General Question

pleiades's avatar

Regarding Michael Brown Ferguson incident, what fallacy is being used to justify this statement?

Asked by pleiades (6576points) August 16th, 2014

I don’t think it’s the False Equivalence fallacy… Or is it??

Here is the statement made on FaceBook by a guy who felt like jabber jawing with an old professors comment wall after she changed her profile picture to a photograph of Michael Brown.

“I feel sorry for this young man’s family…when will people learn that committing strong arm robbery and attacking police officers is never a good idea…”

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12 Answers

rexacoracofalipitorius's avatar

There’s no equivalence stated or implied, so it’s not a false equivalence. The ‘strong arm robbery’ is apparently a reference to the claim that Brown robbed a convenience store before Officer Wilson shot him. The ‘attacking police officers’ bit appears to be pure moonshine, as I’ve seen no evidence yet that Brown attacked any police officer.

So it’s probably not one of the fallacies on this list, because it’s neither logical nor rhetorically tactical. If I had to give it a name I’d probably go with “repeating rumors from Fox News.”

zenvelo's avatar

Except it’s not so much “repeating rumors from Fox” as it is repeating the chain of events outlined by the Chief of Police as justification for murder. He tried to say yesterday that Brown had been stopped because he was a suspect in the strong arm robbery.

pleiades's avatar

@zenvelo Was he called out on it? Because I keep reading the official statement is that Officer Wilson did not have prior knowledge of the robbery incident

SavoirFaire's avatar

Broadly speaking, the rhetorical tactic here is just your run-of-the-mill bait-and-switch. Act like you’re about to speak words of sympathy, then voice your criticism instead. That on its own is not a fallacy. In context, however, we know that the robbery—which may or may not have been committed by Brown—had nothing to do with the shooting. Thus we have a red herring.

Now, a red herring can be a fallacy; but in this case, it is not. For their to be a logical fallacy, there must be an argument. In this case, however, no argument is even attempted. The speaker is not trying to convince us of anything or presenting some line of reasoning. They’re just making their view of the issue known in a snarky manner. Inappropriate, perhaps, but not fallacious.

zenvelo's avatar

@pleiades The Police Chief’s press conference was, in summary (my words):

“The officer is Darren Wilson. Brown was shot after robbing a store.”

Question: “He was shot after robbing a store?”

Police chief: “Yes.”

Question: “Did Officer Wilson know Brown and robbed a store?”

Police Chief: “No, but he had just robbed a store.”

Question: “Was he shot because he had just strong armed robs store?”

Police Chief: “No, and Wilson didn’t know that, but Brown had just committed a violent act.”

The Police Chief was trying to justify the killing of Brown.

KNOWITALL's avatar

THe fallacy is that committing a crime excuses your murder/killing by the police.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@KNOWITALL That’s not a fallacy, though. It’s an assertion, and I would agree with you that it is a false assertion. But fallacies involve bad patterns of reasoning. That’s why there has to be an argument for there to be a fallacy.

KNOWITALL's avatar

@Savoirefaire I’d argue some people feel a person is ‘asking for it’ if they commit a crime of any kind.

whitenoise's avatar

I would say it is a fallacy of relevance; putting forward an irrelevant conclusion.

This is the informal fallacy of presenting an argument that could be logically valid, but doesn’t address the true issue in question.

In this case the police is stating that Brown had stolen something prior his being shot, therefore he was not innocent. Therefore the police didn’t shoot an innocent man, implying that the police wasn’t at fault.

Aristotle referred to this type of fallacy as Ignoratio elenchi.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@KNOWITALL I’m sure that many people believe that, and I agree that they are mistaken. That doesn’t make the quoted sentence fallacious, though. Fallacies require arguments, and the given statement is not itself an argument.

Now, we could probably guess what sort of argument the speaker might give if asked to defend the statement, and that argument would probably involve the claim “people who commit crimes are asking to be shot and/or killed.” But even if we think that claim is false—and I certainly agree with you that it is—that still doesn’t make the argument fallacious.

Here’s a bad argument:

1. All dogs are bananas.
2. All bananas are purple.
3. Therefore, all dogs are purple.

As bad as this argument is, however, it commits no logical fallacies. The pattern of reasoning it uses (“all A’s are B’s, and all B’s are C’s, so all A’s are C’s”) is completely valid. What makes it a bad argument, then, is that its premises are false. So just because an argument is bad doesn’t mean it must contain a fallacy.

Here’s another bad argument:

1. Juan is an alien.
2. Aliens come from outer space.
3. Therefore, Juan comes from outer space.

This argument commits the fallacy of equivocation (which is when a word is used in two different senses to bridge the premises; in this case, the argument is equivocating on the word “alien”). Thus the argument is bad even if the premises are both true (i.e., if Juan is an alien in the sense of being from a foreign country, and if all aliens—in the sense of extraterrestrials—come from outer space). Just because an argument has true premises doesn’t mean it is not fallacious.

@whitenoise That would apply to the implicit argument presented at the press conference, but not the statement found in the OP (which is not an argument).

whitenoise's avatar


I assumed the OP was referring to the implicit reasoning, since the statement at face value offered no argumentation, indeed.

You had already mentioned that.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@whitenoise Fair enough. I agree that the implicit reasoning would end up committing either the ignorantio elenchi or non sequitur fallacy (depending on the specifics).

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