An acquaintance of mine referred to protesters in Ferguson, Missouri as "stupid terrorists" last night. As anyone who knows me on twitter knows, I've been following the events there closely and I see the police force and government officials involved in the events as the stupid ones who are acting like terrorists. Twitter is a challenge for me because I like to be more verbose than 140 characters allows - I wouldn't even be able to use the word "verbose" on twitter - so I decided that I must come to a place where I can be a bit more permissive of my own verbiage. Although it is my tendency to do so, I will refrain from painting all police with the brush which applies to those involved in this mess.
To begin, it is clear from all reports available that police and the majority of citizens of Ferguson have serious problems with each other and have had for a long time. Just one of the many sources for this observation: http://www.cbsnews.com/news/ferguson-missouri-shooting-feds-launch-investigation-into-police-department/ in which the US Attorney General cites "numerous concerns from people in the St. Louis suburb about police practices, a history of mistrust and a lack of diversity on the police force." It is also clear to me that there is rarely a damaged or broken relationship - between individuals, groups, or whatever - in which one party is completely innocent. In this case specifically, there have been wrongs done by both sides. Also in my experience, relationships don't get healed until people admit their mistakes and take action to correct them. The Ferguson police, St. Louis County prosecutor, Missouri governor, et al have not yet admitted to any wrongdoing, or if they have admitted it they certainly haven't tried to change their behavior - which is the only way to show that you realize that you've made a mistake. Until they realize and admit their mistakes and try to change their behavior and repair the damage that they've done these protests should go on. They probably won't, the bad guys will probably win because they are still getting paid while they're out there and the protesters aren't, but in a better world this would continue until some real change came to Missouri, and all of these United States.
There is no possible way to subcategorize me into any group which has been bought and sold, systemically marginalized for centuries, hunted for sport, or been a victim of attempted genocide. Therefore I will not be talking about issues of race. I'm fortunate that I can be appalled and outraged over this, but I don't have to be frightened. I'm not saying that race is not an issue here, I'm saying that I'm not qualified to talk about it, so I won't.
What I can say is that if you, as a police department, treat the citizens of your community with so little respect that you would leave one of their dead bodies lying in full view in the street for four hours, you should not be that community's police department. When the citizens see one of their own treated that way they see themselves and despair of ever getting good treatment. Theoretically a police department is in business to serve the people of the community by protecting their lives, rights, and property. Preferably in that order. The Ferguson police department has clearly shown that they are not there for those reasons. They are there to enforce their will upon the citizens, they are there for the power and control. They don't care about those people's rights as is shown by their violations of the Constitution. http://www.cnn.com/2014/10/07/us/ferguson-police-constitution-violation/ They don't care about the people's lives as is evidenced by the incident which brought this all to our attention. They care about control and they should never regain it until they learn a few basic things like how to apologize, how to respect people, and how to do the right thing. These things can be done. Even by law enforcement officers. Here's an article which cites actual instances of them doing so and reports the results: http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-watch/wp/2014/08/14/after-ferguson-how-should-police-respond-to-protests
I'll make it simple for anyone who doesn't want to read the whole thing. What that article essentially shows is that if police departments treat protesters as human beings and show a little respect things don't turn violent. While Ferguson, Missouri shows what happens when police come to protests and act aggressively. I haven't been there for the protests, but I've watched the livestream on more than two occasions, watched the twitter feed of some good journalists constantly, and read more analysis than anyone should, and the picture that comes across clearly is that the police have started the violence. The protesters remain angry (rightly so) and tense but basically peaceful until police start firing smoke and tear gas grenades. On Tuesday night this week there was a protest in Shaw, a neighborhood of St. Louis, south of Ferguson by a little bit. There were riot police present. A funny thing happened there. As tensions rose, the police backed away and left the area. Protesters remained and yet there was no violence, no looting, no burning. The Police in Shaw allowed the citizens to express their outrage and the situation ended well. This could be a lesson for other groups of Police in the area, if they were willing to learn.
Before I move on past the police culpability in this let me address officer darren wilson's testimony about his killing of Michael Brown. I bring it up because one of the biggest issues, in my opinion, with the American law enforcement system is that violence inflicted by police officers needs to be addressed better. The law is incredibly lax toward police and that needs to change. The best summary of the law of the land in regard to police shootings, oddly, comes from the television show South Park. In the episode Volcano the boys go hunting with Stan's uncle Jimbo and the following exchange takes place (from the script which can be found here: http://img3.wikia.nocookie.net/__cb20120623182540/southpark/images/8/8f/103.pdf ):
A cute, fuzzy little black bear sits in a nearby clearing,
licking its paws.
That there's a Rocky Mountain Black Bear.
One of the few remaining of its kind.
Isn't it beautiful?
The bear just sits there and blinks.
My God it's coming right for us!!!
Jimbo whips out his huge rifle and shoots the bear dead.Stan can't believe his eyes.
Hey! It wasn't coming right for us! It
was just sitting there!
