The National Guard is descending on the greater St. Louis/Ferguson area as I type this (ahead of the grand jury decision on Darren Wilson’s indictment which could come as early as Friday), and it seems like a good idea to examine what libertarianism has to say about the Michael Brown shooting.

If you visit the comment sections of libertarian coverage of the Ferguson saga, it’s shocking to see how little of the debate has been framed around libertarian principles; even those who claim to love liberty have let the mainstream media direct not only the public debate, but the libertarian debate as well. For libertarians, it’s not supposed to be about whether Brown resisted or not. It’s not supposed to be about whether Brown was charging Darren Wilson when he was gunned down.

fergusonIt’s supposed to be about principles. From looking at how many libertarians have argued about the issue, it’s really hard to tell what it’s actually about for them. For some, it seems to be about race: this “urban youth,” caught on video elsewhere stealing cigarillos, deserved what he got! For others, it seems to be some sort of empathy with Darren Wilson: hey — you’d be scared, too, if an angry 292lb, 6’4″ behemoth refused to comply with your “lawful” order.

The problem with these narratives is that, according to libertarian principles, Darren Wilson murdered Michael Brown in any witness’s version of eventsincluding his own.

Let’s take it from the top:

Issue #0:

If you’re on the anarcho-capitalist end of libertarianism, you don’t believe Darren Wilson had the right to stop Michael Brown, for any reason, period. You don’t need to go further. Any reasonably necessary defense against an illegitimate stop is justified.

If not, move on to Issue #1.

Issue #1:

If Darren Wilson didn’t know about the cigarillos, then the stop was illegitimate. Any reasonably necessary defense against an illegitimate stop is justified.

If it turns out he did know, as he said he did long after the incident, then move on to Issue #2.

Issue #2: 

Witness accounts vary on whether Wilson or Brown physically assaulted the other first.

If Wilson attacked first (no — a cop?!), then Brown was justified in defending himself. Any reasonably necessary defense against an attacker is justified.

If Brown attacked first, move on to Issue #3.

[We’ll skip the events inside the car, because we’ll never hear any other story besides Wilson’s… because he gunned down the other witness. If we’ve made it past Issue #2, we’ll assume for the sake of argument that Wilson’s story of the events to this point is accurate. It might or might not be, which we’ll call “hypothetical Issue #2.5.”]

ferguson-rose-petals-apIssue #3:

All accounts place Michael Brown disengaging with Wilson and running. Wilson gets out, chases him, fires multiple shots as Brown (who is still unarmed, mind you) runs away. Here’s where the questions stop.

At this point, deadly force, if it was ever reasonably necessary, is no longer reasonably necessary. Period.

Even if Michael Brown was the original aggressor, at this point every libertarian (other than those who don’t understand legal theory don’t believe in proportionality, such as Chris Cantwell) should be able to rally together and say that any further shots were unjustified. Even if, as Wilson testifies (unsupported by witnesses), Brown then turned toward him and “bull rushed,” Brown’s bull rush would be legitimate defense against an aggressor.

Under the common law (which, while not controlling for libertarian theory, is at least a good starting place) an initial aggressor is unable to claim self-defense (this is known as the First Aggressor Rule)… unless he retreats, at which point he regains the ability to defend himself. Brown retreated. If Wilson hadn’t owned a magical blue suit that grants wearers the authority to murder young, dark-skinned men in cold blood and get away with it, there would be very little legal question here. At least six witnesses state that Brown even put his hands up in submission as he turned.

Just before Wilson pumped 4-6 bullets into him.

Darren Wilson did not attempt to resuscitate his victim. He did not call for medical assistance. He watched as the young man he murdered bled out in the street.

Darren Wilson is, to libertarians, a murderer. The source of his legal high ground is due to the special powers non-libertarians believe should be afforded to police officers, despite the fact that all around the country they prove on a daily basis that they are not deserving. Even if the grand jury finds probable cause, true justice will almost certainly not be done in Ferguson.

P.S. – The Stefan Molyneux video on this topic is incredibly disgusting. Instead of actually looking at the issue through the lens of libertarianism, Molyneux builds a narrative of a thuggish, weed-smoking Brown (which could possibly even be correct, for what that’s worth) and ignores the issues in Wilson that would normally be his main topics — divorce, parental trauma, a cop girlfriend, and… oh yeah, the fact that Wilson was a drug warrior cop. I mean, if we’re just going to defend the white guy no matter what, what are we doing here? I’m not interested in that sort of “libertarianism.” Molyneux should decide whether he’s actually interested in human freedom and flourishing, or if he’d rather model the race-baiting dog whistles of deep South Republicans.