I’ve been wanting to comment on the Michael Brown shooting and situation in Ferguson, Mo., this week, but haven’t known where to begin. New information, often conflicting or confusing, keeps coming out faster than I can organize my thoughts. In brief, Michael Brown was an unarmed black teenager shot to death by a white cop. Demonstrations, rioting, and looting in Brown’s community followed.
But let me start here. I turned on CNN a while ago to find the Ferguson police chief talking to reporters. Before I could even listen to what he was saying, I noticed the line of police officers standing behind him. Typical clean-cut neighborhood cops in dark pants, neat blue uniform shirts, and big shiny badges. If they were armed, it was only with pistols on their belts. You’d never guess these were the same cops we saw a few days ago in full military combat gear, advancing threateningly, pointing rifles at unarmed citizens.
Not until today were we told the name of the officer who killed Brown. Darren Wilson. Seemingly guilty of murder, except of course if a cop does it, it’s not murder. Understandably the police department feared for Wilson’s safety and kept his identity secret. But it shouldn’t have taken this long to move him to a safe place. Personally I’m inclined to think they were just trying to figure out how to cover for him and what to tell the media.
I certainly don’t condone rioting and looting. I’ve always thought it’s just plain stupid for a black community or any community to vent its anger by looting and burning its own businesses and property. But I can appreciate the anger and frustration that people feel when something as heinous and inexcusable as this happens. And keeps happening. Again and again.
The Ferguson police reaction to the demonstrations was shocking. They marched into that neighborhood like infantry marching into a battle. Armored vehicles. Body armor. Rifles. Smoke grenades. Tear gas. A sniper rifle and a machine gun. That’s not controlling a riot; that’s inciting it. And it has spawned a new discussion about the militarization of our police departments. As it should. John Wayne personalities, hyped on testosterone and adrenaline, armed with the same gear used by combat soldiers in war zones … what would you expect? Our police departments have become accidents waiting to happen. Innocent civilians are dying every day in this country because swaggering triggerhappy cops would rather play Army with their big boy toys than use any lesser, more appropriate non-lethal response.
Video released today by the Ferguson police seems to show Brown committing a “strong-arm robbery” (no weapon) just before the shooting. But they also said Officer Wilson did not know about the robbery. As I understand it now, Wilson stopped an unarmed Brown simply for walking down the middle of the street. Some sort of discussion/struggle followed and Wilson shot Brown. Brown raised his hands and started to kneel in surrender. Wilson continued shooting and killed Brown.
Wilson should be charged with a crime, the person who ordered the police to don combat gear and march into Brown’s neighborhood should be fired, and the nation should think very, very seriously about demilitarizing our police. It’s a continuing reverberation from and overreaction to the terror attacks of 9/11. And it has to stop. It has to stop before we destroy ourselves.
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