Tag Archives: Ferguson

The Mirror in Ferguson

protecting shop

Ferguson residents guard local businesses from looters.

I had mixed feelings about sharing these two videos by Johnathan Gentry and Fredrick Wilson respectively. On the one hand, I disagree with some of the collectivist assumptions reflected. I do not think, for example, that law-abiding people have some peculiar responsibility for crimes committed by others, merely because their skin tones are similar. I reject the very concept of race—biological essentialism being obsolete at least as applied to racial categorizations—and would prefer a world in which people’s group identities were defined by their values and interests rather than the shades of their skin.

Nevertheless, there is a message of strength and empowerment in these videos so rare in this day and age that the words deserve to be heard—not just by their intended audience of people who look a certain way on the outside, but by everyone who sometimes fails to look hard enough inside themselves. I could not get the videos to appear as previews, so please click on the links above and watch both, because these men’s words are more powerful and thought-provoking than anything I could write.

Increasingly, we blame rich people, corporations, white people, the patriarchy, the government, politicians, our parents, our bosses, our teachers—everyone but ourselves—for the circumstances of our lives. Sometimes it is painful to look in the mirror and acknowledge that we are where we are, not because the world is unfair, but because of our own choices and actions—even harder to consider that we could get somewhere else, starting now, if we would but expend the effort.

Ferguson is the ultimate mirror, forcing that hard look.

Natalie Dubose's bakery was destroyed in the Ferguson rioting. A GoFundMe campaign has been set up to help her rebuild.

Natalie Dubose’s bakery was destroyed in the Ferguson rioting. A GoFundMe campaign has been set up to help her rebuild.

When we remember to see ourselves and each other as individuals in categories of one, instead of archetypes of the groups to which we belong—white cop, black man, Asian student, working poor, the 1%, Christian, Muslim, woman, mother, Jew—it becomes possible to consider that Officer Wilson may have been justified in using deadly force—and still acknowledge the increasing militarization of the police and that some police departments have race relation problems. To accept that Wilson likely would have been acquitted after trial—and still ask questions about the strange way the grand jury proceeding was conducted. To contemplate that the grand jury made the right decision and simultaneously acknowledge that people see more phantom guns when they are looking at someone of another race. To ask questions about how police interact with members of some communities and not lose sight of the fact that unarmed white men are killed by cops too.

Because pumpkins.

Because pumpkins.

It becomes possible to recognize that people with darker shades of skin are no more responsible for rioting in the wake of a grand jury proceeding than people with lighter skin are responsible for rioting at pumpkin festivals or in the wake of a sporting event. The vast majority of people of all the arbitrary groupings we call “races” are law-abiding. Finding differences at the extremes and then generalizing them to everyone in the group is falling for the fallacy of the tails.

Yet there is something inherently inconsistent about objecting to being stereotyped based on your race or gender or religion or nationality or class—while simultaneously embracing that group identity.

If your identity is tied to a shared history of oppression, a struggle against obstacles and unfairness so overwhelming that other members of your group have snapped in anger or folded under the pressure, you cannot simultaneously ask others to ignore this aspect of your identity when they interact with you.

Shirt Storm

Matt Taylor, space scientist, shirt wearer.

It is the same fundamental mistake made by the women of #ShirtGate. You cannot proclaim yourself so disempowered that pictures of scantily clad fictional women on a shirt impact your comfort in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and simultaneously demand to be treated as equal in these fields. As Glenn Reynolds so aptly stated:

It seems to me that if you care about women in STEM, maybe you shouldn’t want to communicate the notion that they’re so delicate that they can’t handle pictures of comic-book women. Will we stock our Mars spacecraft with fainting couches?

You cannot have it both ways.

You have to choose.

Are you an individual who overcomes what the world throws your way? Or have you embraced a group identity defined by oppression that mutes your abilities and exempts you from personal responsibility for your actions and your outcomes?

The choice is yours.

