A tragic and painfully familiar saga from Ferguson, Mo., delivers a troubling reminder of enduring racial divisions in American attitudes about law enforcement. But this painful story also should serve as another lesson about the folly of rushing to judgment.
For instance, an early witness account stated that a white Ferguson police officer repeatedly shot an unarmed 18-year-old black man in the back on Aug. 9.
Yet two autopsies released this week, one by St. Louis County and the other an independent examination conducted at the request of the dead man's family, found that he was shot from the front. And according to media accounts this week, the officer said he fired only because Michael Brown, reportedly 6-foot-4 and more than 280 pounds, was rushing at him.
Even if that version is accurate, it doesn't mean Officer Darren Wilson should have shot Mr. Brown with one round, much less six. The videotape released by the police late last week showing Mr. Brown robbing cigars from a convenience store didn't make him fair game for being gunned down moments later, either. Nor does the county autopsy's finding that he had marijuana in his system.
Yet emerging details do show that there is still much to learn about this case, which is being investigated by the U.S. Justice Department. Attorney General Eric Holder will arrive in Ferguson today to oversee the process.
Some of President Barack Obama's critics describe this major federal law enforcement response as being politically motivated to energize the Democratic base in an election year. But given the volatile circumstances, assuring the people of Ferguson - and the nation - of a full and thorough pursuit of the facts is the right course.
What's clearly wrong, though, is the self-destructive pattern of looting, rock throwing, arson and shooting marring protests in Ferguson.
The St. Louis County police made a bad situation worse over the first few days of demonstrations with excessive shows of military-style force. Then Gov. Jay Nixon replaced them with his Highway Patrol, which has been more restrained, though he also called in the National Guard.
Capt. Ron Johnson, who is in charge of that Highway Patrol mission, has been a voice of reason in trying to defuse the crisis.
He again appealed for daylight demonstrations Monday, warning that "a dangerous dynamic of the night" has fueled violence by outsiders from as a far away as New York and California.
President Obama sounded a similar theme Monday from the White House. He pointed out that while most demonstrators are acting peacefully, "a small minority of individuals are not."
The president added: "While I understand the passions and the anger that arise over the death of Michael Brown, giving in to that anger by looting or carrying guns and even attacking the police only serves to raise tensions. It undermines rather than advancing justice."
And the first step toward finding justice in this case is to find the truth.
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