The truth will set you free…or maybe inflame you, one or the other

In response to Holder DOJ Behind the Suppression of Michael Brown Robbery Video :

I find this whole idea of suppressing the truth because it might be “inflammatory” to be incredibly offensive, not to mention obviously ineffectual.  The people who profess sympathy for the protesters in Ferguson are awfully quick to patronize them as volatile children who can’t handle the truth.  (Let’s be honest, some people are sympathetic to the rioters and looters too, and I suspect those individuals are no longer terribly concerned with the truth, so it’s not going to “inflame” them any more than they already are.)

Indulging in dark fantasies about Saint Michael Brown the Gentle Giant gunned down for no reason by an evil racist rogue cop certainly hasn’t done much to restore order in Ferguson, has it?  On the contrary, that’s just making it worse.  This whole thing got started because people latched onto false narratives within hours (actually, to judge by some of the social media traffic, minutes) of the incident.  They couldn’t be troubled to wait even a few days for the truth.  How’s that working out for everyone?

The truth includes what Brown was doing on the day he was shot, his state of mind during his confrontation with the police, and the fact that much of the civil unrest is based on testimony from Brown’s friend Dorian Johnson, who has now been proven a liar (he falsely claimed Brown was shot in the back, but two autopsies show that is not true) and has confessed to the FBI that he was involved in ripping off the store that caught Brown on video.  That’s all extremely relevant information.  It doesn’t utterly exonerate the police officer, but not even Eric Holder – the man who claimed he had no idea what his department was up to during Operation Fast and Furious – cannot be so scatterbrained as to think it’s helpful to allow the Gentle Giant mythology to persist.  Whatever other criticism might be labeled against Officer Darren Wilson, it matters that all of the evidence – and some eyewitness testimony that doesn’t get talked about much in the media – supports the initial police statement that Brown assaulted Wilson.  We now know he was capable of violence and had reason to lose his cool during an encounter with the police, less than 15 minutes after he shoved a store clerk around and grabbed a box of cigars.

It matters to the basically well-meaning people of Ferguson, and across the nation, who are angry at what they incorrectly believe to be the entirely senseless and random shooting of an upstanding young man by a rogue cop.  There are several distinct groups of people blended into the unrest.  At the roughest end of the spectrum are looters who just want an excuse to rob stores.  But on the other side of that spectrum are decent people angry at what they believe to be a horrific injustice.  The truth will matter to those people, or at least to some of them, and if they’re not protesting on the streets any more, there’s less cover for the outside agitators and criminal malefactors.  

And all but the worst of the bad elements will benefit from a show of strength and confidence by the system – a signal that the rule of law matters for everyone, that high standards of good conduct are set for both police officers and average citizens.  It’s wrong for a police officer to use excessive force, or to use inappropriate language during a confrontation with jaywalkers (a charge that has been leveled against Wilson.)  It’s also wrong to rob liquor stores and assault police officers.  And it’s wrong as hell to tear a town apart, throw Molotov cocktails, and pillage local businesses.  Both the government and society as a whole should be sending a strong message that none of that is acceptable, none of it will be indulged, in word or deed.  Government officials suppressing the truth because they think it might be better to allow citizens to believe falsehoods are showing disrespect to the people, and showing weakness in the face of disorder.