Accept that you will be judged and treated accordingly.

Sarah Baker is a libertarian, attorney and writer. She lives in Montana with her daughter and a house full of pets.

5 Thoughts On Ferguson And Mike Brown

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As the country has watched the events unfold in Ferguson over the past week, we have been horrified by the rioting and the wanton destruction of property in the wake of the grand jury’s decision to not indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson on criminal charges for the shooting of Michael Brown. Tempers have been flaring as people have taken to social media to argue their side of the case. I’ve been trying to figure out what to write on this and putting together what to say on this. So here we go:

1) The Grand Jury Came To The Right Decision

After looking at the evidence, here’s what we have essentially; some eyewitness testimony that claimed Mike Brown was essentially murdered by Darren Wilson, most of which was proven false; Officer Wilson’s version of events; eyewitnesses that corroborate Wilson’s events; and finally an autopsy and forensic evidence which also corroborate Officer Wilson’s version of events that showed a struggle for his gun and that Brown was shot in the front.

Given all of this, there was no basis for an indictment for anything. Even if he was indicted, there was no basis for a conviction so a trial would’ve simply been a waste of taxpayer money.

2) Having Said That, There Should’ve Been A Special Prosecutor Appointed In This Case

I agree with Stephen Littau that the outrage here is not that the grand jury was through in the Darren Wilson case, it’s that they indict everyone else. No wonder why many people protesting can see a possible conflict of interest.

If it’s even possible to appoint a special prosecutor, this is such a case. It may have lessoned the charges of impropriety and conflict of interest.

Criticizing the process is not grounds for calling for an indictment though, it’s just grounds for calling for a special prosecutor. I think the special prosecutor would’ve come to the same conclusion as this prosecutor and grand jury did.

3) Anyone Calling For Violence Or Making Excuses For It Is Disgusting And Morally Rephrensible

One of the things that has been disturbing in this case is the calls to violence in the media. An anarchist magazine says we need to stop “riot shaming.” An op-ed writer in Time wrote a defense of rioting. A libertarian blogger called the rioting and violence “just and necessary.”

These people and others like them who are supporting the riots are disgusting. There is no excuse for the destruction of private property and businesses. These riots have runied the livilihoods of the employees and business people, most of whom are black. These people didn’t kill Michael Brown.

A brief look around shows that there are non-violent alternatives to pursue change. Civil rights laws were enacted in the 1960s and legislation defending the right to vote was enacted as a part of it. If you want to change the law and how policing is done, get out there organize and vote for candidates who agree with you.

4) Ferguson Not Only Demonstrated The Worst Of America, But The Best Of America As Well

Enough about the riots. Let’s talk about how people have come together in the aftermath. One of the businesses destroyed in the Ferguson riots was a black-owned bakery. They’ve raised $200,000 in donations from a GoFundMe page to enable them to rebuild. The store that Michael Brown allegedly robbed before his encounter with Officer Wilson was also looted. They too have setup a GoFundMe page which has raised almost $25,000 in two days. Please give some money to them.

The people that gave money to these two minority business owners were of all races and creeds. The attempt by many of the Ferguson rioters to start a race war failed miserably.

Other Ferguson businesses have setup GoFundMe pages and in a future post, probably tomorrow, I will feature everyone I can find. Let the best of America outshine the worst of America.

5) Although Mike Brown Is Not The Proper Poster Boy For Corrupt And Racist Policing, We Need To Address Police Brutality

Mike Brown most likely died assualting a police officer and going for his gun. Darren Wilson most likely did nothing wrong when he killed Michael Brown. However, police brutality is a real problem, especially in minority communities.

We need to ask ourselves why African-Americans are so afraid of law enforcement and work together to change it. We also need to end or rein in police militarization and the Federal government does need to get involved to create stricter oversight of local police departments. There will most likely always be police officers who abuse their authority, but right now we have too many on the force. We’re not going to solve this by blocking freeways, annoying Black Friday shoppers, and rioting; we’re only going to solve this by dialogue.

