On the ninth of this month Ferguson, Missouri police officer Darren Wilson shot and killed 18-year-old Michael Brown during a traffic stop. The subsequent days have seen massive protests in both the city and across the nation, matched only in their intensity by the crackdown of the local police.
Now while the police have just now cited that the deceased Michael Brown was the suspect in a local convenience store robbery (nothing has yet been proven), the cops have nevertheless come under widespread criticism. By all accounts, 18-year-old Michael Brown, who has no record of bad behavior- criminal or otherwise, surrendered to Wilson after a brief struggle. Despite his raised hands and his shouts that he was unarmed, Wilson opened fire anyway, shooting the teenager no less than six times.
We could talk about the struggle that allegedly occurred, the protocol in place for such events, and a host of other factors, but ultimately the fact that Wilson shot and killed an unarmed teen remains undisputed.
But we’re not here to talk about that.
We’re here to talk about the days that have since passed.
While there’s no way of saying for certain, it’d be my guess that had the Ferguson police department immediately released the name of the offending officer, these protests would not have been as expansive or lengthy as they’ve been. The unfortunate truth is, for better or worse, the local police appear to have been dragging their feet through the entire process, leading the public to assume that the killing of Michael Brown will be yet another tragic jot in what is an increasingly long list of victims of police violence. With the history of unbelievably light sentences handed to cops who’ve shot unarmed citizens (such as the tragic case of Oscar Grant), it’s easy to understand how people would feel outraged that yet another killing would (in all likelihood) get nothing more than a slap on the wrist. Unfortunately the police, while happy to see the most extreme punishments handed out to “cop-killers”, aren’t quite so invested when it’s an officer holding the gun, and that is what we’re here to talk about: being stuck on the wrong side of the thin blue line.
Now Evan and I have already covered the subject of the police, but I think Ferguson- or as some have taken to calling it, “Fergustan”- is a perfect example of some of the criticisms I was lobbing in that post- most notably, the police acting more and more like an occupying army. After all, the past week alone has seen:
I. Attacks Upon Journalists
While I’m not going to try to downplay any kind of riot or looting, you gotta admit that in the grand scale of things, Ferguson isn’t all that bad in comparison to the LA riots of 1992 or the Occupy Oakland fiasco of 2011.
In spite of that, the police response to the Ferguson protests have been so extreme as to garner almost universal condemnation across the political spectrum and the country at large, with many pointing out the tactics as being more at home in a 3rd world dictatorship than the US heartland. In particular, assaults and arrests upon journalists documenting the town’s descent into a (quite literal) police state stand out.
Last Wednesday night saw the detainment of two reporters from the Washington Post and Huffington Post who were in the process of recharging the batteries on their equipment when riot police arrested and handcuffed them- even slamming Wesley Lowery of the Washington Post into a soda fountain. On that same night SWAT teams fired tear-gas directly at an Al-Jazeera news crew, forcing the reporters to flee. The police proceeded to dismantle the recording equipment.
Throughout the week, reporters have cited being cordoned off from the actual protests, with a steady stream of threats from the local police documented. Within two hours of the writing of these words video has emerged of police threatening to mace reporters and volunteer observers.
Of course, that ain’t much in comparison to:
II. Attacks on the Public
Saturday saw Missouri governor Jay Nixon declare a state of emergency and impose a curfew from midnight to 5:00 am in Ferguson.
Now you might be saying something like, “But Gordon, you last vestige of sanity in this tumultuous and madcap world, isn’t that going to affect folks who are totally uninvolved in these events and serve as a general curtailing of their basic civil liberties in general?“
Maybe I skipped that chapter in my civics textbook, but telling grown men and women when they can and can’t be outdoors is ****ing absurd (I don’t even wanna imagine how the homeless are supposed to deal with that). But then again, I think shooting tear gas into residential neighborhoods is demented and yet the cops are doing that too. There’s story after story coming out of Ferguson of excessive force, brutality, and general disregard for either the protestors or the residents in general- many claiming to be under siege by those tasked to protect and serve them. More than anything, it seems to boil down to this:
III. The Attitude of the Police
Just take a look at this video of one of the riot cops taunting the protestors:
“Fucking Animals” the man says, and that right there seems to be the issue. The average person, the man on the streets, is not a citizen with sacred rights but rather a suspect. Not even a suspect- an “animal“. Bundles of irrational rage and violence who’d be eating each other alive if given half the chance. And if you think that’s just the sentiment of a single angry cop, take a look at the hardware getting used to put Ferguson in its place.
This isn’t military-style gear- this is literally weaponry and supplies designed for the US armed forces. In this country it’s actually encouraged for the cops to use surplus military hardware (though the Ferguson disaster is bringing that policy into question). Heck, there’re actually tweets coming in from the citizens of Egypt, Palestine, Bahrain and other brutal dictatorships on how to deal with tear gas and avoiding being shot.
Now there’s nothing wrong with some new tech- after all, we don’t expect cops to ride horses anymore, but the issue with being given the weapons you’d normally use on an enemy army can probably be summed up like this:
And here’s where the issue really is. Cops don’t protect me, they defend against me. We’re animals. They know officer Wilson screwed up, but rather than turn him over to the hands of us enemy combatants, they close ranks and attempt to beat the people of Ferguson back into line. This is what you call state-terrorism. Stay in place or we turn your hometown into a war-zone.
And what are you supposed to do? To whom do we appeal?
“Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?”, the Latin phrase goes. “Who watches the watchmen? Who polices the police?”
Until we find the answer to that- until the police view themselves as our defenders and not our masters- Ferguson will remain Fergustan.