The controversy over the decision not to indict Darren Wilson extended to football this weekend when five of the St. Louis Rams plays entered the stadium with their hands raised. This was in reference to the eye witnesses who testified before the grand jury that Michael Brown had his hands raised, attempting to surrender, when he was shot to death. These players were engaging in their right to freedom of expression in a peaceful manner.
While I can understand that the police would not be happy to see this, I am disturbed by their reaction. ESPN reports:
The St. Louis Police Officers Association called for the players involved to be disciplined and for the Rams and the NFL to deliver a “very public apology,” its statement read in part.
“I know that there are those that will say that these players are simply exercising their First Amendment rights,” SLPOA business manager Jeff Roorda said in the statement. “Well, I’ve got news for people who think that way: Cops have First Amendment rights too, and we plan to exercise ours. I’d remind the NFL and their players that it is not the violent thugs burning down buildings that buy their advertiser’s products. It’s cops and the good people of St. Louis and other NFL towns that do. Somebody needs to throw a flag on this play. If it’s not the NFL and the Rams, then it’ll be cops and their supporters.”
It is understandable for anyone to be upset violent protests but this was a totally peaceful expression of their views. The SLPOA has the idea of the First Amendment totally backwards if they think that the First Amendment was designed for the police to try to shut down protests. I haven’t heard such a confused interpretation of the First Amendment since Sarah Palin expressed the belief it was to protect her from questioning by the media.
While I don’t condone those who are violent, I am also disturbed by the implicit idea of separating the good (you can almost hear white) people of St. Louis and other NFL towns from those (black) people who are protesting, not all of whom are protesting violently. Those football players certainly were engaged in non-violent protest.
The SLPOA took advantage of unfair nature of the grand jury proceedings to falsely claim that this exonerated Wilson:
“SLPOA Business Manager Jeff Roorda said, “now that the evidence is in and Officer Wilson’s account has been verified by physical and ballistic evidence as well as eye-witness testimony, which led the grand jury to conclude that no probable cause existed that Wilson engaged in any wrongdoing, it is unthinkable that hometown athletes would so publicly perpetuate a narrative that has been disproven over-and-over again.”
The argument that there was probable cause to indict Wilson, despite the ruling of the grand jury, was never disproven. Both physical evidence and eye witnesses contradict Wilson’s statement. As I discussed here and here, the grand jury proceedings were highly irregular, with the prosecutor essentially acting as the defense, leading the grand jury to come to a decision not to indict. There were also irregularities in the collection of evidence after the shooting.
It is shocking that it has suddenly become controversial in this country to insist that a police officer who shot an unarmed person, who some eye witnesses say was trying to surrender, should have to face cross examination when giving his testimony. There is an incestuous relationship between the police and prosecutor’s office with the prosecutor seeing the police on his side, desiring to protect them. Grand juries are generally used to present the case for indictment, not to present the defense case. Why is it that conservatives who generally distrust the government are suddenly showing complete trust when an unarmed black kid is killed, despite clear abuses of the system by the prosecutor? There is certainly room for disagreement about Wilson’s guilt based upon the evidence presented, both supporting and contradicting Wilson, but this should be dealt with under normal trial rules, with an adversarial proceeding including cross examination of the witnesses, not a sham proceeding rigged to exonerate Wilson.
It is only understandable that people will be driven to protest considering the irregularities in this case. This includes football players, who also have the right to freedom of expression. Fortunately the NFL understood this and Brian McCarthy, the NFL’s VP of communications, responded to the SLPOA with this statement, declining to initiate disciplinary action against the players: “We respect and understand the concerns of all individuals who have expressed views on this tragic situation.”