Ferguson

AP284188912754-690 Last night, my Twitter feed went bananas. Two journalists had been arrested at a McDonald’s, while covering events in Ferguson.

Good article in the New Yorker.

I don’t know what happened the day Michael Brown was shot. I would like to hear the account by the police before I completely make up my mind. But the way that they’ve handled events since the shooting is disgusting and stupid.

17 thoughts on “Ferguson

  1. We’re discussing it at home. It’s great to have older teens who pay attention to current events.

    I would suggest requiring police officers on duty to wear mini video cameras, uploading to a central server run by the state, not local departments. Such transparency would help in cases where witness testimony conflicts. Much like Russian drivers now use dashboard cameras to protect themselves from lawsuits.

    The militarization of police is terrible.

    The police force in Ferguson should be taken over by the state. Their behavior has been despicable.

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  2. Also, any police department receiving military equipment should be subject to strict regulations about how it can be used and lose the equipment if used improperly. You don’t need a SWAT team to serve a subpoena.

    Police have proved over and over again that their judgment about when to use these weapons can’t be trusted.

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    1. We’re seeing the situation in which they will use such weapons. The trouble with humans is, given a tool, we will use that tool. And some tools shape our thinking, as the old saying goes, “if all you have is a hammer…” So, if all you have is equipment used in war, you’re in a war. And wars need enemies.

      Every police officer recorded here should lose their pension, and serve time in prison: http://www.ksdk.com/story/news/local/2014/08/14/crews-hit-with-bean-bags-tear-gas/14042747/.

      When the state attacks the free media, it cannot be tolerated.

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      1. The kids and I have been trying to find video of the “riots” in Ferguson. Very hard to find. What we’ve been able to find have been, in the main, peaceful protests by respectable citizens, met by egregious police brutality.

        I had to pull up some YouTube videos of _real_ riots, from Europe, to show them what a riot really looks like–and what police look like when they’re really responding to it. For one, European police are outfitted to protect themselves from what one could reasonably expect from a real riot–projectiles, fluids, etc. They form lines to clear the streets.

        They are not outfitted for war.

        The rioters in Europe hide their faces. The protestors in Ferguson show their faces. They record police.

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  3. “Whatever happened to Michael Brown in the moments before he died has become secondary to what the response to his death has revealed.” Great line in the New Yorker article. You know, shit happens. When it happens in your police department, you have to clean it up instead of sweeping it under a rug because everyone who has kids or dogs knows that doesn’t work.

    Cops sometimes act like shitheads. When they do, the way you can make sure people still respect the non-shithead cops is for the non-shithead cops to get rid of the shithead cops. Ferguson is not doing this. If I were a cop right now, I’d stop with the frickin’ blue cone of silence and start kicking the asses of the shithead cops.

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    1. To me the fact that the response of the police was not to immediately launch a very public investigation and put the officer on leave speaks to the fact that this was not, in fact, the work of one shithead, but part of a pattern of acceptable behaviour and thought processes around a) who is a criminal (racial profiling) and b) use of force.

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  4. it isn’t just “shit happens”. This is the outcome of years of policy decisions. The police (not just in Ferguson) are wearing military equipment and behaving in ways that escalate the situation because that is how they have been trained. It wasn’t just “shit happens” when the UC Davis cop sprayed peaceful protesters with pepper spray either. It was a deliberate choice born from training and policy decisions over time.

    I don’t believe in non-shithead cops anymore. They are all trained to be shitheads. It is policy.

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    1. Well, I’m talking about the shooting of Mike Brown. That was a shithead move by the cop and he should be held accountable. I suppose you could argue that the police shouldn’t have guns, but that’s kind of a non-starter of an argument so I don’t even want to go there. Given that he had a gun and the kid did not, he probably used excessive force in response to a situation where he should have just chilled out.

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      1. I’m not willing to go with “shit happens” in the murder of Mike Brown. There is no excuse for police to shoot an unarmed person in the back. Brown was not a direct threat to the cop at the moment of shooting, if he had ever been (I have my doubts). Deadly force should be an absolute last resort, and only if the cop or a person’s life is in immediate danger. Non-deadly force with a weapon should also be a last resort. Cops are trained how to shoot to injure, which they should only do if absolutely necessary. Multiple shots to the back is extralegal murder. Moreover, this is part of a very troubling pattern of unarmed black people getting killed (shot, strangled, shocked) by cops simply for existing. The treatment of black men by cops is a human rights abuse and unacceptable in our democracy, and we need urgent action now. We can start by demilitarizing the police and by systematically reforming police departments.

