Opinions Versus Facts: Michael Brown, Officer Wilson and The Ferguson Riots

by | Dec 1, 2014 | Crime

Who benefits from the Ferguson riots?


Everyone seems to have an opinion about the tragic events in Ferguson, Missouri. But, as Daniel Patrick Moynihan used to say, “You’re entitled to your own opinion but you’re not entitled to your own facts.”

Soon after the shooting death of Michael Brown, this 285-pound young man was depicted as a “gentle giant.” But, after a video was leaked, showing him bullying the owner of a store from which he had stolen some merchandise, Attorney General Eric Holder expressed displeasure that the video was leaked. In other words, to Holder the truth was offensive, but the lie it exposed was not.

Many people who claimed to have been eyewitnesses to the fatal shooting gave opposite accounts of what happened. Some even gave accounts that contradicted what they themselves had said earlier.

Fortunately, the grand jury did not have to rely on such statements, though some in the media seemed to. What the grand jury had, that the rest of us did not have until the grand jury’s decision was announced, was a set of physical facts that told a story that was independent of what anybody said.

Three different medical forensic experts — one representing Michael Brown’s parents — examined the physical facts. These facts included the autopsy results, Michael Brown’s DNA on the door of the police car and on the policeman’s gun, photographs of the bruised and swollen face of policeman Darren Wilson and the pattern of blood stains on the street where Brown was shot.

This physical evidence was hard to square with the loudly proclaimed assertions that Brown was shot in the back, or was shot with his hands up, while trying to surrender. But it was consistent with the policeman’s testimony.

Moreover, the physical facts were consistent with what a number of black witnesses said under oath, despite expressing fears for their own safety for contradicting what those in the rampaging mobs were saying.

The riots, looting and setting things on fire that some in the media are treating as reactions to the grand jury’s decision not to indict the policeman, actually began long before the grand jury had begun its investigation, much less announced any decision.

Why some people insist on believing whatever they want to believe is a question that is hard to answer. But a more important question is: What are the consequences to be expected from an orgy of anarchy that started in Ferguson, Missouri and has spread around the country?

The first victims of the mob rampages in Ferguson have been people who had nothing to do with Michael Brown or the police. These include people — many of them black or members of other minorities — who have seen the businesses they worked to build destroyed, perhaps never to be revived.

But these are only the first victims. If the history of other communities ravaged by riots in years past is any indication, there are blacks yet unborn who will be paying the price of these riots for years to come.

Sometimes it is a particular neighborhood that never recovers, and sometimes it is a whole city. Detroit is a classic example. It had the worst riot of the 1960s, with 43 deaths — 33 of them black people. Businesses left Detroit, taking with them jobs and taxes that were very much needed to keep the city viable. Middle class people — both black and white — also fled.

Harlem was one of many ghettos across the country that have still not recovered from the riots of the 1960s. In later years, a niece of mine, who had grown up in the same Harlem tenement where I grew up years earlier, bitterly complained about how few stores and other businesses there were in the neighborhood.

There were plenty of stores in that same neighborhood when I was growing up, as well as a dentist, a pharmacist and an optician, all less than a block away. But that was before the neighborhood was swept by riots.

Who benefits from the Ferguson riots? The biggest beneficiaries are politicians and racial demagogues. In Detroit, Mayor Coleman Young was one of many political demagogues who were able to ensure their own reelection, using rhetoric and policies that drove away people who provided jobs and taxes, but who were likely to vote against him if they stayed. Such demagogues thrived as Detroit became a wasteland.

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Thomas Sowell has published a large volume of writing. His dozen books, as well as numerous articles and essays, cover a wide range of topics, from classic economic theory to judicial activism, from civil rights to choosing the right college. Please contact your local newspaper editor if you want to read the THOMAS SOWELL column in your hometown paper.


  1. This guy Brown weighed 285 at age 18? When full grown, he might’ve weighed 400. Anyway, wasn’t there also evidence linking him to the robbing of the convenience store beforehand? If he robbed it, that would affect his impression on the cop who shot him dead. The cop just wouldn’t have known where the impression came from. Enter, psychology witnesses. I’ll bet some of them are black, if that HAS to be important. Mike Kevitt

  2. Mr. Sowell is an amazing person. As humans we all have a tribal instinct to some extent, and deep down we all tend to fall in line with the group we identify with, e.g. a liberal tribe, or conservative, or white, black, Hispanic, etc., tribe. We all have our allegiance to some group. Yet Mr. Sowell seems to have a fiercely logical and independent mind. He’s conservative, yet if he disagrees on some point with other conservatives, he isn’t shy about saying so. He doesn’t fall into any line.I always read everything I see written by him, and I honestly feel assured when I see that his opinion agrees with mine. It makes me feel like I must be right on that issue. I wish I could meet him some day.

  3. What about the evidence thst shows Brown was killed 148 feet away from the SUV and not 35 as the police said? Can an armed and trained cop claim his fear of death to be reasonable after chasing someone that far and having copious amounts of space to evade.a charging Brown?

  4. Here’s some more evidence. Wilson claims Brown was 15 feet away when he stared shooting as Brown “charged” him. If Brown was running at a paltry 10 mph he would have covered 96 feet in the 6.5 seconds it took Wilson to fire his 10 shots. For reference marathoners run at about 12 mph. Sounds pretty unlikely it happened as Wilson described.

  5. Your Guy Fawkes mask betrays you as an artless liberal, or
    worse. Nothing more need be said.

  6. Actually I’m a libertarian or a radical capitalist if you will. The mask is really a symbol from “V for Vendetta” where the hero is fighting a fascist state.

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