Re: To Name and to Name Not

by Charles C. W. Cooke

Naturally, I agree with every word of Kevin’s post. I couldn’t have put it better myself. But, if I may, I’d like to add one thing that I think bolsters his case. Kevin writes:

Here’s a microcosm of the relationship between state and citizen: We know the names of the nine people charged with felonies in the Ferguson looting, but not the name of the police officer at the center of the case. 

The government is all discretion when it comes to one of its own. True, there have been threats against the police officer in question — but if any municipal institution is positioned to defend its members, it is the police. And are there no threats against private individuals who are arrested or investigated? Are there no threats against people in prisons? Police departments and prosecutors regularly release discretionary information that has serious consequences for the lives of private individuals, including those who have not been charged with or convicted of any crime.

This matters for a variety of reasons. But among them is that when the state and its agents appear to be giving their own people special treatment, the institutions that we hold dear come under threat. There have been voices in Ferguson demanding that the cop who kicked the whole thing off be summarily fired and charged with murder. This, obviously, is a disastrous idea. Justice being a process and not an outcome, the officer in question is entitled to due process, to presumption of innocence, and to the care and patience that any other man would be. If he’s guilty, I hope he is punished severely. If he’s not, I hope he goes free. Either way, I hope that the system works as it should. The basic problem with the various “Justice for Michael” exhortations that we have seen from the outset is that they can — can, not always do — quickly cease being a call for a fair evaluation and turn into advocacy for a particular outcome.

This having been said, it’s difficult to sell lofty notions of impartial justice when you’re seen to be withholding information and breaking promises. It was disastrous that the initial police press conference conferred no useful data whatsoever. It was a considerable mistake for the authorities to have promised to release the name of the cop and then to have failed to do so. It was downright bizarre that Chris Hayes managed to interview the key witness before the state did. And, as Kevin suggests, the heavy handed and militaristic response to the subsequent rioting may well have served only to have added to the tensions, rather than to have assuaged them. I have no idea what happened between the officer in question and Michael Brown. I can’t know that. Almost nobody in the world can know that. I do know, however, that there are understandable historical and contemporary reasons why the residents of Ferguson, Missouri would be skeptical of the police. Even if the officer at the heart of the nightmare is innocent, there are good ways and bad ways to deal with that skepticism and anger. Frankly, the police have screwed up the response from the start. Trust in our institutions of justice is vital. But those institutions have to give us reasons to trust them.