Ferguson It’s a Trust Thing

Ask yourself two questions as if the accuracy of your answers mattered. Since the questions relate either to your personal knowledge or to your own preference, accuracy should not be a problem. Honesty maybe, but not accuracy.

The first question has two parts. Only if you can answer yes to both parts does this become a yes answer.

Do you personally know (a) precisely what happened on the street in Ferguson, MO when white police officer, Darren Wilson, shot unarmed black teenager, Michael Brown, and (b) precisely what happened in the Grand Jury when St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney, Robert McCulloch, failed to convince the 12 grand jurors to indict Darren Wilson? Remember, a “no” to either part of the question is a no to the entire question.

Question two: do you have a preferred outcome in the prosecution of police officer Darren Wilson?

The person who is being honest with himself is likely to say no and yes or maybe no and I am not sure. “I don’t really know what the facts are but I think this should be the outcome.” Or “Since I don’t really know what the facts are, I am not sure what should happen.”

Those who provide these answers are in a tiny minority of the universe of people who have staked out their positions on the events in Ferguson, mostly for their own personal advantage.

Opinions are not based on what happened or should have happened either at the time or in the deliberations.

Some are based on whether the advocate prefers cops to teenagers at a riot.

Some are based on whether the advocate prefers authority or those who stand up to authority.

Many – especially those we are likely to read – are based on whether the outcome is good or bad for one or the other political team.

We have a long history of using a “trust – don’t trust” axis in public decision-making instead of a “right – wrong” axis. If a political question looks bad for your side, tell people to distrust the opposing advocate.

Do this long enough and it works. Approval ratings of whole institutions – Congress, for example – plummet and they will take decades to rebuild.

Nobody will be satisfied unless his preferred outcome is achieved. If anything else happens the process was rigged.

There is a cost to demonizing the other side. The effectiveness of government is diminished. We are seeing this in Ferguson and the nationwide reactions. If you don’t agree with the outcome, you distrust the process.

As to my own answers: 1. (a) I don’t know what happened that night; 1. (b) I don’t know what happened in the jury room; and (2) if guilty of a “bad shoot” Darren Wilson should be prosecuted, if not he shouldn’t. How the outcome looks and to whom does not enter into it.

Let’s try a third question: Do you think that is the way commentators, advocates and elected officials are reacting to how the decision (Missouri Grand Jury) was reached and how another decision (possible federal grand jury) will be reached?

As to that question, my answer is no. It’s a trust thing.



4 Responses to “Ferguson It’s a Trust Thing”

stan hatch, November 27, 2014 at 3:54 am said:

Besides the cost of a decreased trust in government, the Ferguson matter had other costs. There is the cost to those shop owners who had nothing to do with the shooting whose businesses were looted or burned down. Finally a cost to Darren Wilson. His life will never be the same, on the job or off.

Our President criticized the media for filming the looting. He did urge calmness, but I did not hear much criticism of the looters. Perhaps that was his political way to handle it but many of us would have wished a firmer statement. None of the costs above were mentioned.


Haven Pell, November 27, 2014 at 10:35 am said:

Stan, thank you for your comment. As you say, all of those are, indeed, costs. They will be noted by those who are advantaged by including them in their arguments. They will be ignored by those who are disadvantaged in making their points. Winning the day will continue to become more important than solving the problem.


simon berry, November 27, 2014 at 9:34 am said:

Here we are in Western Europe struggling to assimilate the mass immigration from the East, and immigration being the main theme of current politics and there is the US, after more than a century, still a divided society. Not a great model to be exporting around the world to Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya etc etc.


Haven Pell, November 27, 2014 at 10:38 am said:

Simon, thank you for your comment. There was an interesting article, in The Guardian I think, noting that other countries were using the Ferguson story to great advantage in criticizing our foreign policy. The criticism seems well-deserved.


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