Two wrongs don't make right in Ferguson

Posted Online: Sept. 02, 2014, 11:00 pm
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By John Donald O'Shea
Eighteen year-old Michael Brown, a black teenager, was shot to death by a white police officer in Ferguson, Mo. State and federal prosecutors will investigate to determine whether the officer used "excessive force." If he did, he should face prosecution.

So, what legal or moral principle justifies the looting? (I am not talking about lawful "peaceful protesting." I am talking only about "looting" and destruction of neighborhood stores).

When I was a boy, my mother taught me that "two wrongs don't make a right."

During the 1858 Galesburg Debate, Abe Lincoln said "Judge Douglas declares that if any community want Slavery they have a right to have it. He can say that logically, if he says that there is no wrong in Slavery; but if you admit that there is a wrong in it, he cannot logically say that anybody has a right to do wrong."

The First Amendment to the U. S. Constitution says. "Congress shall make no law ... abridging ... the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

Riot, on the other hand, is not peaceably assembling; it is an assembling to do violence.

So assume, for purposes of argument, that Michael Brown, a black teenager, has been wrongfully shot to death by a white police officer in Ferguson. I say "assume" because at this point no proof has been shown before any competent tribunal that the officer did anything whatsoever wrong.

A shooting if wrongful can be murder or manslaughter. But a shooting can be done with legal justification, if it is done in self-defense or in defense-of-another. Illinois law provides that a person
"is justified in the use of force which is intended or likely to cause death or great bodily harm only if he reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or another, or the commission of a forcible felony."

In Illinois "forcible felonies" include first- and second-degree murder, aggravated battery resulting in great bodily harm or permanent disability or disfigurement, and any other felony which involves the use or threat of physical force or violence against any individual.

The facts will determine whether the officer was legally right or wrong. Facts adduced in court will show whether the officer used excessive force, or justifiable force.

Riots won't help. Nor will lawful, peaceful protests.

The key idea found in the statute is that deadly force can only be used where that use of force is "necessary" to "prevent "imminent death or great bodily harm" to the person or another, or the commission of a forcible felony."

Did Michael Brow use or threaten deadly force against the officer?

The statute nowhere authorizes the use of deadly force for "revenge"or any other purpose.

So, what then is the justification -- legal and/or moral -- for burglarizing, looting and wrecking neighborhood stores? They are owned by whites? They are owned by blacks? They are owned by strangers? They are convenient to destroy? They are owned or operated by people who had absolutely nothing to do with Michael Brown's death?

"The only good cop is a dead cop?" It's great fun to destroy a community? The unemployment rate is too high in the community? We are poor? We dropped out of school? We are living in one-parent families. There are drugs in our community? Reparations for slavery? Cops pick on young black men? The store owners are rich? We looters are merely helping ourselves to our "fair share?" Revenge? Hatred? Black racism? The end ("more" for me) justifies whatever means I choose to get "more," including burglary, looting and wanton destruction of my neighbors' property.

Personally, I can see no justification for the rioting in Missouri. If each faction in a society is free to achieve its own perceived (good( ends by resorting to evil means, the society degenerates into chaos, if not civil war. If riot is an acceptable means for a black minority, riot is also be an acceptable means for a white majority.

My mother was right: "Two wrongs don't make a right." And President Lincoln was right when he said "nobody has a right to do wrong."

Since the time of Moses, the law has been, "Thou shall not steal; thou shall not covet thy neighbor's goods." If that is God's law, how do the looters justify their conduct? And if the command is "love your neighbor as yourself," how is this rioting justified?

And if someone else is killed during the rioting, will that justify more rioting?
John Donald O'Shea of Moline is a former circuit court judge.


Local events heading

  Today is Tuesday, Sept, 30, the 273rd day of 2014. There are 92 days left in the year.

1864 — 150 years ago: The ARGUS Boys are very anxious to attend the great Democratic mass meeting tomorrow and we shall therefore, print no paper on the day.
1889 — 125 years ago: H.J. Lowery resigned from his position as manager at the Harper House.
1914 — 100 years ago: Curtis & Simonson was the name of a new legal partnership formed by two younger members of the Rock Island County Bar. Hugh Cyrtis and Devore Simonson..
1939 — 75 years ago: Harry Grell, deputy county clerk was named county recorder to fill the vacancy caused by a resignation.
1964 — 50 years ago: A new world wide reader insurance service program offering around the clock accident protection for Argus subscribers and their families is announced today.
1989 — 25 years ago: Tomato plant and other sensitive greenery may have had a hard time surviving overnight as temperatures neared the freezing point.

(More History)