Authority for the people: Ferguson and the reverse Miranda rights

Since he was never arrested, it is likely that Michael Brown never was read his Miranda rights. It is even more likely that Darren Wilson never considered giving them before shooting Brown six times.

Before almost any domestic arrest, law enforcement officials are required to read Miranda rights and to ensure the accused intellectually understand them.

Generally police officers provide this warning: “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say or do can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have a right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed to you. Do you understand these rights as they have been read to you?”

But Miranda is inherently flawed. Police officers read the warning from a position of power. The accused are not asserting their rights in the face of authority. Authority is asserting the accused’s rights for them.

Perhaps it is time we develop a reverse Miranda—a sure-fire statement that reminds the officials we’ve hired to protect us that we have basic rights they must observe. It could read:

“Anything you say or do is required to be in the best interest of our community. Any action deemed to be in violation of that interest is also in violation of the law. I have the right to disagree with you without threat of force. I have empowered you to protect me. Do you understand?”

In the majority opinion that required the Miranda warning, Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote, “The cases before us raise questions which go to the roots of our concepts of American criminal jurisprudence: the restraints society must observe consistent with the Federal Constitution in prosecuting individuals for crime.”

Ferguson, Mo., teaches us when authority must be restrained and society must be assertive. Of course this proposed statement is not perfect.

After all, what words could stop six bullets from piercing my skin? And how would I remember them with a gun pointed at me?

A reverse Miranda may only function in theory. Chief Justice Warren reminded us that words often fail against force: “Rights declared in words might be lost in reality.” But we must remember that mere words comprise our Constitution—our law.

In a world where police officers drive tanks through domestic streets and threaten the press with weapons for operating under constitutional law, the citizenry should be lawfully empowered to protect themselves against such authoritarian power—even if only by word.

Jordan Monroe Schultz is RedEye's web editor, who used to dabble in public policy and economics with the University of Chicago.