John Locke Update / Research Newsletter

Lucky to Be Here, continued

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I’ve written before, more than once, about how lucky I feel to live in North Carolina. A striking juxtaposition in this week’s news illustrates part of the reason why.

On Monday, The News and Observer reported a peaceful demonstration in Charlotte, NC during the trial of a police officer who shot an unarmed black man in 2013:

About 30 people participated in a memorial service outside the Mecklenburg County Courthouse early Monday morning, August 10, 2015, to pray for Jonathan Ferrell and other black people killed by police recently.

Monday began the second week of testimony in the voluntary manslaughter trial of Charlotte-Mecklenburg police Officer Randall "Wes" Kerrick, who is accused of wrongfully killing Jonathan Ferrell in a late-night encounter in 2013.

A jury will decide whether Kerrick used excessive force when he fired 12 shots at Ferrell, or whether he was justified because he thought Ferrell posed a deadly threat.

On Tuesday, USA TODAY reported an outbreak of violence in Ferguson, MO one year after a police officer shot an unarmed black man in that city:

St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger declared a state of emergency earlier Monday after Ferguson protests turned violent Sunday night following the anniversary of the fatal shooting of Michael Brown by a police officer.

At least three people were shot and four arrested as peaceful Sunday protests became violent overnight into Monday….One suspect who was shot by police is in "critical, unstable" condition in a local hospital and undergoing surgery….

The eruption of violence came as tensions between police and protesters mounted during the night after a day of peaceful protests….

Three officers were injured, five people were arrested and some property was damaged during the protests taking place over the past three days.

In my previous newsletter I noted that, compared to other states, relations between the police and the public are generally pretty good in North Carolina. I attributed much of our good fortune to the fact that "we have better institutions, i.e., a better constitution and a better court system." However, I also acknowledged UNC Professor Jeffery B. Welty’s suggestion that, "It may be due in part to the professionalism and policies of our law enforcement agencies," and I noted that, "North Carolinians are, in general, a remarkably decent, respectful, fair-minded group of people."

The professionalism of the police and the decency of the people seem to have been particularly important in helping Charlotte and its citizens deal peacefully with the shooting of Jonathan Ferrell. In May, Time Warner News reprinted a statement released by Ferrell’s mother after a settlement was reached in the family’s civil suit against the City: 

We wish to acknowledge the professionalism that Chief Rodney Monroe has demonstrated in handling the difficult circumstances of Jonathan’s death. Chief Monroe acted swiftly and decisively once it became clear from the dash-cam video that the use of deadly force against Jonathan was not justified. We are appreciative of the respect he has shown our family throughout this process. 

Jonathan and our family have always had great respect for law enforcement. Jonathan’s sister is a law enforcement officer so we know first-hand that the bad acts by one police officer should not tarnish the entire profession. 

Some credit should probably also go to the Ferrell family’s attorney, Chis Chestnut, who, when interviewed last year, took an admirably nuanced and fair-minded approach to the problem of police misconduct:

While Chestnut anticipates race will play a part in the upcoming trial, he says this case is about how officers are trained to deal with all citizens, whether they be white or minority.

"I think this disproportionately affects the African American community because they disproportionately encounter police officers but I think this is a larger problem affecting all Americans, regardless of race," Chestnut said.

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Jon Guze is Director of Legal Studies at the John Locke Foundation. Before joining the John Locke Foundation, Jon practiced law in Durham, North Carolina for over 20 years. He received a J.D., with honors, from Duke Law School in… ...

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