Totality of Circumstances

With the recent riots in St. Louis over the shooting by the police of Michael Brown, and the new news that has come to light that Mr. Brown may not have been the “innocent victim” that he was originally portrayed as, I was reminded of something that a friend of mine who works in law enforcement says often.

Many times the media will only tell part of the story in order to sensationalize details. And it has happened more than once.  Something that you need to have in order to discern all of the relevant details is an understanding of the “totality of circumstances.” In other words, you need to know everything related to the incident.


With Mr. Brown, the only details that you initially received were that he was unarmed, and that he was shot by the Ferguson, Missouri Police. That’s it. That’s all of the initial information we had, and then there was public outcry, a vigil for the deceased (“He was such a good kid…”), and eventually riots broke out.  Here are the questions that weren’t asked before people jumped on a bandwagon against the police; why was Mr. Brown approached by the police? What was his attitude when the police approached him? Was he confrontational or cooperative? How many officers were on the scene at the time of the shooting? How many of Mr. Brown’s associates were there? If you can’t answer any of those questions, you have no place to judge what happened in this altercation, because you do NOT have an understanding of the “totality of circumstances.”

It has since come to light that Mr. Brown was not the saint he was being portrayed as, but rather was a suspect of a robbery. Presumably he was not cooperative but rather he was combative with the police, and according to statements, he attempted to reach for the officer’s gun. My LEO friend has stated that at any interaction with the police there is a chance of a deadly force encounter, because the police bring a gun with them to every engagement. When Mr. Brown reached for the officer’s pistol, that was an intent to use deadly force and the officer answered deadly force, with deadly force. Mr. Brown paid the consequence for his actions. If he had cooperated with the police officer, he would still be alive today, waiting for his day in court. If he hadn’t robbed a store only minutes earlier, the police wouldn’t have been involved at all. We didn’t have the totality of circumstances before. We still don’t, but we have a much better picture now, and it seems that the officer was in the right after all, and the rioters now look like criminal sympathizers. Oops.

Before someone else calls an officer a racist, a tyrant, a jack-booted thug, an oppressor, or any other derogatory term I can’t think of, I would like them to take a minute and step back and start asking questions. Do they have an understanding of the totality of circumstances? They might know what happened, but do they know why? I don’t know many cops, but I know a few. The ones I know are nothing but upstanding officers. I won’t disagree that there are some bad apples in the law enforcement community. There are bad actors in every career path. There are also officers who are outstanding members of society, and I would venture that would be the majority of them.

As a concealed carrier, no group polices it’s own like we do. If you do something that was obviously stupid and in the wrong, we will gladly drive the proverbial bus that society wants to throw you under. I would imagine that Law Enforcement is much the same way, not wanting one or two bad actors to serve as an example of what the rest of them are like.

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3 Responses to Totality of Circumstances

  1. lwk2431 says:

    ” I would imagine that Law Enforcement is much the same way, not wanting one or two bad actors to serve as an example of what the rest of them are like.”

    Largely agree with most of your sentiments. But the statement above is not universally accurate. There are good police, and there are police who cover up bad police. That is simply a fact. In some cities it can be hard to tell who the good guys are, and sometimes some cops are bigger criminals than the people they arrest.

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    • lwk2431 says:

      p.s. The facts coming out now seem to vindicate this particular policeman in Ferguson. He apparently suffered serious injuries and a number of citizens have verified his description of the event, at least that is what some news outlets are reporting.

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    • I don’t disagree with any of that. But just like concealed carrier have some of those outliers, the police do too. I think the difference is in attitude. Some cops have an issue with authority, acting like Sylvester Stalone’s Judge Dredd; “I am the law!” Some cops have a loyalty issue. But I would still argue it is not the majority of them. I think part of the difference is the visibility. The police have a much higher visibility than your average joe due to the news media, etc. If you shine a spotlight, you’re going to see cockroaches. I think the real problem is that the crooked and corrupt ones are in higher ranking positions, (See Chicago’s Police Chief) which makes the lower rank and file less willing to speak out against them for fear of retribution. If you get a really good one at the top (Joe Arpaio) then the rest will keep their nose clean for the most part.

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