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August 21, 2014
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Chief Joel F. Shults, Ed.D. Passion for the Job
with Chief Joel F. Shults, Ed.D.

Who says "Sorry, Ferguson" if force was justified?

If by some amazing constellation of probability that it is one day determined that Officer Darren Wilson was fighting for his life, who will be appointed to say “I’m sorry...”?

There is much we don’t know about what went down in Ferguson on August 9 when Officer Darren Wilson shot and killed Michael Brown. That uncertainty has given rise to many hypotheticals, most of them involving conspiracy and a trigger-happy cop, and plenty of speculation about what will happen if misconduct is proven.

But I’d like to consider a different hypothetical scenario, the far more likely one where this was a good and justified shoot, a situation where an overpowered officer felt his life was in danger and felt compelled to act in self-defense.

Let’s say that Michael Brown was leaving the scene of a violent strong arm robbery, just as a for instance. And let’s consider the possibility that the mindset of a fresh felon is different than a teen minding his own business on an afternoon stroll down the middle of the street.

Let’s wonder what would happen if Brown’s companion — Dorian Johnson — didn’t give an accurate account of the shooting to police. This might be so, seeing as how the current warrant for his arrest is for making a false police report in a 2011 case in the state’s capitol city.

And what if Officer Wilson was fighting for his life?

What if Wilson was suddenly and explosively attacked, as indicated by the first shot being fired before the officer could even get out of his car — that the whole shooting sequence and fight could have taken less than five seconds. 

Let’s just say, for a hypothetical, that Missouri Governor Jay Nixon crossed the legal and political ethics line when he called for a swift prosecution rather than a thorough investigation. 

If by some amazing constellation of probability that all of these suppositions are determined to be true, who will be appointed to say “I’m sorry...”?

Rehearse this in your mirror, Governor Nixon: “I’m sorry, citizens of Missouri, that I made my voting block more important than the safety of my citizens and their appointed protectors. I’m sorry I didn’t allow my troopers to wear gas masks. I’m sorry I allowed my commanding officer to apologize in uniform for being a police officer. I’m sorry I wanted a swift, rather than fair, adjudication in a homicide case.”

Be ready, Al Sharpton, to be a man of honor — instead of a promoter of your own media circus — and apologize to the officer for mischaracterizing his life and caring not one moment about his safety or his family or his profession.

Be ready, activists, to work for justice in a real way. Be ready to rebuild the businesses destroyed amid your protests. Be ready to educate the young minds poisoned with misinformation. Be ready to teach history and learn from it. Be ready to say you were misguided, mistaken,  and wrong. 

Be ready, reporters, to apologize to your profession for betraying objectivity and the abandoning the search for truth in favor of taking up a cause and becoming a tool of agitators and anarchists.

Be ready, all of you who call yourselves good citizens, some even friends of law officers, to say that your pronouncements and conclusions were uninformed and damaging. Promise that you learned to be truth seekers and truth tellers. Tell me you’ll study and vote more wisely and support as often as you criticize. Acknowledge that your hostility was misplaced and put officers at risk.

Just in case these findings are proven true beyond a reasonable doubt after an accused man has been given the presumption of innocence before the law, someone should be ready to say “I’m sorry.”


About the author

Joel Shults operates Street Smart Training and is the founder of the National Center for Police Advocacy.. He is retired as Chief of Police for Adams State University in Colorado. Over his 30 year career in uniformed law enforcement and in criminal justice education Joel has served in a variety of roles: academy instructor, police chaplain, deputy coroner, investigator, community relations officer, college professor, and police chief, among others. Shults earned his doctorate in Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis from the University of Missouri, with a graduate degree in Public Services Administration and bachelors in Criminal Justice Administration from the University of Central Missouri. In addition to service with the US Army military police and CID, Shults has done observational studies with over fifty police agencies across the country. He has served on a number of advisory and advocacy boards including the Colorado POST curriculum committee as a subject matter expert.

Follow Joel on Twitter @ChiefShults.

Contact Joel Shults





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