Righteous Indignation in Ferguson

By Simon Waxman in the Boston Review

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I am not against using violence in self-defense. I don’t even call it violence when it’s self-defense, I call it intelligence. —Malcolm X

The grand jury’s decision to forgo indictment of Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in the killing of Michael Brown compels us yet again to recognize that there is more to violence than its dictionary definition.

In clinical terms, violence is physical force intended to cause injury. But when officer Wilson shot and killed Michael Brown this past August, he did not engage in violence. He engaged in self-defense. He was justified.

After the jury’s decision was announced, black Americans and their supporters, who see in the non-indictment a form of impunity, took to the streets of Ferguson and St. Louis. Their righteous indignation amounted to a “night of violence,” according to The Guardian and USA Today. KSDK, a St. Louis NBC affiliate, used a common volcanic metaphor: “Violence erupts in Ferguson: Fire, looting, arrests.” Look at any of the major news outlets—shattered store windows and overturned police cruisers. That is violence, and there need be no inquiry into its justification.

Violence is a moral category, not an act. Where aggression is presumptively unjustified, it is violent. Where it is deemed acceptable by the norms of the community in which it occurs, it is not violence.

It is perilous to extrapolate too greatly from a single case, but that peril is not at issue in Ferguson, where Brown’s shooting reflects a widespread and historically endless pattern of white lawmen, and white men acting under cover of law, injuring and killing black men without engaging in what the society calls violence. Here again, the court asked what the victim did to warrant his fate. But the political problem, which courts can’t consider, is who has access to justification.

Read more at the Boston Review

Simon Waxman is the managing editor of the Boston Review.

Also by Simon Waxman: Zimmerman: The Criminal Trial Is a Privilege of Whiteness

Shooting Accounts Differ as Holder Schedules Visit to Ferguson

Protesters marched Tuesday in Ferguson, Mo., where the shooting death of a black teenager by a white police officer has spurred 10 days of unrest. Credit Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

By FRANCES ROBLES and MICHAEL S. SCHMIDTAUG in The New York Times

FERGUSON, Mo. — As a county grand jury prepared to hear evidence on Wednesday in the shooting death of a black teenager by a white police officer that touched off 10 days of unrest here, witnesses have given investigators sharply conflicting accounts of the killing.

Some of the accounts seem to agree on how the fatal altercation initially unfolded: with a struggle between the officer, Darren Wilson, and the teenager, Michael Brown. Officer Wilson was inside his patrol car at the time, while Mr. Brown, who was unarmed, was leaning in through an open window.

Many witnesses also agreed on what happened next: Officer Wilson’s firearm went off inside the car, Mr. Brown ran away, the officer got out of his car and began firing toward Mr. Brown, and then Mr. Brown stopped, turned around and faced the officer.

But on the crucial moments that followed, the accounts differ sharply, officials say. Some witnesses say that Mr. Brown, 18, moved toward Officer Wilson, possibly in a threatening manner, when the officer shot him dead. But others say that Mr. Brown was not moving and may even have had his hands up when he was killed.

Read more at The New York Times