An open letter to whoever is in charge of law enforcement in Ferguson, MO.:
For the last few nights, I’ve watched with interest your crackdown of protests in your county after the shooting of unarmed 18 year old Michael Brown. Some of your residents got really pissed and after the shooting, some of them took it out on buildings and property by looting and setting a few fires. Criminal, irrational and irresponsible of course, and you responded appropriately. At the same time there was a peaceful protest not far away and by definition, no police response was needed.
Over the next few days though, and after a few civil rights leaders expressed their displeasure with the looters/rioters and chastised them, the protests have been mostly peaceful. I said mostly. This does not mean that some idiots in some crowds have not called your officers names or thrown an occasional bottle or rock in their direction, but these officers were in full riot gear, head to toe. And you have provided them with armored tanks and the like, just like the military. They were protected, and represented in large numbers, and tasked with providing calm and maintaining order.
The response from that point forward has been, I’m afraid, as disproportionate as the looters'. Teargas, stun grenades and rubber bullets while crowds are chanting “hands up, don’t shoot” is not a good look for you. In fact, in case you haven’t noticed, the pictures coming from your city are drawing comparisons to Gaza and Iraq. That's not a chamber of commerce moment. But because I’m usually a law and order guy, I was still giving you a pass. Until last night.
Not only am I sorry I gave you that pass, I’m embarrassed by it. Last night convinced me that not only have you no idea what you’re doing, you think you actually do. That’s a bad combination.
Last night I saw and heard some of your officers telling reporters to turn their cameras off. Seriously, you can’t do that. Ever. Especially after you had already deemed the airspace over Ferguson a “no fly zone.” Holy crap! What is going on there that you’re so afraid somebody will see?? Is it the molotov cocktails that were allegedly lobbed in the officers' direction, or the gunfire that they were targeted by? I’ve heard these as reasons for the overzealous response last night. While I didn’t see any of those incidents on the hours of video I watched, or hear it from any reporters or photographers who witnessed the events first hand, the answer for you is more cameras, not less.
Two national reporters were actually arrested in a McDonalds because they weren't moving fast enough for the arresting officer, or something. They were later released and no charges were filed. (By the way, if the Washington and Huffington Posts don’t come after you for false arrest, shame on them.)
When the Ferguson police chief was asked earlier in the day if there was a curfew, his answer was “no,” but he asked protestors to be off the streets by sundown. A curfew in this country usually comes in the form of an ordinance from local elected leaders, and never to crack down on peaceful protests. That's a safeguard that keeps law enforcement from deciding that sundown is a good time to cut off a person’s constitutional rights. What I’m afraid the chief doesn’t understand is that he can’t just unilaterally decide to blast his city full of tear gas until a curfew is ultimately accomplished.
But perhaps the image that bothered me more than any other last night was some officers, in full riot gear, pointing rifles and apparently aiming, only to bring the rifle back down to their sides, never firing a shot. It’s a scene that played out more than a few times, almost like they were hunting large game. They weren’t hunting large game, were they? I hope not, because that’s precisely the allegation that got these protests started in the first place.
My hope is that there is a full investigation of this entire affair, from Brown’s shooting to the reaction. And I hope that after the teargas clears, we can begin to ask some serious questions about why, for a few nights in August, a Midwestern city was mistaken for a military zone, complete with some of the tools of war.