17 August, 2014

The Facts about the Michael Brown Shooting

There are many media sources disseminating "facts" and "news" about the shooting that happened in Ferguson, Missouri last week (which wasn't even the only shooting in Ferguson last week, but the most publicized). The thing that strikes me as terribly frustrating is that we really have no way of knowing what the facts are, other than the bare minimum: a kid got shot and killed by a police officer. That is the only thing that is indisputable.

For most of the first week of this story, all focus has been on it having been unjustified, an execution, an innocent teen. As the week wore on, we learned that the innocent teen wasn't as squeaky clean as the original interviews and news reports had implied. But still, with the facts as we perceived them to be, there was no doubt that the shooting was unjustified. The only story that was "at odds" with the other witnesses had been the snippets of the policeman's version of the events (which, you have to admit, were only given to us in tiny bits and pieces).

As we come to the end of that first week, now we're starting to hear other info that suggests that the kid may have attacked the officer, as the officer claimed. This evidence comes via some odd and rough video clips of the aftermath, where background conversations potentially imply that the story was exactly as the officer had claimed, and that, perhaps, the officer shot because he had no alternative. But how can we know the authenticity of that "evidence" at this point? It came via some sort of conservative website that just happened to come upon the videos. That doesn't mean it's not legitimate. Only that we should be very cautious before jumping to any conclusions. The bigger picture is that we should have been, and should continue to be very cautious in passing judgments on what happened. Just like the majority of people who heard the story, I immediately cried "Unnecessary Force!!" and began bad-mouthing the police, based on my own experiences where I have witnessed them escalating situations, and the countless stories I have read of that sort. But the truth is, we don't know what happened. We may never know, unless additional incontrovertible evidence comes to light. There will most likely be two diametrically opposing sides to this story, and it will be left to a judge, a jury, and two panels of lawyers trying to persuade these people (and the world, since it will no doubt be televised) that their side was right.

We are all inclined to believe that which resonates with our experiences or our view of a particular type of situation. And we are very adept at rejecting anything that's incongruent with our world view. How can we possibly be objective? The media is doing everything in its power to sway us into strong opinion, because that drives ratings. One could even conjecture that the severity of the riots may have been fueled by the media's broad reporting and characterization (though maybe that's a stretch).