For lying about his racist rantings while on the witness stand during OJ Simpson's murder trial, Mark Fuhrman was convicted of perjury. The immediate result of the former LAPD cop's lie was three years probation and a $200 fine. But life is long, and attention spans are short. Now you can find Fuhrman serving occasionally as a legal expert on Sean Hannity's Fox News program. His career in law enforcement came to an unceremonious end with the Simpson case, but it didn't mark his final moment in the public eye.
Darren Wilson, the Ferguson police officer who just found out he won't face criminal charges for killing unarmed black teen Michael Brown in August, may end up similarly fortunate. It just depends on how he wants to play it.
Some protesters were incensed when Wilson issued his resignation letter over the weekend, writing that it was the "hardest thing" he'd ever had to do. Never mind the obvious exclamation that shooting and killing an unarmed man should have been a pretty damn difficult decision—there's some logic behind his resignation that needs to be unpacked. Had Wilson resigned immediately following Brown's death, it would have looked like an admission of guilt. Now, Wilson and his supporters can make an entirely reasonable claim of self-defense: He could never work the streets of Ferguson again, and his presence there could very well put his fellow officers in danger. If the demands of some of the protesters were any indication, quitting when he did can be seen as simply the most sensible approach.
"It was my hope to continue in police work," wrote Wilson, whose goal had apparently been to retire as a sergeant with the Ferguson Police Department, "but the safety of other police officers and the community are of paramount importance to me."
The decision to quit likely came with quite a bit of pressure from the authorities, including Wilson's bosses, Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson and Mayor James Knowles, who was quick to point out the former cop wouldn't be receiving a severance package. Wilson may have had a word or two from his friend, Jeff Roorda, who also happens to be a representative of the local police union. Roorda, as you won't be surprised to hear, is unabashedly pro-cop. As a Missouri state legislator, he sponsored a bill that would prevent citizens from finding the names of police officers involved in shootings if they weren't charged; yesterday he made headlines for criticizing some St. Louis Rams players for making a "hands up don't shoot" gesture on the field. He was also fired from his job as a police officer in Arnold, Missouri after being accused of filing a false statement against a suspect.
Regardless of what you may think of him, Roorda has been the most visible Wilson supporter through this whole ordeal, which is not an easy position to be in. And Wilson, despite the protests that spread across the country in the wake of the grand jury's decision not to indict him, has something very important on his side in addition to the counsel of a friend: the grand jury.
"We are a nation built on the rule of law," President Obama reminded the country following the announcement a week ago that Wilson would not be indicted, "and so we need to accept that this decision was the grand jury's to make."
Indeed it was. But in the immediate aftermath of Brown's death, the vacuum of credible information created by the clamped lips of Ferguson police and other local government officials was filled by outrage. Social media abounded with theories, explanations, and fingers pointed in myriad directions before we ever knew the name Darren Wilson. For many, the decision to indict him wasn't up to a secretive (albeit methodical) jury, but to the public—at least, the part of the public we agreed with. But the law has spoken, and now we know a few things nearly for certain.
For one, Wilson will probably never again wear a badge, unless it's in some far-flung outpost you and I have never heard of. But he may be plucked to perform as an "expert" on cable news. Who better to extrapolate on future police shootings than Wilson? Conversely, the former cop may suffer greatly, in essence sentenced to a life of fear and solitude as the angry masses seek their revenge. That's apparently what George Zimmerman and his family feared was imminent as recently as a few months ago, two years after the killing of Trayvon Martin. But that will probably fade. History is littered with public enemies number one who went back to being nobodies—just look at Fuhrman, who was once famous for lying about not using the N-word and now is considered by some to have a solid legal mind.
Many Americans often claim our revolutionary roots as the central motivation behind our behavior—essentially, that we're all tea-dumpers sticking it to our oppressive overlords. But in reality our supposed natural distrust of government gives way to an adherence to law and order. To many, Wilson is a symbol of racism and evil cops, an avatar of an unfair system. But for others he's an incarnation of the kind of authority America needs. Careers have been made on much less.
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