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A Shadow Over Missouri and America
Author: Will in Chicago    Date: 2014-08-14 10:35:18

As I write this, the news from Ferguson, Missouri is grim. After the death of Michael Brown, a teenager getting ready to start school at a technical college, massive protests have started. While there are many peaceful protestors, there have been some violence and reports thatpolice on Wednesday night fired tear gas on a crowd of protesters..

Shortly after 9 p.m., police dispensed tear gas at the crowd standing on West Florissant Avenue. About 50 demonstrators stood in the middle of the street near the Quik Trip, with several hundred people on the side streets.

After giving people several verbal warnings to leave the area or face arrest, somebody hurled a bottle at the police line. Police then threw more than a dozen sound canisters at the crowds. The canisters exploded close to people, emitted a loud boom and smoke and sparks. They made an ear-splitting noise.

Some people picked up the canisters and threw them back at police. Then the police deployed tear gas.

One young woman screamed to fleeing members of the crowd not to be cowards. "We have to stand and fight here right now!" she screamed.
Police inched closer and closer to the crowd until they dispersed into side streets. The protesters were reduced to several small, scattered pockets, talking quietly among themselves.

More on the arrest of the reporters shortly. However, he is some video from Ferguson of tear gas being fired at protesters.

As previously mentioned, two reporters were arrested by a reporter in Ferguson. Here is the story from the Huffington Post. The link has video and a live blog of events. (My hope is that this blog will not be outdated by the time it appears.).

Huffington Post Reporter Arrested In Ferguson

The Huffington Post's Ryan J. Reilly and the Washington Post's Wesley Lowery were arrested Wednesday evening while covering the protests in Ferguson, Missouri after the death of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown, who was shot by a police officer last week. The journalists were released unharmed, but their detentions highlighted the town's ramped up police presence, which has left numerous residents injured by rubber bullets, pepper spray and tear gas during protests held every night after Brown's death.

SWAT officers roughed up the reporters inside a McDonald's, where both journalists were working. Reilly snapped a photo, prompting cops to request his identification.

"The officer in question, who I repeatedly later asked for his name, grabbed my things and shoved them into my bag," said Reilly, who appeared on MSNBC's "All In with Chris Hayes" shortly after his release to recount the arrest. "He used his finger to put a pressure point on my neck."

"They essentially acted as a military force. It was incredible," Reilly said. "The worst part was he slammed my head against the glass purposefully on the way out of McDonald's and then sarcastically apologized for it."

Reilly said it will be difficult to hold the officer "accountable for his actions," as the officer did not respond to Reilly's repeated requests for his name or other identification. He said he can't be "100 percent sure" whether the officer was aware that he's a reporter, "but that really shouldn't matter in this equation."

Reilly believes he was arrested because he declined to present the officer his identification when asked for it, he said.

As a former reporter, I am deeply angered at the police. These are tactics worthy of the stooges of a petty dictator not people who have promised to serve and protect the public and abide by the Constitution of the United States of America.

Salon’s Joan Walsh has commented on the situation in Ferguson:

MSNBC.com’s Trymaine Lee, who has been doing crucial reporting from Ferguson (as he has from so many scenes of violence and police-community conflict this year) was choking on tear gas, and could barely speak, as he tried to narrate the chaos on MSNBC’s “Last Word” Wednesday night. Lee said cops began lobbing tear gas and flash grenades within only 15 seconds of warning the crowd.

“This looks like a textbook case of what not to do,” Sherrilyn Ifill of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund told Lawrence O’Donnell.

On the 49th anniversary of the 1965 Watts riots in Los Angeles, it’s important to remember that the famous Kerner Commission established to look at 1960s urban upheavals found that virtually every “riot” was triggered by police brutality – and that has continued in our own time, from the so-called “Rodney King riots” in 1992 through today. On MSNBC Ifill indicted the failures of police training and culture that led not only to the killing of Michael Brown, but also the overreaction to every night of protests.

But Ifill also made the important point that the militarization of the Ferguson police is something entirely new and enormously disturbing. The images Wednesday night should wake all of us up to the alarming militarization of local cops all over the country. How did a local police department get tanks and trucks and body armor that look like it all was designed for the streets of Baghdad and not a little city outside St. Louis?

