Opinion
Members of a rowdy group of demonstrators stand with their hands up as they are lit by a police spotlight on West Florissant during protests in reaction to the shooting of Michael Brown near Ferguson, Missouri August 18, 2014.  REUTERS/Lucas Jackson Members of a rowdy group of demonstrators stand with their hands up as they are lit by a police spotlight on West Florissant during protests in reaction to the shooting of Michael Brown near Ferguson, Missouri August 18, 2014. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson  

Thoughts On Ferguson: What I Know And Don’t Know

Photo of Lanny Davis
Lanny Davis
Former Special Counsel to President Clinton
  • See All Articles
  • Subscribe to RSS
  • Bio

      Lanny Davis

      Lanny J. Davis counsels individuals, corporations and government contractors, and those under congressional scrutiny, on crisis management and legal issues by developing legal, media and legislative strategies that are designed to best produce a successful result for the client. He has experience in securities fraud and SEC investigations as well, and has found that utilizing such an integrated legal/media/lobbying approach can lead to quicker and less expensive settlements or even successfully litigated outcomes. Senior officials of public companies have also hired Lanny and his crisis group to defend themselves successfully against "short and distort" attacks and other market manipulations. For 25 years prior to 1996, before his tenure as special counsel to President Clinton, Lanny was a commercial, antitrust, government contracts and False Claims Act litigator (both in defense as well as plaintiff). He has argued numerous appellate cases in the U.S. courts of appeals.

      In June 2005, President Bush appointed Lanny to serve on the five-member Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, created by the U.S. Congress as part of the 2005 Intelligence Reform Act. In that capacity, he received the highest level security clearances so that he could be fully briefed and "read in" to the various anti-terrorist surveillance and financial tracking programs at the highest classified level. From 1996 to 1998, Lanny served as special counsel to the president in the White House and was a spokesperson for the president and the White House on matters concerning campaign finance investigations and other legal issues. Lanny has participated in national, state and local politics for almost 30 years. He has served three terms (1980 to 1992) on the Democratic National Committee representing the state of Maryland, and during that period he served on the DNC Executive Committee and as chairman of the Eastern Region Caucus. In Montgomery County, Maryland, he served as chairman of the Washington Suburban Transit Commission.

      Lanny has authored several books and lectured throughout the United States and Europe on various political issues. Between 1990 and 1996, Lanny was a bimonthly commentator on Maryland politics for WAMU-88.5/FM, a Washington, D.C. local affiliate of National Public Radio. He has been a regular television commentator and has been a political and legal analyst for MSNBC, CNN, Fox Cable, CNBC and network TV news programs. He has published numerous op-ed/analysis pieces in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, he Washington Post and other national publications.

      Lanny graduated from Yale Law School, where he won the prestigious Thurman Arnold Moot Court prize and served on the Yale Law Journal. A graduate of Yale University, Lanny served as chairman of the Yale Daily News.

      Lanny is admitted to practice in the District of Columbia and Connecticut and before the Supreme Court of the United States and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

The one thing I know is that I don’t know what it it’s like to be a young black man who is confronted by a white police officer pointing a gun.

I don’t know the fear, the humiliation, the rage that a young black man must feel when this happens, especially when he doesn’t believe he has done anything wrong.

I know I have memories of my own as a young Jewish kid in an all-Christian neighborhood, walking home from school and sometimes being called names. “What’s a kike?” I once asked my dad when I was about 7 or 8 years old. He told me it was a hate word about our religion. I didn’t really understand at the time, but I saw how it upset my parents so I was sure it was bad.

But I know that nothing I experienced then or now comes close to what young black men often experience because of the color of their skin.

I don’t know why Michael Brown was shot and killed. I understand from news reports that he was unarmed, and he was shot multiple times in daylight by a police officer, and one of the bullets went through his brain and killed him. It made sense to me when one law enforcement expert on TV said that the police “are trained to try to talk down someone before you shoot down someone … unless your life is in danger.”

I know it’s wrong to generalize about people, whether “white police officers” or “young black men.” We don’t know the facts yet, and the police officer who shot Brown deserves a chance to explain what happened and why. We need to understand the evidence and the facts derived after due process of law. The presumption of innocence still should be upheld.

I know that the Ferguson police made all the Crisis Management 101 mistakes, such as not being fully transparent from the beginning and, especially, the grotesque decision to try to shift the blame to Brown by releasing the videotape of his robbery of a convenience store — as if that could justify the shooting of an unarmed young man walking down the street in daylight. Also, the department should have released the name of the police officer who shot Brown earlier, although I can understand the delay may have been caused by concerns about the safety and security of the officer’s family.

But lest we forget, we must give credit to our community police officers, white and black, who face dangers and risk their lives to provide security for all of us, including and especially for young blacks in black neighborhoods, who are the highest casualties in urban neighborhoods throughout the country. And to those criminals and thugs who exploited this tragedy by looting and engaging in violence, you have soiled the dignity of the peaceful protests of the Ferguson community by your actions.

What should politicians and political leaders do in the short term? There is one thing I know for certain: they should resist rushing to the microphones or issuing press releases just because they feel pressure to do so. And they should resist such pressure from others. They must not play politics or look as if they are doing so. Rather, they should follow the leadership, tone and message that we have seen from President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder. They have inspired us with their statements of empathy and understanding for the Browns and the terrible pain of losing their son, while still showing commitment and faith in allowing the criminal justice system to work its way.