Police and the nonaggression principle

All I’m saying here is that even considering the pervasive racism in our society, the well-documented culture of police abuse, and the enforcement of legislation that violates individual rights — it is still possible, even if unlikely, for a smaller white cop (possibly with bad intent) to shoot an unarmed bigger, heavier black 18-year-old — who had just committed a strong-armed robbery at a convenience store — in self-defense. I don’t know enough to say that this is what happened, but I don’t think anyone else can be sure things did not happen that way. There are conflicting eyewitness accounts, and the cable-news presentation of those eyewitnesses may not have been complete. To be sure, if legitimate self-defense might have taken place that day in Ferguson, it is also possible that Wilson initiated the altercation by giving arbitrary orders to Brown (as police officers often do to black youth) and fired his gun unnecessarily multiple times, and that Brown justifiably rushed him in self-defense. We must await the facts.

I have no intention of diminishing the systemic threat that black people and members of other minorities face from the police and other authorities every day. The so-called wars on drugs and guns, and the other decrees against victimless acts, provide the police ample scope for persecution and may well attract abusive and racist individuals to law-enforcement jobs. The experience of routine abuse plants a reasonable fear and suspicion in the targeted communities. But unless that culture of abuse justifies the cold-blooded killing of all police officers, even when they are off duty, I don’t see how it can automatically tell us who is the aggressor and who is the nonaggressor in any particular incident independent of the facts. I think we have to draw a distinction between a potential threat — which all police represent, to some more than others — and an imminent threat.

Moreover, whatever happened between Wilson and Brown, it cannot justify the military-style reaction of the police and other government personnel in the aftermath.