Eyes on the ball(s) in Ferguson

 

-Updates below, but I liked this comment from Tim (see our comments section) so much I am bringing it up to make sure as many see as possible:

“Indeed, even if one were to adopt the worst imaginable possible interpretation of Brown’s killing — that the cop straight-up murdered him, with intention and premeditation — I’d argue that’s still *less* disturbing than much of what the police have been doing since then. Why? Because that would be the act of one man operating on his own, in violation of whatever departmental procedures applied. The arresting and tear-gassing of reporters and others, on the other hand, is *policy*, being carried out openly and repeatedly by multiple personnel, with forethought and planning. This is not being done in the heat of the moment. It is a deliberate decision to use violence against innocent people, violating their Constitutional rights, as every person involved knows full well.

As an aside, having a demographic disparity like Ferguson (67% black population, 94% white cops) is by itself sufficient to know that something is seriously wrong in that town.”

-

I’d like to say we need to keep our eye on the ball in Ferguson. But for different people in or watching the story, there are different balls in play.

This, by Baldilocks, is an excellent read about what is, to me, ball one:

One can be for law and order while being, at the same time, alarmed by local police forces taking over the role and equipment of state and federal armed forces.

The same persons are often unable to grasp the magnitude of institutional and societal mission creep.

More on that ball later in this post.
But, as I said. There are other balls in play. I don’t expect to address them all.
One ball is Michael Brown and how he died.  Another ball is who he was. Another ball would be racism.  We now know that Michael Brown was not quite the innocent and care-free teenager of Sunday School Boy character some might have thought, nor was he the gentle giant that some in the media tried to create- there is video footage of his robbery (or attempted robbery) at a local convenience store, and his physical intimidation of a little man about half his size is not pretty. You can watch it and read about it here.

Mike’s parents are upset that this footage has been released. I sympathize with them. They’ve lost their son and I can’t imagine the agony, and it must feel like having their dead son’s memory spat upon to have this footage be what most people know about him.  I’m sure to his family and friends,  he was more than these few minutes of footage show him to be.  Nevertheless, those few minutes are relative to part of the story.   Capt. Ron Johnson, whom the Governor appointed to smooth things down in Ferguson, isn’t happy, either because the robbery and the shooting are two different issues, and the press conference was supposed to be about the shooting and the police response to protestors, but the police chief addressed neither of these issues.  I agree with all of that.  But I don’t agree the footage shouldn’t have been released.

At this press conference where the police released the footage, they had nothing to say about the actual issues the town is upset about- Mike Brown’s shooting, and the subsequent police response to the community- treating them like enemy combatants, using tear gas on people in their own back yards, arresting reporters, denying citizens the right to assemble. That is problematic, to say the least.

The police have said more than once that the cop who stopped him did not know he was a suspect in a robbery and that had nothing to do with why he was stopped. That’s another point the parents and others are making- since it had nothing to do with the stop, it has nothing to do with the cop’s state of mind at the time of the shooting. That’s true. However, Mike Brown did know what he’d done (his friend admits they were the ones in the convenience store video footage), and that does give more credibility to the officer’s claim that Michael Brown responded with belligerence to the officer stopping him. It doesn’t prove anything one way or the other (except that it’s obviously not true that Michael Brown was a gentle soul who never harmed anybody, based on the convenience store footage)- it does, however, give us a plausible reason why he might have been scared enough or worried enough about a cop stopping him to react irrationally, even belligerently.  At least one witness says that is what happened- that he did flee, but then he turned and ran back straight toward the cop. Other witnesses say otherwise, and it’s a serious shame that the police cars in Ferguson didn’t have dash cams installed (they are in position of the police forces there, but not installed, I’ve heard two different stories as to why).

Even if Mike did not turn around and run back toward the officer, I can still understand how it could happen that if a man as big as Mike Brown gets physical with a cop, the cop could feel threatened enough, his adrenaline could be up enough, and his fight or flight reflexes on overdrive that he could end up shooting somebody in the back or even an unarmed man with his hands up shouting ‘don’t shoot,’ I’m unarmed!’. I said I could understand how that might happen because adrenaline does crazy things to some of us. But that is not the same as approving of it, should those be the circumstances. Nor is it the same as saying this should be a consequence-free action if that is what happened. No matter what happened, if Mike Brown was unarmed, fleeing, and shot in the back, however much we can understand how that scenario could happen, that’s not the same as excusable. Cops aren’t the judge, jury and executioner. They have a difficult job, but we need to be able to expect more than that from them.

The narrative for a week is that Brown had his hands up, was running away shouting he was unarmed, and that he was shot in the back.  There’s a ‘new’ witness however- somebody who videotaped the cops after Mike Brown was shot had previously shared the video- but what nobody noticed until recently is that while he was recording the cops, he was also picking up the voice of a witness describing what happened to another neighbor- and in his description (seconds after the shooting), he says Mike Brown doubled back and was rushing the cop when he was shot.  Mike Brown was built like a linebacker. You can watch and listen and see what you think here.

