Friday August 15, 2014
Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson, in a press conference notable for its brevity, identified the officer who shot Michael Brown as Darren Wilson, a six-year veteran of his department. Information distributed to the media included reports suggesting that Brown was a suspect in a strong-arm robbery of a package of cigars at a local convenience store. Still photographs, reportedly of the incident in the local QuikTrip, show a large young man resembling Brown involved in what appeared to be an assault on a much smaller individual in the store.
If Brown was a suspect in a crime of that kind, this case would have uncanny similarities to the 1974 incident in which another teenaged suspect, Edward Garner, was fatally shot while attempting to flee from a Memphis police officer following a burglary. As noted previously, that case went before the Supreme Court a decade later, resulting in the 1985 Tennessee v. Garner ruling in which the Court held that “The use of deadly force to prevent the escape of all felony suspects, whatever the circumstances, is constitutionally unreasonable.” This was a rejection of the “Any Felony Rule” under which officers in many states, including Tennessee, were authorized to use deadly force to stop a fleeing or resisting suspect.
The “Any Felony Rule,” it should be pointed out, didn’t enjoy universal approval, even in the supposedly barbarous 19th Century. In an 1858 editorial, the New York Times expressed alarm over the promiscuous use of lethal force by officers of the newly created NYPD against fleeing suspects: “The pistols are not used in self-defense, but to stop the men who are running away. They are considered substitutes for swift feet and long arms… [W]e doubt the propriety of employing them for such a purpose. A Policeman has no right to shoot a man for running away from him.”