The Gift of Uncertainty

Being able to say, “I don’t know…” is very liberating. It leads to asking more and deeper questions, and the mind to alternatives we wouldn’t otherwise consider. Embracing uncertainty slows us down and, if we’re wise, encourages reflection and...


Whatever happened in the early hours of September 14th that cost one young man his life and another his career, reputation, and very likely his freedom for many years is still, for most of us, shrouded in mystery.  What those of us watching this case from the outside know about it is very limited – it is still very early and what has been revealed in the media necessarily limited by the nature of the investigation and prosecution of what is truly a sensitive and high-profile case – but the basic facts we do know are these:

At about 2:30 in the morning, Charlotte-Mecklenburg, NC police received a panicked 911 call from a woman reporting, “There’s a guy breaking into my front door… He’s trying to kick it down.”  Patrol units responded, believing they were going to an apparent burglary-in-progress, and encountered 24 year old Jonathan Ferrell.  Ferrell, a young, black, former Division I football player at Florida A&M University, approached the officers – how he approached them and if his actions were aggressive, or perceived to be in view of the information the arriving officers had at the time, will likely be an important consideration in how this case is ultimately resolved – and was shot and killed by Officer Randall Kerrick.  Kerrick fired 12 rounds, with 10 striking Ferrell from close range, after another of the officers attempted unsuccessfully to deploy a Taser to stop Ferrell’s advance after he allegedly ignored repeated orders to stop and “get down!” from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg cops. 

Ferrell was unarmed.  It was later learned he had run off the road and crashed his car in a ravine a short distance away, kicked out the back window to escape, and walked to the home possibly to get help.  His mindset when he saw the officers – whether he was fearful and acting out, relieved and grateful help finally arrived, or something altogether different – can never be known.  How his actions were perceived by the cops, and if and how much those perceptions were colored by the idea they were looking at a burglar, are questions in search of answers.  Whatever the investigation into the shooting revealed was enough to charge Officer Kerrick with Voluntary Manslaughter.

_ _ _ _ _ 

The news of the shooting and Kerrick’s arrest quickly went national, and the internet exploded with commentary from all sides.  Most was depressingly predictable; ranting about “trigger happy cops,” that Kerrick’s shooting was racially motivated (Kerrick is white and Ferrell black), the lingering effects of racism in the South, the militarization of law enforcement, and so on.  Even on police websites and from confirmed LEOs, condemnation of Kerrick was rampant.  The commentary on the LE sites was less vitriolic or willing to assume the worst about Kerrick’s motivation than those in the general media, but still rather sharp, and few voices in any forum piped up to even consider maybe there was more to the story

I admit my weakness for perusing the comment boards of controversial articles and have stayed up late typing (what I find to be) witty, unassailable retorts to fools with the audacity to be “wrong on the internet.”  I’m a junkie, I can’t help myself.  And what I’ve noticed in general is a nearly pathological unwillingness to admit ignorance, or to utter (or write) three simple words:  “I don’t know…”

So I offered the following to a Chicago Tribune thread to boldly proclaim my ignorance and admit “I don’t know what happened.”    

A whole lot of comments from people who weren't there, know nothing except what they've read in very limited news releases, have no knowledge of the mindset or perceptions of any of the responding officers, including the shooter, and making assumptive leaps to justify their own biases. 

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