Preliminary autopsy results show he was shot six times, twice in the head.  Not in the back as all the media were reporting.

Then there’s the looting and the protesting, and the confusion between the two.  This cartoon sums up the issue of the looting and how it effects the protesters and any legitimate issues when it comes to John Q. Public at home watching events unfold on the internet:

looters

There are protestors standing to defend shops against looting. 

The looting and any acts of violence by protestors at this point are not good for the legitimate protestors, that’s kind of obvious. Not all the looting being reported as looting is exactly as it seems, though- some of this ‘looting’ is protestors breaking into the nearest store to get liquid to wash the tear gas out of the eyes of suffering protestors.  But still, most of it is really indefensible.

Some people are most concerned about the rush to judgement.  Victor David Hanson sums that side up pretty neatly here.

And then, of course, there’s the racism issue, which mixes in with all the other issues to one degree or another.

calculating human value

That’s my understanding of most of the balls people are watching (and trying to understand).

But none of them are the ones I think we all need to be keeping our eyes on the most.  The ball that I’m watching  is in play and is significant to me even if it turns out that Mike Brown’s shooting was entirely justifiable.  It’s often blamed on racism, but I think that’s a mistake.  And that ball is the general attitude and behavior of our militarized police force.

I blogged about this during the Crowley/Gates issue, when the police arrested a black college professor who had mouthed off to them, and nearly half the country blamed this on racism, and nearly half said it was all about disrespect for the police who were just doing their job.  My opinion was and still is that most police officers believe contempt of cop is a serious crime and they think that it’s perfectly reasonable to deprive people of their liberty for being verbally rude to a police officer. It may be a nasty rudeness, but I stoutly believe it is also a civil liberty.

This is not a race issue. About 25 years ago a friend of mine, a young, willowy woman in her early 20s told me that pre-conversion, she’d been drunk and partying with friends and they were stopped by members the Los Angeles police department.  She got mouthy, and was arrested, roughed up, and assaulted by the police.  She couldn’t even talk about all the details.  She was white, btw. I knew her about four years after the incident, and she was still shaken up over it, and said that it was dangerous for anybody to get mouthy with the police.  Radley Balko pointed out during the Gates case that American cops have no tolerance for people talking back, black or white.

A reasonable expectation for our police forces is that they not violate the right of the people to assemble, that they not fire teargas and rubber bullets at peaceful citizens, at reporters, at aldermen, that they not arrest reporters for reporting, that they not attempt to dismantle camera equipment after using teargas to route reporters (and then flee when caught on another camera),  that they enforce the law and protect citizens.

How about that they not freaking threaten to shoot reporters for reporting?

A reporter for KARG Argus Radio, whom the Huffington Post identified as Mustafa Hussein, also captured an officer’s threat against him while recording a live stream of the protests.

“Get the [expletive deleted] out of here,” an officer can be heard yelling, although audio of the incident isn’t entirely clear. “You get that light off, or you’re getting shelled with this.”

Hussein then asked a second officer, who identified himself as Captain Todd, to give him the name of the officer who he said threatened him by yelling “get the [expletive deleted] out of here or I will shoot you with this.” Captain Todd did not provide the officer’s name but said he would follow up with the reporter.

You can watch the clip at the link.

Those  reasonable expectations for police behavior are not what we’re seeing in Ferguson at all.

“It’s a textbook example of how not to handle the situation,” St. Louis City Councilman Antonio French told The New York Times, referring to the general police response in the aftermath of the shooting. “Ferguson has a white government and a white mayor but a large black population. This situation has brought out whatever rifts were between that minority community and the Ferguson government.”

Emphasis mine.  Read more: http://www.businessinsider.com/how-the-cops-made-things-worse-in-ferguson-2014-8#ixzz3AbNuc8YQ

And that’s the thing- the character of Mike Brown, God Rest His Soul, is not the issue. The crimes he may have committed aren’t the issue.  And while it is important to discover if he really was rushing the police officer when he got shot or not, even if true, that doesn’t change the serious problems with the police response in Ferguson.

The police response and behavior in the aftermath is what made them, the police, the issue. That’s not the only issue, of course, but it’s one that concerns all of us the most, across the board, white, black, or any other shade of the colour human.  They demonstrated the militarization of the police force in America, and they embodied the stories we’ve been hearing of police officers treating the citizens they are supposed to protect and serve as enemy combatants.

