Ripples of Ferguson
So Wilson's second apparent error was in winning the fight over Brown for his gun. Had he allowed Brown to beat him, then Wilson might well have had a chance of surviving the wounds, and thus he might now still be a policemen with a career rather than ostracized, in danger, and unemployed. Neither the community nor the media would have found newsworthy the shooting or beating of a white policeman by an African-American youth -- in the manner that the murder of two California sheriffs by a twice-deported illegal alien was one-day news. In contrast, once Wilson stopped Brown and once he managed to wrestle his gun back into his own control, then the options narrowed as Brown charged and the inevitable shooting ensued.
So another unspoken lesson from Ferguson may be that unarmed assailants such as Brown -- or Trayvon Martin -- can, just as armed suspects, pose as great challenges to those who confront them, in the sense that being assaulted by them might now be seen as preferable to using a firearm in self-defense, with the subsequent ruin that follows.
Note further that the community of Ferguson dissenters was not much worried that strong-armed robbery occurred, or that a town cannot long exist with youths walking in the middle of the street under the influence or assaulting police officers, or disobeying orders to cease and desist, or postfacto rioting and looting as much as the fact that in the shoot-out, a white policeman shot a black unarmed assailant. That fact, too, will be silently noted.
Will some law enforcement officials now surmise that it is wiser to ignore some crimes in the inner city on the practicable logic that the denouement for the officer will likely be negative -- either by stopping the assailant through force or not stopping the assault and thus being assaulted? If the suspect is unarmed but attacks, the post-Ferguson choice will either be to suffer physical harm or to respond in ways that may equate with the end of a career. So it may be preferable that the suspect is armed, at least in the sense that any resort to armed self-defense at least offers the hope of dodging the first bullet or two, while still escaping the specter of Ferguson justice. (Note the near contemporaneous case of an off-duty officer in St. Louis who shot an African-American assailant who had first fired but missed. The key fact of the case was that the assailant got in the first three shots and thus the protests that followed fizzled out before rioting.)
Critics might rightly point to Eric Garner and argue that he posed no threat to policemen; certainly, his misdemeanor merchandising of cigarettes was hardly worth a violent confrontation. Perhaps New York City policemen should have been able to find a way of arresting the obese and asthmatic 300-pound suspect without the use of a chokehold. And Garner’s pleas to allow him to breathe should have resulted in an end to pressures on his neck and throat. All that is true. But the fallout also suggests that if policemen cannot subdue a large African-American unarmed suspect -- with 30 prior arrests including larceny, resisting arrest and assault -- who resists arrest, without using force that in theory could threaten his safety, then they logically will just ignore the crime.