We Need to Remember John Adams When We Analyze Ferguson Commentary

Unlike many Christian conservatives, I think Justin Raimondo is a national treasure despite his flaws. But sometimes he says things that seem disturbing and wrong. His last column leads off with an instance of this:

The facts surrounding the murder of Michael Brown, an 18-year-old resident of Ferguson, Missouri, gunned down by Darren Wilson, a Ferguson police officer, are not entirely known – but enough is known that it’s quite justified to characterize it as cold-blooded murder. Thanks to Brown’s family, an autopsy has revealed that of the six shots fired by Wilson, five were survivable, but the sixth – which entered through the top of his head – was not. Although the evidence is not yet conclusive, the forensics – and the testimony of eyewitnesses – point to the fatal shot being fired as he was falling to the ground with his hands up in the classic posture of surrender.

Uh, maybe. But there are other eyewitnesses giving different testimony and there are other interpretations of the forensic evidence that are quite reasonable. I have expressed skepticism about some claims for Wilson, but the evidence is still coming in and it does not look (yet?) like a case of cold-blooded murder.

I actually liked much of the rest of Raimondo’s anti-imperialist rant. But his talk of the empire reminded me that, in our history, we were once the colonies of the British Empire. We were literally occupied by an army. Under those circumstances, what became known as “the Boston Massacre” occurred.

young john adams

John Adams, enemy of the British and advocate of independence, defended Captain Preston, one of the men indicted for the Boston Massacre. Ironically, the prosecutor of the men was a loyalist to the British crown. Adams’ defense had nothing to do with how he felt about the British government. It had to do with the fact that he was convinced these British soldiers had acted in self defense. (You can read more about the episode here.)

At the trial he said in part:

[W]hat had the soldiers to expect, when twelve persons armed with clubs, (sailors too, between whom and soldiers, there is such an antipathy, that they fight as naturally when they meet, as the elephant and Rhinoceros) were daring enough, even at the time when they were loading their guns, to come up with their clubs, and smite on their guns; what bad eight soldiers to expect from such a set of people? Would it have been a prudent resolution in them, or in any body in their situation, to have stood still, to see if the sailors would knock their brains out, or not? Had they not all the reason in the world to think, that as they bad done so much, they would proceed farther? Their clubs were as capable of killing as a ball, an hedge stake is known in the law books as a weapon of death, as much as a sword, bayonet, or musket.

Adams could have easily decided to base his opinion of the soldiers’ guilt or innocence on his agenda to convince people to favor independence from Great Britain. But he did not do that. Likewise, just because other police (still very few in the big picture) have gotten away with murder and manslaughter, and just because the police are militarized, doesn’t mean that we can be certain that Wilson is guilty.

I can only hope and pray that the investigators of this incident will put personal prejudices aside and show the same discipline of character that John Adams displayed.