Kenneth Stokes

Kenneth Stokes

Let’s be sure what we’re talking about. Dealing with unnecessary and gratuitous police use of force by means of editorializing and peaceful protest is a valid and reasonable way to handle the issue, particularly if local politicians and police administrators are not properly dealing with the problem. In dealing with this issue, race should not matter. If an officer actually misuses force, what does his—or her—race matter? What difference does the race of the person injured—so to speak—make? The issue is the misuse of force, not the races involved.

We must also distinguish between accidental or unintentional misuse of force, and malicious misuse of force. There are many degrees involved, running the gamut from mere officer inexperience to criminal behavior. In any case, each allegation of misuse of force must be competently and completely investigated and appropriate corrective action or discipline done. We properly leave this to professionals, not the whim of mobs.

But what if police administrators and politicians won’t fix things? If there is actually a systemic problem, peaceably petitioning the government for redress of grievances is one of our First Amendment rights and a necessary initial step. However, in protesting the unjust, it is all too easy to behave in a counterproductive manner, to turn public opinion against not the alleged police misbehavior but against the protestors.

I speak, of course, of the “Black Lives Matter” movement. The moment BLM activists—indistinguishable from social justice activists—first shouted down anyone observing that all lives matter, the BLM movement demonstrated that its goal was not equal justice and civil rights, but essentially immunizing black criminals from arrest and punishment for their crimes. CNN provides an excellent example: 

A city councilman fed up with police from other counties racing after small-time crooks in his Jackson, Mississippi, neighborhood has called for residents to throw things at officers in pursuit.

Now, the governor and a county sheriff are threatening to have prosecutors investigate him over the suggestion.

Councilman Kenneth Stokes has a reputation of saying what he thinks and stirring controversy.

‘Let’s get rocks; let’s get bricks, and let’s get bottles,’ Stokes told CNN affiliate WJTV. ‘And we’ll start throwing them, and then they won’t come in here anymore.

Surely this was just a one-off quip…uh-oh:

It was no one-off quip. Stokes repeated the suggestion to other local news outlets.

‘When you have these police officers coming from other jurisdictions and they will not respect human life, then I said we should use rocks, bricks or bottles to try to get the message over: stop endangering our children,’ Stokes told Jackson’s The Clarion-Ledger newspaper.

And what caused Stokes’ to “say[ing] what he thinks and stirring controversy”?

Stokes told local media that his comments were not a call to riots.

He said that he supports police, and that police from surrounding jurisdictions pursuing dangerous criminals such as armed robbers through Jackson is justified. But risking lives to chase people suspected of misdemeanors is not.

A recent chase appears to have brought Stokes to a boiling point that led to the rocks, bottles and bricks comment.

Officers from three towns chased a man who had shoplifted at a Walmart and assaulted people in the parking lot. Multiple police cars raced after the suspect through Jackson.

‘It was a misdemeanor. They could easily break off the chase, get the tag number,’ Stokes said. ‘We’ll pay for whatever they stole to make sure that our babies are not harmed. We want the same respect that they give to their neighborhoods given to Jackson neighborhoods.

I suspect that most people of any race can agree that Stokes’ comments were ill-conceived at best, and potentially incitement to riot. Those expressing disagreement with Stokes in more colorful language might also be acting reasonably. Most importantly, Stokes, perhaps inadvertently, aligns himself with the BLM movement—and many other progressives—by revealing that his goal is to assault police officers to deny them entrance into black neighborhoods: “And we’ll start throwing them, and then they won’t come in here anymore.” This would, of course, have the effect of giving black criminals free reign to plunder–other black people.

If the police are behaving unprofessionally, correct the misbehavior. Removing all police presence, which is what Stokes is unmistakably calling for, would leave neighborhoods at the mercy of predators. That the victims of these predators, and the predators themselves would almost certainly be black, and potentially poor, seems not to trouble Stokes and people like him.

Stokes is also encouraging his constituents to commit a felony. From the Mississippi statutes: 

97-3-7(2)(a) A person is guilty of aggravated assault if he (i) attempts to cause serious bodily injury to another, or causes such injury purposely, knowingly or recklessly under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life; (ii) attempts to cause or purposely or knowingly causes bodily injury to another with a deadly weapon or other means likely to produce death or serious bodily harm; [skip] and, upon conviction, he shall be punished by imprisonment in the county jail for not more than one (1) year or in the Penitentiary for not more than twenty (20) years.

Elsewhere in the statute, assault on a police officer, and a variety other public officers is likewise a felony but raises the punishment to up to $5000.00, up to 30 years, or both.

But a rock, or brick or bottle isn’t a deadly weapon! They can’t cause serious bodily injury or death! Yes they can, and do. Projectiles cause injury by means of the transference of energy. A bullet, which weighs only a fraction of a brick, rock or bottle, causes injury because its very high velocity produces sufficient energy. A much heavier projectile, though it has far less velocity, can cause equal damage, particularly depending upon where on the body it strikes.

Generally speaking, under the laws of virtually any state, an assault committed with empty hands is usually considered a simply assault, a misdemeanor. An assault committed with any object, such as a rock, bottle, brick, club, knife, etc., is, at minimum, aggravated assault, a felony.

Regarding the WalMart chase, we don’t know enough about the circumstances to be certain Stokes has a legitimate point. Stokes’ complaint seems to be about a matter of police policy: when to break off a pursuit. Generally speaking, police officers will not engage in lengthy and dangerous pursuits merely for misdemeanor crimes. There seems to be no Michael Brown or Freddie Gray. Apparently no one was shot, or even bruised, by a police officer.

However, even CNN’s description suggests that this was more than just a misdemeanor shoplifting incident. The officers may have had reason to believe the suspect was dangerous to the public—he apparently committed several assaults, some of which may have constituted felonies—and if so, were acting reasonably in pursuing him (or her). There is also no indication in the story that anyone was injured in the police pursuit. If not, Stokes’ outrage seems to be more a matter of defending his “hood” or making political, racist or segregationist points than arguing for sound public safety policy.

There is one thing about which we can be certain: Stokes is making it harder for the police to do their jobs, in Mississippi and elsewhere, and in the process, putting police officers, and citizens, in danger. With leaders like this, legitimate protestors, particularly black protestors, don’t need enemies.