The shooting of Michael Brown and the fault lines it’s revealed

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:

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.

  1. 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?
  2. 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.
  3. 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).
  4. 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.



  1. Looking at this from afar, Australia, it doesn't look good at all.
    You say that you will resist if necessary.
    The problem with that course of action, given the culture demonstrated by the Police in Ferguson, is the potential for brutalised force, or even deadly force will be used.
    Secondly, if what happened there is the tip of an emerging iceberg, the raising of draconian laws is entirely possible, as no doubt you saw in South Africa.
    I sincerely hope this doesn't get worse before it gets better, sadly, I believe it's a vain hope.

  2. Personally, I think any good plan should include a "bug out" option. It might not be the best or preferable choice, but if things get bad enough you might be forced into it. So it's better to have plans ready.
    The best option in my mind is to establish contacts with likeminded persons in other areas, so that if staying becomes impossible, you can make your way there with as much of your supplies as possible, and have a place to stay temporarily with someone that has similar preparations.

    You could of course buy a place somewhere else, but then you have to maintain it, which will cost money. I think it's cheaper to have an agreement with a few other people that if it gets really bad in your location you will be welcome at the other ones place. And all of you will include the possibility of sudden house guests in their planning.

    If at all possible, have three or four such places to choose from, including one in another country, and have several plans ready to get there. That way, at least one option should be possible to reach at any time.

  3. Winter is coming early to the Midwest. After the riot season is over this will cool down. The trouble will really start next summer when the Africans in the other "hoods" around the country have had a chance to simmer their hate of "Da white man"(and each other) and their anger that they "didn't set none a dat free shit". This is just an isolated riot. They happen every few years in the "hood". I have seen this dozens of times since the 1960's. This one is EXACTLY like the '64 Camden riots.(and Harlem and Watts in '66 & '68 and L.A. in the 90's And Philly and Louisville Ad Nausium) Same cause. Same looting and burning. EXACT same "response" from government. I watched the NG roll APC 113's down the streets shooting rioters with M-1919 machineguns in the 60's. NOTHING HAS CHANGED IN ANY WAY since then. NOT.ONE. THING. Take a breath. This is nothing new in America and this will never end until we acknowledge the truth about the African in America. They HATE us and want no part in our society. Nothing we have done has elevated them. No program , no amount of money. All we have managed is the destruction of our own society in the name of "fairness". After 150 years of trying. Maybe its time to admit this experiment in integration has been a complete and total failure.–Ray– P.S My mother was a "freedom rider" Who went to Bera college. I have met Dr. King , Rev. Abernathy, Desmond Tutu, and dozens of other "black leaders" (including members of the ANC) I have heard them speak and sat down to meals with them. So before screaming "racist" , understand I KNOW this issue from both sides, and have since childhood.

  4. One small quibble. The outrageous police actions were by the St Louis County Police. The town police department has, depending on the source, fewer than 60 sworn officers.

  5. WSF is correct about the St. Louis County Gesta … er, Police. They're widely known for heavy-handed, overbearing response to anything & everything.

    It's also important to note that people keep referring to Ferguson & its population as if it were an island. It's one of 90+ incorporated places in St. Louis County, in a metro area of well over 2 million. The only thing marking the edge of Ferguson is a city limits sign between houses along the street. The "outsiders" who are participating in the riots could be from next door, literally.

  6. No military weapons to cops. And while we are at it, no Federal agency needs any kind of swat, or for that matter should even be armed. They can count on Sheriffs to serve what ever they need done.

  7. As politically incorrect as it may be to mention, zerohedge's focus is completely misplaced. There is little or no correlation between poverty and serious violent crime. For instance, when was the last riot in West Virginia or Mississippi? (absolutely poverty stricken areas)

    No sir, rioting in this country all comes down to demographics. And it is always the same demographic.

    – ws 1835

  8. Resisting a bunch of rioters? Doable, with friends and weaponry. We've seen shop owners successfully defend their property from the mob. Rioters are there for fun and loot, and will seek easier prey if you are armed and ready.

    Resisting the police? That ranges from very difficult to suicidal. If you plan on surviving that, you must have everything in your favor.

    1. Be obviously in the right, legally and morally.

    2. Have multiple recordings being streamed over your data connection, and be sure the police know about them.
    3. Superior force. This is the hardest one. A crossfire with rifles if possible. Police are taught never to back down, so it has to be obvious that they will be slaughtered if they do not go away.
    4. If you manage that – leave. Right then if there's a chance they will escalate, or as soon as you can manage otherwise. Stay and your life expectancy just dropped to mayfly levels.

  9. You wrote, "•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;"

    What specifically are you talking about?

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