How ignorance is driving the #Ferguson discussion

Here is a tweet:

Just in case that tweet gets deleted, here’s it copy/pastad in all its lulz:

so did Wilson shoot while running? He says he looked down in his sights, which indicates he’s standing still. But when did he stop running?

Our readers who are shooters will probably have the same reaction to that tweet as I did, which is basically “lolwut?” But that’s because when it comes to using guns, whether for competition or self-defense, we actually know what we’re talking about. You know, and I know, that it’s actually pretty easy to use your sights while moving, and even easier to use them while “backpedaling furiously” as Officer Wilson described himself.

That is a pretty great example of how ignorance is driving the Ferguson discussion. What you’re seeing are people who don’t understand use of force, people who don’t understand firearms offering their unqualified opinions on what appears to be a pretty clear cut shooting, when you actually look at the evidence. That’s a key point here – the actual evidence. The autopsy of Michael Brown, for example. An excellent piece of evidence, that is conveniently ignored. Let’s take a look at that, shall we? The WaPo has a pretty good breakdown of the autopsy, which shows a few important things. First, Brown was not shot in the back. All of the rounds that hit him were from the front. Secondly, none of the rounds that hit him except for the final head shot would have been immediately fatal. We’re all familiar with stories of determined attackers taking multiple GSW to non-critical locations and continuing to fight, and an examination of the shot placement on Brown is absolutely consistent with Officer Wilson’s testimony of Brown charging him. The shots to the arm would have been painful, but not disabling. The shot to the neck and chest might have eventually stopped the fight from blood loss, but the only “shut him down” shot was to the head.

The third item from the autopsy is perhaps the most important: the shot to his hand was a contact shot, which combined with Brown’s blood in the vehicle corroborates Wilson’s testimony that they struggled for his gun until Wilson was able to shoot him off it. That’s important, because after that moment, all of Wilson’s actions need to perceived in the light that Brown had just committed multiple, serious felonies.

The next thing we want to look at is the use of force continuum. I’ve seen on the internet a lot of people questioning why Wilson didn’t use his pepper spray or mace, because he was “just getting punched in the face.” Use of force isn’t a ladder that you have to climb, touching every rung before you reach the final “Deadly Force” tier. An officer, or a private citizen needs to be able to articulate that at the moment they chose to use deadly force, they genuinely believed they were in danger of death or grievous bodily harm. We have discussed at great length the danger of getting punched, and in the case of Officer Wilson, he was being punched in the head by a physically larger attacker, and wasn’t in a position to fight back, because he was sitting in the driver’s seat of his vehicle. Using pepper spray in that situation is risky, because the range is close enough that it may splash back on the officer. Wilson’s available options appear to be either let Brown continue to assault him, or get his gun out. He chose the latter, which resulted in the gun grab attempt by Brown.

That leads us to the final question raised by ignorant people: “Why didn’t Wilson just stay in the car?” This is perhaps the dumbest question, because we all need to remember that Darren Wilson was A COP. It was his job to chase badguys, and in that moment Brown was a robbery suspect who’d just assaulted a cop. Cops aren’t trained to just “sit in the car”, especially after being assaulted. That’s just…not what they do.

What we’re really dealing with here is a massive display of the Dunning-Kruger effect. A lot of people, who are smart and knowledgeable in certain areas, are offering opinions on an event that they lack the technical expertise to understand. That’s unfortunate, because by muddling the facts that we have with uninformed opinions, it only serves to create further unrest by confusing people. Here’s the tl;dr summary: if you’re not someone who studies use of force and self-defense, STFU and say in your lane.


  1. E + R = O

    An “event” happens in our life (you can’t control), a “reaction” or a “response” happens (your offering), and, in the end, there is an “outcome” (you influenced).

    Reactions are emotional and the person is not in control. Responses are thoughtful and the person is in control.

    When an event happens in our lives, we need a thoughtful response to produce the best outcome possible.

    I truly appreciate this article. Its a great response.

  2. I’ve heard comments/questions on TV about failure to use a Taser instead and why Officer Wilson didn’t just shoot to wound. Clearly people should be educated before speaking. Having access to the public’s attention should be taken more seriously.

  3. Good article; cogent, well articulated and factual. The polar opposite of the main stream (pardon the gaffe) media.

  4. Caleb, you have managed to boil down my own thoughts on a post very well. I may not even need to write mine, now. I have had a couple of VERY frustrating conversations with intelligent people on this topic, lately. In one case, I’m reasonably sure that a 20 year relationship has been damaged beyond repair.

    I don’t much care for medical dramas (like House), because I don’t really know about medicine. Oh, I know a little about anatomy and physiology, and I understand some pathology, but I’m not an expert who can speak intelligently on the topic of medicine. Therefore, when Dr. HotPants on the TV show declare in a eureka moment that “It’s the PhenoSomaTol which is causing Patient X’s dilithium crystal deposits to tank! Quick! Nurse! Bring me a bag of saline and a Dixon Ticonderoga, stat!” (or whatever), I just shrug. It’s not my area of expertise. Some people like these shows, because they’re interesting to them. They do the same with cop shows, which are universally false representations of police work.

    The ramifications of assuming that you are knowledgeable in the field outside of your expertise include: refusal to listen to experts. Refusal to consider narratives that you did not come up with. Assumption that alternate presentations of an event are lies with evil motivations. (EG: “I cannot explain why the officer chased the large man that he claims he had to shoot off of him. But he shot 12 shots at the black kid, and I would not have chased the kid and shot him. Ergo, the officer had racist motivation to murder the boy.”)

    My two best friends are an aeronautical-engineer/computer-scientist, and an accountant. It would be ludicrous for me to tell them how to do their jobs, or to critique them in their fields. They respect my study of my field, too. Even (or even especially) when I tell them “I don’t know.”

  5. To see how the other side views this mess check the New York Times editorial that states “many police officers see black men as expendable figures ….., not quite human beings.” a truly inflammatory statement based on a ProPublica study. That study cherry picked FBI data to make the point that police kill young blacks 21 times more often than young whites. Understanding the facts surrounding the Ferguson incident isn’t really relevant to their concern.

  6. Another good one I’ve seen is “he fired 12 shots. 12! How can you take this as anything less than an act of malice against this poor, innocent youth?” At this point, I’m wondering why they even bothered to release the autopsy if the keyboard commandos of the world are just going to ignore it and go back to trying to figure out how to shoot ear plugs as rubber bullets

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