For context, consider that if it made a difference to you to learn that Mike Brown was involved in a robbery attempt a few minutes before the shooting, this also might (should) change how you view the police force there:
“Five years ago, police there charged a black man with property damage for bleeding on four uniforms as officers allegedly beat him.” (emphasis mine)

More here:

The FPD says Wilson has no previous disciplinary record, although they did not release even excerpts of his personnel record. In the meantime, the Daily Beast uncovered a horrific case of police brutality in Ferguson in 2009. Then, a group of Ferguson cops picked up the wrong Howie Davis and then tried to accuse the one they had in custody with property damage, for getting blood on their uniform after they beat him up. When Davis sued, they denied he got blood on their uniform. They are still employed by the FPD as far as I can tell. They’ve even countersued Davis. (PDF) In 2010 they were among a few dozen officers who got commendations from the mayor and city council (PDF). Now please tell me how protections negotiated by police unions aren’t part of the problem.

See Baldilocks, at the top of the post. Look at this interactive map of surplus military equipment going to local police forces and ask yourself just badly a county with a population of ten thousand in the entire county, and a crime rate of .02% needs armoured vehicles and grenade launchers.

A few weeks ago I blogged about a sheriff in Indiana who defended getting his county law enforcement a free MRAP on the basis that the US has become a warzone. Between 2003 and 2008 Sheriff Gayer’s warzone, Pulaski county, had 1 murder, 2 rapes, and 500 thefts reported.

The police are actually civilians. They aren’t military. We need to stop treating them like the military. Their job is to protect their fellow citizens, enforce the laws, respect the Constitution. They seem to be acting in Ferguson as if it’s their job to punish local citizens.

Like anybody else, once they have the ‘toys’ they want to use them, and that’s been going on across the nation for far too long:

The equipment has been added to the armories of police departments that already look and act like military units. Police SWAT teams are now deployed tens of thousands of times each year, increasingly for routine jobs. Masked, heavily armed police officers in Louisiana raided a nightclubin 2006 as part of a liquor inspection. In Florida in 2010, officers in SWAT gear and with guns drawn carried out raids on barbershops that mostly led only to charges of “barbering without a license.”

Here are some veteran’s opinions of what the police have been doing in Ferguson:

“if this is militarization, it’s the s********, least-trained, least professional military in the world, using weapons far beyond what they need, or what the military would use when doing crowd control.”

One of the veterans said that the rules of engagement regarding who our soldiers could point their guns at were far more restrictive than whatever rules guide the police in Ferguson- who seem to point their weapons indiscriminately.

“There’s a blurring of the military mission and the civilian police mission and that is a dangerous thing,” Tim Lynch, director of the Project on Criminal Justice at the Cato Institute, said two months before the Ferguson unrest. “We want our civilian police departments not to lose sight of the fact that they are dealing with people on a day-to-day basis with constitutional rights, and we want them to use a minimum amount of force to bring suspects into a court of law.”

Police forces with military gear runs the risk of conditioning “police officers to see the people they serve — the people with whom they interact everyday — as the enemy,”Radley Balko, wrote in his 2013 book, “The Rise of the Warrior Cop.”

 

After being called on the carpet for their unconstitutional responses to Ferguson citizens protesting Mike Brown’s death and the police handling of it, the police decided to step back and not bother to get involved when looters began attacking stores again.

You can view this as the police saying “What do you want from us- if we get involved and somebody gets hurt, you’ll blame us!” Or you can view it as the police determining to punish those who have the audacity to hold the police accountable. I’m inclined to the second view. At any rate, local business owners are protecting themselves by arming themselves and defending their own businesses since the police won’t.  Protestors and concerned citizens also got together to protect businesses against looters.  It’s interesting to note that looters, like the police, object to being filmed and threatened reporters.  The protestors protecting the stores wanted the journalists there doing their job, reporting.  They are not happy with the looters, either.

The governor declares an emergency, and instates a curfew.  He’s a Democrat, btw.

Tear gas was used against civilians- and the police initially forcefully denied the use of tear gas- although they were wearing gas masks themselves.  They’ve now admitted that yes, they did fire tear gas canisters into the crowd.  Neither the use of tear gas nor the dishonesty about it make them look good, and this does not build trust in the community.  It’s also just plain stupid.  People were there.  They know the difference between smoke bombs and tear gas, they know what happened to them.  So when the police are insisting that no tear gas was used, that should cause everybody to wonder just what else they are willing to lie about to citizens they are sworn to defend, to reporters doing their jobs, to you, to me.

POlice promised tear gas would not be used- and then used it anyway (again, while lying about it).

While the police were still lying that tear gas had not been used, Fox news was reporting a photograph of a tear gas canister that had landed six feet from their producer (once more proving themselves more reliable reporters than those on the left- as one Huffpo reporter hilarious confused ear plugs with rubber bullets).

Police keep the media penned up on ‘the media pen’ instead of allowing them to report freely.

We need to stop, just stop, acting like the police are military and we need to stop arming them as though they are. 