SHHH! Not so loud!! Now that there's just
What d'ya mean?
You see boys, the Democrats have passed a
lot of laws trying to stop us from
Democrats piss me off!
They say we can't shoot certain animals
anymore unless they're posing an
immediate threat. Therefore, before we
shoot something, we have to say; "It's
coming right for us!"
Wow, you're smart, Uncle Jimbo!
That really really is how the law works in regard to police shootings. If a police officer says that he thinks there was a danger to himself or an innocent bystander he can literally get away with anything. Reading darren wilson's testimony (It begins on page 196 here: https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/1370518-grand-jury-volume-5.html ) was like watching South Park over again. It's ridiculous. Sadly, if his testimony is never refuted - which it can't be with no trial - then it will stand and people will salve their conscience by believing the nonsense. This is a job that our lawmakers and court systems need to address badly.
Enough about the ferguson police and St. Louis county sheriff's office. Let's move on to the St. Louis county prosecutor. In the very beginning of this entire mess the prosecutor was asked to step aside from the case. He works with the ferguson police every day. He should be able to clearly see the potential conflict-of-interest, everyone else did. Judges recuse themselves from cases all of the time because the know a party to a case. There's a good reason for it. Why did the St. Louis county prosecutor not step aside? There are only two possible reasons. Either he intended to use his power to get a person who he knew cleared of all charges or he is too proud to step aside, pridefully thinking that he could do his job impartially. Given the amount of time he spent trying to justify the grand jury's decision on television I'd say that it appears it was the former. Either way it was pure stupidity. Avoid the appearance of abuse of power (which is the complaint the citizens have about the ferguson pd after all) and step aside.
Why do I say that what the prosecutor did is abuse of power? For those of you who don't understand a Grand Jury, here's how it works: A Grand Jury does not decide whether a defendant is guilty or innocent, it's not their job. Their job is to decide whether there is enough evidence to hold a trial. They are deciding whether there is a question of guilt or a question of law to be answered. If there is any question to be answered the Grand Jury has the job of arranging for a trial so the questions can be answered. This grand jury clearly didn't understand that, and that is because a Grand Jury goes where a Prosecutor leads it and this prosecutor led this grand jury to a position of no indictments. This defense attorney explains it better than I: http://www.reddit.com/r/politics/comments/2nbtby/no_indictment_in_ferguson_case/cmcaiyh Hells bells folks, even the National Bar Association has spoken on this: http://us7.campaign-archive1.com/?u=b493e6c4d31beda32fdaf8e2d&id=73514e334b They don't understand how the grand jury returned no indictments and are asking for federal authorities to pursue charges against officer darren wilson. The National Bar Association. If there's a shred of intelligence in St. Louis County this joke of a prosecutor is out at the next election.
How about the governor of Missouri, jay nixon? Well, when the prosecutor wouldn't step aside as requested the request was passed along to the governor who was disinclined to acquiesce to the request. What he could have been thinking I cannot fathom. He was obviously not thinking of having an appearance of fairness to the grand jury proceedings. He wasn't thinking of the citizens of Ferguson. At his press conference on Tuesday, 25 November announcing sending more national guard troops to Ferguson, governor nixon's body language, tone of voice, and words indicated that he, like the police, was interested in control and not the citizens. He was obviously very angry and agitated and should have calmed down a little before holding a press conference. Even being so obviously of the same frame of mind as the police doesn't explain why he wouldn't have the prosecutor step aside. It was clear to everyone (except himself and the prosecutor it seems) what would happen if the prosecutor didn't step aside, so if he wants the citizens to remain under police control as much as he obviously does why would he leave the prosecutor in there. I am seriously mystified by this. It is, to me, the single most inexplicable thing about the whole mess. In fact it's downright stupidity. Who is that short-sighted? He couldn't see what would happen? People of Missouri you seriously need to elect someone else Governor at the very next opportunity. Your leader is a moron.
Here's the bottom line folks:
When the system is THIS stacked against the citizens, when everyone with any authority acts toward the citizenry the way the entire governance over Ferguson has acted, eventually violence becomes justified, in my opinion. It's the entire justification for the American Revolution: the colonies felt that their rulers were not listening and responding to their concerns. What's different here?
The primary difference is that law enforcement in America has far more arms and armor than the general populace so we the people can't effectively fight against them. This being the case, the frustration, sadly, boils out onto anything in the vicinity.
Can rioting, burning, and looting be fairly characterized as "stupid"? Certainly. Is it understandable in a situation like this one? Absolutely! Is it more stupid than the way the overlords of Ferguson have acted since this began in August? Not even close! Is there a way to get the message across to the police, sheriffs, prosecutors, governors, and all other leaders involved here other than violent upheaval? I wish there were, but the evidence suggests not. Change MUST come in this country to the attitudes that our elected officials and police departments hold and the behaviour they display toward we the people and that change must come from those "leaders". They've clearly mishandled things and need to show some humility and grace and do what they can to make things right. If they establish a little trust they might just be able to make this better if not right.