In the end, what we have here is a tragedy all around. An 18 year old young man is dead and regardless of the circumstances, it’s still a tragedy. We have a police officer who had to take that young man’s life. I hope and pray that the family of Michael Brown and Officer Darren Wilson find peace. I pray that the business owners of Ferguson have their shops restored and I pray for peace and more importantly, for understanding and that out of this tragedy, some change that ensures something like this never happens again.

I’m one of the original co-founders of The Liberty Papers all the way back in 2005. Since then, I wound up doing this blogging thing professionally. Now I’m running the site now. You can find my other work at The Hayride.com and Rare. You can also find me over at the R Street Institute.

Watching the Watchers: Resistance to Transparency a Problem at Every Level of Government

We do not have leaders in the United States of America. We have representatives. They are chosen by us to do a job for us. They are our employees. We do not owe them any respect or subservience beyond the same basic respect we choose to show fellow human beings, and in particular those who are our employees.

And we have a right to watch them.

Yet at all levels of government, we face rebellion against our right to watch.

STATE LEGISLATURE IN THE NEWS FOR VIOLATING OPEN MEETING LAWS

Open MeetingsOne of the Republican candidates for my state’s legislature actually came to my door twice this election cycle in an effort to earn my vote. Even had I been otherwise inclined to vote for him, his refusal to answer voter guide questionnaires would have been a deal-breaker.

He explained at my door that politicians who answer voter guide questions are sometimes “discriminated against for their religion.” Only by questioning him on my porch was I able to elicit his position on issues from gay marriage to the War on Drugs—which he supports because “we need to be moral.”

He won handily without my vote and is now a state senator. His counterparts in the state House have just made news by, once again, being accused of violating Montana’s open meeting laws. Earlier this month, the House Republican Caucus met in the basement of a hotel without providing the requisite notice. During the 2013 session, the Caucus similarly met in the basement of the state Capitol without posting notice.

The state media have been quick to point out that both parties and both houses of the state legislature routinely violate the state’s open meeting laws. The interviews with the politicians engaged in such violations are candid and telling. One Democrat senator, for example, detailed how rather than simply post the notice and allow reporters to cover the event, his party would instead make just enough people leave to be under the limit of the notice requirements:

“We were always mindful of the numbers,” added Sen. Mike Phillips, D-Bozeman. “And when we realized we were over the limit, someone would leave.”

One of his Republican counterparts lamented that the open meeting requirements make it “impossible” for elected politicians to talk to each other:

Where do you draw the line?” he asked. “How does a group function if they can’t get together and talk to each other? This is supposed to be a country of freedom of association and freedom of speech. If you’re going to take that away at a caucus, how is the caucus going to function?”

He does not seem to understand that the caucuses can still talk, even if the people they work for are listening. If they do not want the voters to know about it, perhaps they ought not be doing it.

POLICE DEPARTMENTS RESIST BEING RECORDED

olson_scottOn Saturday night, Ferguson police arrested a member of the press, apparently for standing on a sidewalk. This comes in the wake of federal court orders directing that Ferguson police not engage in any practice of interfering with citizens’ right to record police. These orders were obtained based on events following the death of Michael Brown, in which police detained journalists, wrongfully interfered with people recording the protests and police response, and instituted a no-fly zone to prevent the media from flying over.

Both cops and citizens behave better when they know they are being recorded. Recordings exonerate innocent people who have been wrongfully accused and help ensure that the right people are punished. As Reason’s Ronald Bailey has reported:

Earlier this year, a 12-month study by Cambridge University researchers revealed that when the city of Rialto, California, required its cops to wear cameras, the number of complaints filed against officers fell by 88 percent and the use of force by officers dropped by almost 60 percent. Watched cops are polite cops.

Yet all over the country, police continue to harass citizens who lawfully record the police, a fairly well recognized right in these United States.

