The chant “No justice, no peace” is an apt rallying cry for Ferguson, Missouri, where protesters don’t truly want justice and there has been no peace.
What justice demands in the case of the shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown by Officer Darren Wilson in disputed circumstances is a full and fair deliberative process that goes wherever the evidence leads. But is anyone marching so that Wilson can go free if the facts don’t support charging him?
No, the demand is for him to be arrested immediately and to be prosecuted no matter what. This is noxious. Just because there is a mob on the streets, as well as on the Internet and TV, braying for a rush to judgment doesn’t mean we need mob justice.
Ferguson has been angry and grieving, and the rallies and prayer vigils during daytime hours are natural and commendable. The confrontations with the police, the rock-throwing and gunshots, the looting and Molotov cocktails, are not. They are self-indulgent, self-destructive and (given the fate of a few businesses set on fire) literally self-immolating.
There has been an effort to shift moral responsibility for this mayhem from the protesters to the police. There is no doubt that the police have acted appallingly at times (there is never any justification for pointing weapons at peaceful protesters), but at the end of the day, they are simply attempting to restore order.
Initially, we were told the police were “provoking” otherwise civil protesters with their military posture. When, in response to this criticism, the cops backed off almost entirely, looters ransacked local businesses at will and even firebombed the Domino’s Pizza.
Perhaps they took the “no peace” thing too seriously.
One night, MSNBC anchor Chris Hayes got to briefly feel what it’s like to be a cop or an innocent business owner in Ferguson when a couple of rocks were pointlessly thrown at him while he was on the air. Hayes brushed the whole thing off as people being very angry.
Yes, but why are they angry at Hayes? His ready explanation for the rock-throwing recalls the old saw about how a liberal is someone who won’t take his own side in a fight.
To their credit, the overwhelming majority of the protesters are peaceful, and many of them have tried to restrain a lawless fringe. But one of the reasons we have police is to control such a fringe.
It took about a week of looting before people began to seriously wonder what was accomplished by milling around on the streets and sidewalks at night and yelling at cops anyway.
You get the feeling that the enormous emotional investment in Ferguson from almost everyone on the left reflects a nostalgia for the truly heroic phase of the civil-rights movement.
They (most of them, at least) can never be Freedom Riders, but they can write blog posts complaining that the police gear in Ferguson looks scary. They can never register voters in the Jim Crow South, but they can tweet pictures of tear-gas canisters going off. They can never march over the Edmund Pettus Bridge circa 1965, but they can do some cable hits.
Ferguson is all they’ve got, so it must be spun up into a national crisis — our Gaza, our apartheid — to increase the moral drama.
The whole world is supposed to be watching. Presumably, though, the world has better things to do than watch what are, in the scheme of things (and up to this point), relatively minor clashes between police and a handful of protesters.
Even if Officer Wilson executed Michael Brown in cold blood, he would be one murderously bad cop, not an indictment of the entire American system of justice.
If he acted in legitimate self-defense, on the other hand, he shouldn’t be jailed or charged. That would be justice, but given what we’ve seen from Ferguson so far, it would not bring peace.
Rich Lowry can be reached via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.