This is ball one:

Why are the authorities in Ferguson, Mo. so given to quasi-martial crowd control methods (such as bans on walking on the street) and, per the reporting of Riverfront Times, the firing of tear gas at people in their own yards? (“ ‘This my property!’ he shouted, prompting police to fire a tear gas canister directly at his face.”) Why would someone identifying himself as an 82nd Airborne Army veteran, observing the Ferguson police scene, comment that “We rolled lighter than that in an actual warzone”?

hyperlinks and more at the original link.

In Maryland alone, there have been over 6500 SWAT raids since 2010.   We have a problem, America.

Maybe it’s time to watch Blue Thunder again, and notice what seemed a horrendous abuse of power then is taken for granted now.

 

More reading:

Ed Krayewski: Police Unions Produce Rules That Protect Bad Actors, That’s How Public Unions Work http://reason.com/blog/2014/08/14/police-unions-produce-rules-that-protect

We celebrate that last night, Ferguson cops didn’t act like jackbooted thugs. Why such low expectations? http://bit.ly/1uBPLmk

 In Indiana, the student newspaper is suing the university for surveillance footage of a school hallway during an investigation of a student shooting in January.  They claim that footage shows the police roughing up their paper’s student photographer- who, incidentally, had his camera taken by the police and it has yet to be returned.

And this is worth knowing, because the police will tell you otherwise and will try to confiscate your camera and phone: Any American Can Take Any Police Officer’s Photo.“Citizens have the right to take pictures of anything in plain view in a public space, including police officers and federal buildings. Police can not confiscate, demand to view, or delete digital photos.”

(of minor importance, but this impresses me- Ferguson protestors booed Jesse Jackson when he asked for donations).

The National Guard has been called in, should be arriving today.

Of the seven people arrested for breaking curfew, at least 3 of them weren’t breaking curfew at all- they had attended a peaceful protest earlier in the day, and then, in order NOT to break curfew, they went to stay with the aunt of the 3.  They wanted to smoke, and presumably Aunty doesn’t allow smoking in the house.  They thought about smoking on the lawn, but thought that would draw unwelcome police attention, so they sat in their car, which was parked on the lawn at her house.  They told they arresting officers that they on the private property of Aunty, but they were arrested anyway.  Understand that there were looters out and about, people behaving badly in the street- and the police chose instead to arrest 3 people peacefully smoking in their own car parked on a relative’s property.

Worse, according to this, all seven of those arrested were sitting in a parked car- two groups, one group of five, one couple. Police fired rubber bullet into windshield of one of the cars

California Cops Seize Recordings Of Questionable Arrest, Claim They Have The ‘Right’ To Do So.

Cops Shoot 19-Year-Old San Jose Woman After Mistaking Power Drill For an Uzi and Nothing Else Will Happen: and from the same story (you should read it all):

In San Bernardino County, a newspaper employee died in police custody after being tased. Police claim the employed, married, father of five was a suspect in an attempted burglary. It’s reported cops are “aggressively” seeking people who may have recorded their interaction with the victim.

Governor calls off curfew in Ferguson

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4 Comments

  1. Lisa Beth W
    Posted August 18, 2014 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

    I absolutely agree with you. While people are busy squawking about racism and other push-button topics, the police are steadily becoming people to fear, not trust.

    • Headmistress, zookeeper
      Posted August 18, 2014 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

      So true. And we kind of take it for granted, as a society.

      A few years back my son crossed state lines with a concealed weapon- it’s a hunting knife that’s legal here and wasn’t in the other state, and he wore it strapped to his shin, under his jeans. When I found out about it my biggest fear was that a cop would stop him, and my son being my son he’d end up being slapped around and/or arrested- when he gets scared, worried, upset, his defense mechanism is being mouthy. I’ve told him that being mouthy with a cop will get him on the receiving end of physical hostility with no recourse. That is my expectation of the police, and that’s really not the way it should be.

  2. Tim
    Posted August 18, 2014 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

    Indeed, even if one were to adopt the worst imaginable possible interpretation of Brown’s killing — that the cop straight-up murdered him, with intention and premeditation — I’d argue that’s still *less* disturbing than much of what the police have been doing since then. Why? Because that would be the act of one man operating on his own, in violation of whatever departmental procedures applied. The arresting and tear-gassing of reporters and others, on the other hand, is *policy*, being carried out openly and repeatedly by multiple personnel, with forethought and planning. This is not being done in the heat of the moment. It is a deliberate decision to use violence against innocent people, violating their Constitutional rights, as every person involved knows full well.

    As an aside, having a demographic disparity like Ferguson (67% black population, 94% white cops) is by itself sufficient to know that something is seriously wrong in that town.

    • Headmistress, zookeeper
      Posted August 18, 2014 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

      Exactly, Tim. I love your clear way of explaining things (even when I disagree, I love that about you, but when we agree, it’s even better).

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