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      2. Brown is hardly the first young man murdered by the police. Have you not been paying attention? Shit happens my ass.

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      3. “Shit happens” sounds more flippant than I mean it. What I mean is that in life, we all do our best to make sure good, decent people exist, but there are people out there who either screw up or are sociopathic or somewhere in between. I’m of the belief that we can do our best to stop this shit from happening, but we can’t always stop it. But when it does, we have to punish it, not pretend it didn’t happen.

        It’s like any profession. Most cops are good, but sometimes there are real shitheads. Most teachers are good, but sometimes there are real shitheads. Most doctors are good, but sometimes there are real shitheads. And so on. What I’m saying is that when people reveal themselves to be shitheads, the response shouldn’t be “Oh, s/he is one of us, let’s protect him/her” but to remove the shitheads from the group. A cop doing a bad thing doesn’t mean all cops are bad as long as the cops acknowledge that the bad cop did a bad thing.

        We’re saying the same thing; I just said it badly. But that’s partially because I am still suffering from the emotional blackmail of my sister, who gets really upset when I criticize cops because she’s married to one and what is her daughter supposed to think about her father when I criticize any police officer around her daughter?

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      4. No we are not saying the thing. You think this was a singular error. I think it is the forseeable result of deliberate policy.

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  5. And it’s the easy way out to just dismiss the whole profession. I think we need police, since I’m not willing to go back to every man for himself, armed to enforce their own laws (or private security forces or the aristocracy with knights, . . . .). There are countries where there are no police, and the enforcement of law has been ceded (areas of Mexico, Libya, . . . .) and they are not a better alternative to our world, even with all its flaws.

    So, we need to talk about how to make the police better, and, yes, punishing the wrong doers is part of it. But, I also agree that it’s not enough, just as it wasn’t for the bad energy traders or the financial criminals. Those systems were flawed, and needed to be reformed. Certainly, the same is true for the police. I’ve come to the conclusion that I am no longer willing to accept completely internal enforcement of rules and ethics. Even assuming that those systems used to work in the past (and I am not sure), I think the bonds of community have altered, and that we need more formal systems.

    Our local system is now under federal oversight (though they may have negotiated an oversight plan that releases then from the censure), and I suspect a lot more systems should have external observers.

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  6. I was tracking down numbers this morning about the deep shifts in suburbia in the past ten years. Put together a proposal for an article about it.

    Did you know that suburbs are now 35% minority? This is a huge shift in the demographics of American suburbs in the past 10-20 years. Many suburban areas are now a majority minority. Seems like the infastructure of suburbs — police officials, school leaders, town representatives — have not caught up. This was a common complaint among the protestors at Ferguson.

    The police force Ferguson, MO weren’t your typical well trained urban cops, who have tons of training on community relations and race. These were smal town cops who hand out traffic tickets. With too much equipment. That they had no idea how to use. They probabaly had zero training on protests and race relations.

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    1. I was also left wondering why a high black town had a mainly white police force. I guess it could be shifting demographics. I think diversity is another necessary component for a good police force. But it can’t be artificial.

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  7. It’s not just local police departments that are militarizing; universities are too.

    When I attended the University of Delaware in the early 1990s, the “Public Safety” department consisted of a few full-time, gun-carrying police officers supplemented by a corps of part-time student cops who carried nothing more lethal than a flashlight. Twenty years later, the university apparently has its own SWAT team—as do the town and county.

    I just can’t imagine that the occasional high-profile drug bust, the unlikely prospect of a mass shooting, or the occasional visit by a dignitary could possibly justify the cost—but tuition-paying parents don’t know to ask, and most kids don’t have sufficient understanding of the campus culture that predates them to know that this isn’t how things used to be.

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  8. I recommend this article by a theological ethicist and former police officer on the history of policing; it has some good links. He’s very well-respected in the field of Christian ethics and has been working on the ethics of policing for many years. Some of what has going on seems to be the result of flat-out racism (overt or under the surface), but it also relates to how we think about what the police are supposed to be doing.

    http://www.christiancentury.org/article/2014-08/time-another-paradigm-shift-policing

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