Mona Charen
The Ferguson, Missouri police department released convenience store surveillance tape that showed Michael Brown allegedly stealing some cigars minutes before he was shot by a police officer. Aware that the release of this footage might look like posthumous character assassination of the shooting victim, Captain Ronald Johnson of the Ferguson police explained that the tape was released pursuant to freedom of information requests.

Maybe, though the behavior of the police in other respects doesn't exactly scream respect for the Fourth Estate. Journalists from the Washington Post and Huffington Post were arrested, and a team from Al-Jazeera was tear-gassed.

There should have been video of what happened outside that patrol car.

Conservatives incline to support law enforcement. We dread disorder and respect the rule of law (a big subject, and relevant to the critique of the Obama White House, but that's for another day). But we are also, or should be, aware of the temptations of power, and wary of its abuse.

There's a video of Brown aggressively shoving a store clerk, but no record of what transpired a few minutes later when a police officer encountered him and a friend walking down the middle of the street. The police account is that Brown struggled with Officer Darren Wilson over the policeman's gun and that the first shot was fired in the cruiser. Brown's friend alleges that Brown was shot when he had his hands in the air. There is no dispute that Brown was unarmed when he was killed.

The Ferguson tragedy has provoked discussion of the excessive militarization of our police (a topic I mentioned a month or so ago in a column about our law-barnacled country). Actors often say that they can't get into character until they don the costume -- attach the fake nose or moustache. It's easy to believe that something of the same effect happens when police gear up in opaque helmets, gas masks, body armor and heavy weaponry. If you're dressed and equipped like a special ops combat soldier, you're more inclined to behave like one. But against whom?

Still, the initial fatal violence in Ferguson happened in the absence of military gear. It was an ordinary encounter between an officer and a civilian that escalated in a matter of minutes into a shooting. This is where the conservative insight about abuse of power is relevant. As Lord Acton warned, "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." Police have tremendous power. Most don't abuse it. But some do.


Mona Charen

Mona Charen is a syndicated columnist, political analyst and author of Do-Gooders: How Liberals Hurt Those They Claim to Help .
 
TOWNHALL DAILY: Be the first to read Mona Charen's column. Sign up today and receive Townhall.com daily lineup delivered each morning to your inbox.
 
©Creators Syndicate