After all the missteps in Ferguson, Mo., since a white police officer shot to death an unarmed 18-year-old black man in August, is it possible for the police to make yet another blunder? Apparently. The police chief of strife-torn Ferguson said Monday that police are investigating whether the stepfather of Michael Brown should be charged with inciting a riot for his public outburst Nov. 24 after the release of the grand jury’s decision not to indict Officer Darren Wilson. Really?
There’s no question that Brown’s stepfather, Louis Head--grief-stricken and angry as he was at the moment—should not have stood up in a crowd that night and yelled, “Burn this [expletive] down! Burn this [different expletive] down!” His rant was raw but also cringeworthy, unseemly and wrong. The video of his outburst looked even worse by light of day considering that businesses in the city did get looted and burned. Other Brown family members had urged crowds to be calm and nonviolent no matter the grand jury’s decision, and after Head’s actions, they scrambled to apologize for him. Head has since apologized and admitted he was wrong. “I’ve lived in this community for a long time. The last thing I truly wanted was to see it go up in flames,” he said in a statement obtained by CNN.
But his emotional outburst does not rise to the legal standard for inflammatory speech that turns into advocating a crime. In this case, it’s not likely that his words were responsible for sending people off into the night to loot and burn. As Brown's mother said last week on NBC's ";Today"; about Head and whether he had a role in sparking the rioting, “The crowd was already stirred, it’s been stirring since Aug. 9.";
If Head had not made his angry statement, would people have not set fires? Sadly, I doubt it.
So it’s unlikely that police will have enough of a case to charge Head. But it’s incredulous to me that they’re even investigating it.
In the wake of this controversial shooting, in a town of mostly black residents with a mostly white police force, this is a department that was denounced for responding to the initial unrest after the shooting with military style tactics and is now under investigation by the U.S. Justice Department and possibly just a step away from being under a federal consent decree. The idea that police officials would decide that their next move is to consider charging Brown’s stepfather is unnecessary, tone deaf and plain stupid.
Find the criminals who ravaged that city and brought further suffering to Ferguson. That’s what the police department should focus on.
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