Revolutionary Justice

by Victor Davis Hanson

Certainly any time in America that an unarmed suspect is fatally shot by a policeman of the opposite race, there is a need for concern and a quick and full inquiry of the circumstances leading to such a deadly use of force. That said, there is something disturbing about the demagogic efforts to rush to judgment in Ferguson, Mo. While it is understandable to deplore the militarization of the police that might accentuate rising tensions on the street, and to note that a mostly white police force might be less sensitive to a majority African-American populace, there is as yet not much evidence that the antithesis — a more relaxed approach to crowd control under the direction of a sensitive African-American law-enforcement official — has so far resulted in an end of the street violence or of the looting of stores. Too little police deterrence can be just as dangerous as too much.

It is also an American tradition that those under suspicion are considered innocent until the evidence is gathered, sifted, and adjudicated. Instead, the officer in question has more or less been tried and found guilty by those on the street (some of whom are calling for his death) and the media who reports on them. The governor has been particularly demagogic in blasting as character disparagement the logical release of a video showing the deceased minutes before the shooting robbing a store and brutally intimidating a clerk half his size — a fact naturally of some relevance in the ensuing disputed events.

If in fact the video has been doctored in the prior fashion of NBC’s selective editing of the Zimmerman tape or CNN’s distortion of the Zimmerman vocabulary, or ABC’s massaging of the video of Zimmerman’s wounds, then certainly disparagement is the correct noun; if not, the governor should be ashamed of himself. As of now, we have no accurate idea of whether the officer in question had reasonable cause initially to stop and interrogate the deceased, was first hurt in an altercation over his gun with a robbery suspect, or was charged and put in mortal danger by the deceased — or simply panicked, overreacted, and shot an unarmed man. What little evidence that has so far emerged from eyewitnesses, a video, and the police report remains ambiguous. 

No matter. The gratuitous looting and street violence, the almost instantaneous rush to blast the police by soon to be presidential candidate Rand Paul; the arrival of the usual demagogues — Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson (“state execution”), and the New Black Panther Party — the reluctance to suspend judgment until we learn the circumstances of the fatal encounter and hear from the policeman involved, the unnecessary TV filming of the home of the officer in question, the politically motivated distortions of the media, the now customary editorializing in tense racial matters by President Obama before the facts are established — so reminiscent of the Trayvon Martin case — are all a sort of revolutionary street justice, but do not reflect the rule of constitutional law and do not calm racial tensions.