Police officers are not our overlords. They are public employees hired by the people to enforce the laws passed by the people. Like any other employer, We, The People, get to watch the work done by our employee police officers.

MOST TRANSPARENT ADMINISTRATION IN HISTORY

Obama secretOpen enrollment for Affordable Care Act health plans began in mid November. States have been releasing their enrollment numbers. But trying to get enrollment numbers from the federal government continues to be like pulling teeth.

In the wake of an embarrassing revelation about an “unacceptable” mistake inflating the total enrollment numbers, Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell has ordered her agency to come up with ways to increase transparency. I hope she follows through.

But the “most transparent administration in history” has a mixed record on living up to its own hype. Lingering questions remain about the transparency of the drone program. Just this week, the administration continued its established practice of dumping thousands of new regulations on the eve of a major holiday.

Let us not forget that last month, USA Today Washington Bureau Chief Susan Page called this administration “the most restrictive” and “most dangerous” to the press than any other in history. She echoes sentiments expressed earlier this year by New York Times editor Jill Abramson, who said the Obama administration is setting new standards for secrecy:

“The Obama years are a benchmark for a new level of secrecy and control,” says Abramson. “It’s created quite a challenging atmosphere for The New York Times, and for some of the best reporters in my newsroom who cover national security issues in Washington.”

*     *     *

Those that are covering national security, according to Abramson, say that is has never been more difficult to get information.

*     *     *

Abramson says that the Obama Administration uses legal loopholes to make things difficult for journalists and media organizations. She says, for example, that the Obama Justice Department pursues cases against reporters under an obscure provision of the 1917 Espionage Act.

“I think, in a back door way using an obscure provision of an old law, they are tip-toeing close to things that, here in the United States, we’ve never had,” says Abramson.

*     *     *

While Abramson says that the White House hasn’t completely shut out the U.S. press corps, even routine media coverage has become difficult to obtain.

“The amount of friction and confrontation involved in just going about what I see as perfectly normal coverage, that in the past wouldn’t have even provoked a discussion, becomes a protracted and somewhat exhausting process,” she says.

As technology and government overreach continue to threaten the walls of privacy that traditionally protected Americans, we must be vigilant in making sure the watchers are themselves watched. They are not leaders, but employees. We should demand that they conduct themselves as such. That entails consistently subjecting their official conduct to scrutiny.

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Open Meetings image via In El Dorado County News. Ferguson image via The Center for Media and Democracy’s PR Watch. Obama image via Poor Richard’s News.

Sarah Baker is a libertarian, attorney and writer. She lives in Montana with her daughter and a house full of pets.

Quote of the Day: Grand Jury Decision Aftermath Edition

Scott Shackford over at Reason made an excellent point in the wake of the grand jury decision finding insufficient probable cause to indict Officer Darren Wilson in the killing of Michael Brown.

Based on the information [St. Louis Prosecuting Attorney Robert P.] McCulloch described tonight it may seem unlikely Wilson would have convicted, and perhaps that would have been the right decision by a criminal jury. That raises yet another question, though: Should we be upset at the amount of deference and effort made to find reasons not to indict Wilson in this case or should we be upset that the same doesn’t happen to the rest of us? Is the outrage that a grand jury didn’t indict Wilson or is the outrage that the grand jury indicts just about everybody else?

As far as I’m concerned, my outrage is that grand juries indicts just about everybody else. This jury heard the evidence with all the conflicting testimony and the rest of us have not. I cannot say whether this is a just outcome or not and neither can anyone else at this point. We will most likely never know for sure what happened that fateful day.

I imagine that at least a few of the protesters in Ferguson who have themselves (or know someone who has) been indicted with very little evidence then either strongly encouraged to take a plea deal or were convicted. It’s not to hard to see why some might feel that the criminal justice system works one way for the police and a different way for everyone else, regardless of the specific circumstances in this case (the specific circumstances in this case being all the grand jury should have been concerned about).

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