I’ve been withholding most comments on the situation in Ferguson, Missouri, while waiting for the facts to become clearer. They’re still not completely laid out, but enough has become known to be able to say a number of things with some certainty. In this article I’ll try to touch on the highlights.
1. Police attitudes and conduct.
The local police in Ferguson appear to have handled this entire incident with abysmal incompetence. What’s worse, they’ve displayed what appears to be an arrogant (and entirely wrong) assumption that no matter what happens, they’re in charge and it’s the job of everyone else to obey them – or else.
Their actions have tarnished the reputation of the Ferguson police, perhaps indelibly. Consider just a few points:
- Aiming assault weapons at unarmed members of the public who were not offenders;
- Launching teargas at bystanders and observers who were in the yard of their own home;
- Releasing information about Mr. Brown that was largely irrelevant to the situation as it stood at the time, and was virtually guaranteed to inflame tensions between citizens and police;
- Clearing a restaurant with no visible, rational excuse for doing so, then arresting journalists who weren’t moving fast enough for their liking;
- Demonstrating the dangers of police militarization in a way that’s brought together both the left and the right of US politics in recognizing that it’s gone way too far. As Claire Wolfe put it: “Oh, the Things We Choose Not to See!” – until we can no longer avoid facing up to them . . .
It’s clear that Peel’s principles of policing have long since been honored more in the breach than in the observance in Ferguson, Missouri. (See Lawdog’s essay on the subject, and Marko’s, for additional material.) Kudos to the Governor of Missouri for stepping in before local cops made a bad situation even worse . . . but sooner or later the state police will have to withdraw. Will local law enforcement ever be able to re-establish a good working relationship with the community? I venture to doubt it.
2. Racial polarization.
This is nothing new in the USA; but the situation in Ferguson has thrown it into sharp relief, because this is a relatively small, unpoliticized community. The shooting of Mr. Brown has politicized it overnight, particularly given police reaction. I think the iconoclastic Fred Reed has analyzed this problem better than almost anyone. Rather than try to quote excerpts from his article, or write my own, I’ll simply ask you to click over to his place and read his words for yourself. I think he’s nailed it.
3. Economic factors involved in the situation.
Zero Hedge has given us a valuable perspective on the crisis in Ferguson, pointing out that it’s a microcosm of economic influences that are widespread throughout America. Here’s a brief excerpt.
… the unpleasant reality is that much of what has transpired not only in the small 21,000-person St. Louis suburban community, but what is taking place across all of America has to do with a far simpler phenomenon: the rise of poverty and the destruction of America’s middle class.
. . .
The biggest concern … is that Ferguson is merely the canary in the coalmine. According to Brookings, within the nation’s 100 largest metro areas, the number of suburban neighborhoods where more than 20 percent of residents live below the federal poverty line more than doubled between 2000 and 2008-2012. Almost every major metro area saw suburban poverty not only grow during the 2000s but also become more concentrated in high-poverty neighborhoods. By 2008-2012, 38 percent of poor residents in the suburbs lived in neighborhoods with poverty rates of 20 percent or higher. For poor black residents in those communities, the figure was 53 percent.
Like Ferguson, many of these changing suburban communities are home to out-of-step power structures, where the leadership class, including the police force, does not reflect the rapid demographic changes that have reshaped these places.
. . .
And as concentrated poverty climbs in communities like Ferguson, they find themselves especially ill-equipped to deal with impacts such as poorer education and health outcomes, and higher crime rates. In an article for Salon, Brittney Cooper writes about the outpouring of anger from the community, “Violence is the effect, not the cause of the concentrated poverty that locks that many poor people up together with no conceivable way out and no productive way to channel their rage at having an existence that is adjacent to the American dream.”
There’s more at the link. It’s worthwhile reading.
4. Lessons learned from this crisis.
- We can’t rely on police and law enforcement authorities – whether local, state or federal – to obey the constitution and laws of this country, despite their nominal subordination to them. When push comes to shove, they may – and probably will – try to exercise unconstitutional and blatantly illegal authority. What are we going to do about it? We need to consider our response now, before the heat of the moment prevents clear thought. I’m determined not to submit to such quasi-official bullying. I will resist it, and refuse to submit to it, and do whatever it takes to stop it. What about you?
- Equally, I won’t permit or tolerate attempts by radical rabble-rousers to use incidents as an excuse for rioting, looting and mayhem. If any such attempts appear to offer any threat to me or mine, I will employ any and all force necessary to stop them. I won’t tamely surrender and agree to be a victim. Fortunately, I’m in a position to give expression to my determination. If you feel the same way but aren’t adequately equipped to do that, you might want to remedy that situation at once, if not sooner.
- I’ve already taken care of emergency supplies, so that if something like the situation in Ferguson should blow up near my home, we can hunker down and live off our stores for a month or more. It’s not a good idea to be out and about when mobs are on the prowl. However, I know that many others haven’t prepared for such an eventuality. I’m not about to share my essential supplies with others who haven’t taken basic precautions themselves – there’s no future in allowing others’ lack of forethought and preparation to deprive me and mine of what we need to survive. However, I’ll make sure to have a few supplies “in plain sight” that I can “show willing” by sharing, while keeping the bulk of my emergency supplies out of sight so that others can’t covet them (which includes using them in as low-profile a way as possible).
- I’m going to become more active in challenging and questioning the ongoing militarization of US law enforcement. Having worked in the field, I can bring a certain ‘legitimacy’ to the table that might gain me more of a hearing. I intend to use it.
Those are my thoughts thus far. How about you, readers? Let us know your reactions in Comments.