There has been a rash of high-profile police shootings of civilians which has again shone the spotlight on law enforcement procedures. It is indeed troubling to consider that law enforcement can violate the law and escape prosecution or other accountability and I would think that most law enforcement officers would (or at least should agree). In fairness, law enforcement officers perform some of the most dangerous functions in our society and are charged with protecting the public they serve. But in the midst of the recent tragedies and the discussion about them we have folks making assumptions and spouting opinions without having their facts straight. The Ferguson, Missouri incident involving Michael Brown has generated a firestorm of controversy and a plethora of evidence during grand jury proceedings. I will be honest: I have not taken the time to read through any of the grand jury documents. As such I am necessarily limited on what I can say about the matter from a factual basis.
My late father was a member of the New York City Transit Authority Police Department and so I try to employ a fair and balanced perspective when assessing incidents involving law enforcement. In full disclosure, my father encountered prejudice and unfair dealing during his tenure with the Department and was a plaintiff in a class action lawsuit against the Department regarding the issue of promotions. I recall vaguely accompanying my father to several meetings with his lawyer in Brooklyn, New York relating to the lawsuit. I was far too young to understand what the men were discussing let alone the significance of the legal action being undertaken but now that I am a lawyer and have read the case myself I am honored to know that my father fought for what he believed was right. In spite of the legal wranglings my father retired from the Department with honor and was respected my many of his colleagues and superiors.
On the topic of facts there have been many “stories” and hot headlines and even rumors floating about in the various police abuse-of-force cases. I try not to rely on network television for my news because the short time frames alloted for stories can almost never provide you all of the relevant or important facts. Radio is a bit better but Internet and/or news magazines seem to be far better choices. Sure it takes much more time to read a full-length article on the New York Times or Washington Times website versus picking up the headlines from your local newspaper but the depth of information you are likely to obtain makes it far worth the time. Our society today seems wired for instant information that fits into crisp and pithy sound bytes instead of trending toward in-depth reporting that truly informs the reader.
Example: if one wants to learn about the current lawsuit filed against Bill Cosby wouldn’t it make sense to read the actual lawsuit versus getting “facts” from entertainment news source? The same logic applies for finding out how Cosby, through his lawyer, responded to the lawsuit. Try to get to the original source and if you cannot do this at least seek credible, in-depth reporting. When it comes to facts, more is typically better.
Whether it is police abuse or the rising tide of accusers of Bill Cosby if one is going to offer an opinion on the events of the day it is important the opinion be well-informed and based on facts. It is noble to reserve opinion if you lack some of the relevant facts needed to provide a well-reasoned opinion. Some folks need to consider where they obtain their news and information lest they be misled and underinformed.
In closing, the significance of facts can be summarized in the following scripture: “Spouting off before listening to facts is simple and foolish” (Proverbs 18:13). And note the scripture says listening to facts which means one must first find the facts and understand the facts. Amen.