I know the answer: good journalists have been reporting on this for a while. I apologize for not writing about this sooner. This is a bipartisan disaster that ought to be inspiring a renewal of bipartisan cooperation between civil libertarians of every political stripe. Yet local and national political leaders have been under-involved.

Walsh points out that Missouri’s Democratic Governor Jay Nixon has largely been silent, Democratic Senator Claire MacCaskill tweeted last night that she is contacting the Justice Department. Republican Senator Roy Blunt has been silent, as has been noted libertarian Ron Paul.

Although President Barack Obama has commented on Michael Brown’s death and Attorney General Eric Holder says that he will investigate the case, neither has said anything yet on the violence in Ferguson.

Meanwhile, Anonymous has posted audio of the St. Louis Police Department being asked to help in Ferguson on the day of Michael Brown’s death. It does not seem to reveal much more than Ferguson's police force feeling the need for backup. (This story is still developing.)

I think that we are seeing the confluence of several problems. One is the militarization of police forces in our country. Instead of community policing, we are seeing police officers too ofen resorting to force rather than using negotiations or diplomacy. We saw it with peaceful protesters in the Occupy Movement, who were forced out by police. We saw it in pepper spray being used on peaceful protesters. We have seen it in police shooting after police shooting of unarmed civilians.

I realize that police officers regularly see people at their worse. Having taught in some of Chicago's roughest neighborhoods, I have seen some people who were anything but civil to a stranger. Yet, I must ask what are police officers learning at police academies and what tone is being set by commanding officers?

NPR’s On Point with Tom Ashbrook had a good discussion of this issue. There was a discussion of the approach of arresting anyone on a minor crime, and how this tends to turn people into suspects and criminals. There is also the problem of the priority not being crime solving or crime prevention, but of officers being told by their superiors to preserve order at all costs.

Part of the problem in Ferguson and many other communities, particularly poor and minority neighborhoods and towns, is that police are outsiders. They either live in different neighborhoods or towns. They seldom leave their cars to interact with residents, save to make arrests. If familiarity breeds contempt, unfamiliarity may breed indifference or hostility. It is very easy to fear those that you don’t know. This seems to be true both for the police and people in the communities they police. In many communities, people see the police as an outside force maintaining order, much like an occupying army. (I oppose occupation as a tactic, whether in Iraq, the Palestinian territories, or elsewhere as it breeds hatred and suspicion. We also have seen some soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan decide that everyone around them were their enemies. It is no wonder that we had numerous incidents of torture and murder emerge from our wars.)

A friend also raised an interesting question last night. As many officers these days are former veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq, do we have officers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder on our streets?

Many people, particularly in poor and minority neighborhoods, report regular harassment by police. Indeed, the fear of the police has made law enforcement more difficulty in many communities, as some people are reluctant to turn to the police for help. Considering the history of police interaction with poor and minority communities, I can understand why there is fear, suspicion and hatred of the police among many Americans. Law enforcement can only work with trust. Trust once lost is hard to regain.

I can empathize with the anger in Ferguson and elsewhere. I have known some police officers who were true professionals. I also know that there are some who should no more be officers of the law than an infant should be a brain surgeon. Some officers, I fear, have an ample collection of white sheets or brown shirts. (There are bigots and violent people in most professions.)

Bruce Springsteen;s song American Skin (41 Shots) about the shooting death of Amadou Diallo is particularly appropriate today.

Other issues that seem to be in play in Ferguson are widespread unemployment, racism and classism. We do not see the same sort of policing on Chicago’s Gold Coast or in suburban Wilmette as we see in neighborhoods like Englewood (Chicago’s roughest neighborhood according to crime statistics) or in Ford Heights, America’s poorest suburb. We do not see the same opportunities for children in each of those communities and similar one’s throughout our nation.

When people do not feel that they belong to a society, they often despair and get angry. I cannot blame people in Ferguson for being angry. However, I must wonder if we have the courage to address the problems of police militarization, racism, classism, poverty and economic inequality.. I do not believe that America can be destroyed from without, but I must wonder if we will destroy ourselves from within. It is my hope that justice will prevail on many fronts and that one day our descendants will look back at our time as a tragic era that we had the courage to overcome. The choice is ours and the hour is late. Let us choose wisely.

30 comments (Latest Comment: 08/14/2014 21:57:34 by Will in Chicago)
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