Ferguson: A Benefit of the Doubt

Ferguson protestor

My father was a cop. A Washington state patrolman. I like to think he was a good cop, and have never received any indication otherwise.

When Mike Brown was shot in Ferguson, less than 25 minutes from where I live, I wanted to give the policeman who shot him the benefit of the doubt. Even when I heard that Mike Brown was not armed. Even when I heard they left his body in the street for close to five hours. After all, my Dad was a cop, and if it had been my father who did the shooting, I’d like everyone to give him the benefit of the doubt.

But then there were all the things that just didn’t feel right. Mike Brown wasn’t shot in the dark of night in a back alley. He was shot in the middle of the day—the exact middle of the day—in the middle of a street, in the middle of a city, surrounded by people. I’m the daughter of a cop and I kept asking myself, how on earth a police officer got himself into such a situation where he feared for his life from an unarmed man who was running away from him, in the middle of a bright, clear day, in the middle of a city street, and fellow officers just minutes away?

And leaving his body lying there, in the heat, in the street—the exact middle of the street; face down, blood everywhere, with distraught and shocked people all around. We were told on TV that the delay to recover Mike Brown’s body was because the Ferguson police wanted the County police to take over the investigation, and it took time to manage the transfer of authority. But then we were told a large crowd threatened, and the coroner’s van couldn’t get in. And then we were told that shots were fired, the same nebulous shots fired that seemed to happen whenever it is oddly convenient for the police.

Benefit of the doubt. I was still holding on to that benefit of the doubt.

Surely, Brown must have been involved in some heinous deed when he was shot. Perhaps kidnapping a child? Beating up on an elderly person? Biting the heads off of kittens?

Jaywalking. The cop pulled Mike Brown over because he was jaywalking. To be precise, because Mike Brown and a friend were walking down the middle of the street. And when the cop yelled at him to get out of the street, Brown didn’t and that started the chain that left a bloody dead body, still in the middle of the same damn street.

Confusion turned to anger in the city and I watched the events unfold on TV and read about them in the Post-Dispatch online site. I still held tightly on to that benefit of a doubt, even when the police brought the dogs in to manage the growing crowds. I watched the cops with the dogs and the crowds of black people, and shook with the recognition of old black and white photos of cops and dogs and black people. I wanted to slap the face of the idiot who thought bringing out dogs was a good idea, but then the police brought in the armored trucks and mounted rifles, and I wanted to kiss the idiot because the dogs were actually the good part.

There’s something about seeing a cop in camouflage and bullet proof vest, on top of an armored truck with a rifle pointed at unarmed protesters, that shakes your faith in the police promise to protect and serve.

At the end of the week, my hold on that benefit of the doubt was more a matter of habit than belief, which means when the Ferguson police chief came out with the Mike Brown video just before giving the name of the cop who shot Mike Brown, the doubt vanished instantly, poof! Yeah, just like that.

I watched that man, sweating in the sun, stumble through the words about releasing the video because people asked for it when no one asked for the video. Chief Jackson knew exactly what he was doing by releasing that video, and his actions were not those of a man secure in the belief that his officer was in the right.

At that moment, the exact moment Jackson came out with the video, I knew without a doubt that the shooting was not righteous.

Photo by Jamell Bouie CC BY 2.0

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