take place as police tried to keep people moving along Florissant, where most of the unrest has taken place.
Rapper Nelly arrived on Monday to join the protests.
Among the large group of demonstrators, a man with a megaphone speaks to the crowd.
Anger rises among the demonstrators.
A melee ensues as police move to arrest a demonstrator.
Heavily-armed special police units were once again out in force.
Police units form a line to prevent demonstrators from moving further.
Riot police advance on the crowd.
Police wear gas masks as they deploy tear gas in the crowd of demonstrators.
A man reacts to the effects of tear gas.
SUNDAY, AUGUST 17: After the curfew on Saturday evening broke down into more clashes and arrests, police increased their presence on the streets on Sunday. But as night fell the situation again turned violent, with demonstrators taunting police and drawing a firm response from police.
After another day of violent clashes and flaunting of the town's midnight curfew, Missouri governor announced late Sunday evening that he is deploying the Missouri National Guard to restore order.
Said Nixon: "Given these deliberate, coordinated and intensifying violent attacks on lives and property in Ferguson, I am directing the highly capable men and women of the Missouri National Guard ... in restoring peace and order to this community,"
Police with riot gear assemble earlier in the evening to deal with the gathered crowd.
Special units prepare to head out as a tear-gas shell streams from behind an armored vehicle.
Police respond to reports of looting at an area business.
SATURDAY, AUGUST 16: By Saturday, Missouri governor Jay Nixon announced a midnight curfew in an attempt to gain control over the streets of Ferguson in the wake of Friday's continued unrest and growing anger over emerging details of the investigation. Pictured, police maintain order during daylight.
Local business owner Mustafa Alshalabi cleans up his store, Sam’s Meat Market, the morning after looters ransacked it.
Local shopowners brandish firearms to protect their property from further looting.
Two groups of demonstrators march down Florissant Avenue.
Demonstrators pass a line of police.
Captain Ronald Johnson talks with demonstrators earlier in the evening in attempt to head off more clashes with police.
Police stand guard at the 911 Hair Salon.
Police stand guard at area businesses.
Police stand guard at area businesses.
The energy level of demonstrators remain high.
Demonstrators hold up homemade signs.
Police shoot smoke cannisters into the gathered crowd.
Demonstrators run to grab smoke cannisters and hurl them back at police.
Demonstrators and journalists run as police fire tear gas into the crowd.
FRIDAY, AUGUST 15: By week's end, the stronger police presence had returned after several businesses suffered damage and crowds of demonstrators continued to challenge law enforcement.
A demonstrators wears one of many tee-shirts with the image of Michael Brown.
A demonstrator wears a bandana as a mask to conceal her identity. Some have also used masks to cope with smoke and tear gas fired by police.
Fellow Ferguson residents try to restrain energized demonstrators.
Demonstrators stand and kneel in front of law enforcement officials.
Demonstrators climb vehicles travelling Florissant Avenue.
Cars crowd Florissant Avenue as rain begins to fall.
Capt. Ron Johnson, joined by Missouri Congressman Lacy Clay (at left) uses a bullhorn to appeal for calm.
Looters among the demonstrators raid an area liquor store.
Looters emerge from a local business.
Looters flee the scene.
Law enforcement prepare to move against the demonstrators.
A police officer chases a demonstrator.
Particles from a concussion grenade explode into the air.
A demonstrators walks amid gas cannisters fired by police.
THURSDAY, AUGUST 14: Protesters walk down Florissant Avenue as demonstrations continued.
Demonstrators show the "Don't Shoot" hands-up gesture to gathered media.
Demonstrators gather near the location where Michael Brown was gunned down by a Ferguson police officer on August 9.
Missouri Highway Patrol Captain Ronald Johnson walks among demostrators as night falls. Johnson, a Ferguson native, was brought in to take over security from local police in an attempt to quiet tensions.
A child's train joins the demonstrations on Florissant Avenue.
Tear gas spreads through the crowd.
WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 13: Some 500 demonstrators gathered Wednesday to continue protests against the shooting and delays in identified the police officers involved. Protesters vented their anger and in some cases taunted police.
Local police and other law-enforcement personnel have stepped up their presence on city streets over the past several days. But some observers wonder if the show of force, including military-style weapons and tactics, is only exacerbating tensions.
Though confrontations have been loud and vocal thorugh the week, there has as yet not been a repeat of the looting and arson the broke out on August 10, when some two dozen local businesses were damaged and a convenience store was gutted by flames. Nine persons have been charged in those incidents.
Throughout the night, as they have done since the demonstrations began last weekend, many protesters advanced on police lines with arms held high in the air in a gesture of surrender, exclaiming “Don’t Shoot! Don’t Shoot.”
After repeated calls to disperse were ignored, police cracked down with riot gear and tear gas.
Police line up to push the protesters back.
Some demonstrators responded by throwing the tear gas canisters back at police, while others attempted to hurl homemade molotov cocktails.
An Al-Jazeera news crew flees the scene as teear gas strikes their camera location.
Police guarded area businesses to head off a repeat of Sunday's looting and arson.
Tear gas and smoke filled the night air as police moved against demonstrators.
A demonstator braves the smoke to grab a gas cannister and hurl it back at police.
Smoke from tear gas and gas cannisters drifted into nearby neighborhoods.
Police fan out to secure nearby neighborhoods and search for violent protesters.
Updated: Aug. 20, 2014

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