Hard questions as Michael Brown is laid to rest


    Rest in peace. It’s the platitude we will hear today as Michael Brown’s parents bury their child.

    Brown was the unarmed black teen gunned down on Aug. 9 by Officer Darren Wilson, a white policeman in Ferguson, Mo.

    The shooting, which raised issues of race, police brutality and Constitutional authority, spurred more than a week of demonstrations, and seared ugly images into our minds.

    Tear gas and rubber bullets, police in armored vehicles. The scenes in Ferguson were reminiscent of the Chinese Army facing down pro-Democracy demonstrators in Tiananmen Square. 

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    Lingering pain

    Even now, as Michael Brown’s family prepares to lay him to rest, those ugly images live on.

    Today, as Brown’s funeral takes place at the 5,000-seat Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church in St. Louis, Mo., I wonder if we’ll have to bury other things with him.     

    If the grand jury declines to recommend charges in the racially polarizing case, must we bury the notion that we live in a post-racial society?

    If the militarized police response did not violate demonstrators’ First Amendment rights, must we bury the notion that America is any better than the totalitarian governments we condemn?

    If the evidence shows that Officer Wilson was somehow justified in shooting an unarmed teenager six times, can any of us truly be at peace?

    Those are hard questions to answer, and while it’s easy to ask them in reference to Ferguson, Mo., we must also seek those answers at home.

    Examining Philly’s police-involved shootings

    In the wake of the Michael Brown case, I asked the Philadelphia Police Department for numbers and a written policy on officer-involved shootings and the use of deadly force. Here’s what I found:  

    In 2013, there were 43 officer-involved shootings in Philadelphia, and 11 suspects were killed. Through Aug. 20 of this year, there have been 20 officer-involved shootings in Philadelphia, and three suspects have been killed.

    Officers in Philadelphia are instructed in the use of deadly force. Here is the policy:

    “… The application of deadly force is a measure to be employed only in the most extreme circumstances and all lesser means of force have failed or could not be reasonably employed …,” the Philadelphia Police said in a statement.

    “Police Officers shall not use deadly force against another person, unless they have probable cause that they must protect themselves or another person from imminent death or serious bodily injury.

    “Further, an officer is not justified in using deadly force at any point in time when there is no longer probable cause to believe the suspect is dangerous, even if deadly force would have been justified at an earlier point in time.

    “When feasible under the circumstances, police officers will give the suspect a verbal warning before using deadly force.

    “Police officers using their professional judgment should not discharge their weapon when doing so might unnecessarily endanger innocent people.

    “After using deadly force, officers shall immediately render the appropriate medical aid and request further medical assistance for the suspect and any other injured individuals when necessary and safe to do so and will not be delayed to await the arrival of medical assistance.”

    What if Wilson heeded that policy?

    That is the clear policy on the use of deadly force by police officers in Philadelphia.

    In reviewing that policy, I am left to wonder if Michael Brown would still be alive if Officer Wilson had acted in accordance with similar guidelines.

    Unfortunately, we’ll never have that answer, but hopefully, we will get the information we need to learn the whole truth about this horrible incident.

    It is my hope that when the evidence is collected, justice will be done and we will return to being the America we claim to be.

    Perhaps then, Michael Brown will finally have rest, and that those he left behind will find peace.

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