Following the August 9th police shooting of Michael Brown (eloquently covered by TK), Missouri police have refused to identify the officer who killed the unarmed 18-year old, citing “safety concerns.” Public opinion is divided over the activist group Anonymous, who are determined to expose the officer’s identity (which they may or may not have accomplished). Journalist, author, and creator of The Wire and Homicide: Life on the Street, David Simon has penned an open letter to Ferguson Police Chief, Thomas Jackson, condemning both concealing the officer’s identity, and the reasons given. I highly recommend reading the letter in its entirety, but I’ll insert the crux of his point here:
“And beyond the democratic imperative, one other practical cost to Ferguson of your professional failure has yet to be tallied, but is certain and fixed: Your department, in order to solve crimes and maintain order, is dependent on the cooperation of witnesses — fellow citizens willing to trust in the process of arrest and prosecution, and in their own personal safety should they properly contribute to that process. Yet by offering up the dishonorable claim that your department, and all the authority of the supporting law enforcement and judicial communities of Missouri, cannot protect a single officer from a series of unsubstantiated threats, or that the officer might be more vulnerable to public ridicule than, say, Mr. Brown was vulnerable to actual police gunfire, you have made this question entirely relevant:
If Ferguson police can’t protect one of their own — a fellow officer who is armed, who is allied with an entire department of armed comrades, who are themselves buttressed by their jurisdiction’s prosecutorial arm, who have the full weight of the law at hand in support of that officer — then how in hell are they going to protect me when I go down to the courthouse and testify? How can they ask me, an ordinary citizen with no armament, alliance or authority, to stand up in open court and be identified?
The answer is you can’t.
The decision of a police agency to hide the identities of its officers behind a veil of secrecy, while asking the public at large to risk all in open court, is not mere hypocrisy. It is cowardice. It is an abdication of your professional role and your basic integrity…”
There’s absolutely nothing to be added to Simon’s clear and concise breakdown. I may not agree with Anonymous’ attempt to force an outing, but that the Ferguson police department is hiding the officer’s identity is despicable. Again, I urge you to read the letter in full.