This week a tragic thing has been ongoing and largely ignored in this country: a young man was shot, the police over reacted, and journalists were arrested for reporting — and so much more.
Michael Brown didn’t die in the dark. He was eighteen years old, walking down a street in Ferguson, Missouri, from his apartment to his grandmother’s, at 2:15 on a bright Saturday afternoon. He was, for a young man, exactly where he should be—among other things, days away from his first college classes. A policeman stopped him; it’s not clear why. People in the neighborhood have told reporters that they remember what happened next as a series of movements: the officer, it seemed to them, trying to put Brown into a car; Brown running with his hands in the air; the policeman shooting; Brown falling.
The response to this was absolutely fucking nuts. There was looting and rioting, which is very bad. But the police didn’t even come close to handling the situation well.
No, the police began policing with assault rifles, tear gas, and sniper rifles — policing a crowd of upset people demanding answers. Note: an unarmed crowd of rioters.
Here’s the police side:
And here’s the crowd:
Overreacting much? That’s not the real tragedy, the real tragedy is that all levels of government failed. The FAA restricted airspace below 3,000 feet, effectively making aerial news coverage by helicopter impossible.
This is a paintball game, right? FFS. RT @radleybalko: America. pic.twitter.com/cXgiETNHsu — Justin Blanton (@jblanton) August 13, 2014
Let’s take a look at what happened last night (chronological order, newest last):
News crews a been asked to leave the #Ferguson area pic.twitter.com/e04y1Jx91A — FOX2now (@FOX2now) August 14, 2014
Made in USA teargas canister was shot at us a few days ago in #Palestine by Israel, now they are used in #Ferguson. pic.twitter.com/y3co6DMFM6 — مريم البرغوثي (@MariamBarghouti) August 14, 2014
PIC: police firing tear gas at @ajam crew abt to go live in #Ferguson pic.twitter.com/NXxHC3AoN3 — Jonathan Betz (@jebetz) August 14, 2014
Cops in #ferguson are quite literally rolling up to reporters and tear gassing them to keep reports from getting out pic.twitter.com/CjJ1YDHh9p — Big Dumb Idiot (@mikexmoynihan) August 14, 2014
Unreal MT @CassFM: Police fire tear gas near Al Jazeera crew, then disassemble the gear after they flee. #Ferguson pic.twitter.com/lRTT0mbXmG — Jon Passantino (@passantino) August 14, 2014
None of that looks like America, not the America I know, and not the America I want to live or raise my kids in.
Something else amazing happened last night too, at least two reporters were arrested (for seemingly no reason).
He was illegally instructed to stop taking video of officers. Then he followed officers’ instructions to leave a McDonald’s — and after contradictory instructions on how to exit, he was slammed against a soda machine and then handcuffed. That behavior was wholly unwarranted and an assault on the freedom of the press to cover the news. The physical risk to Wesley himself is obvious and outrageous. After being placed in a holding cell, he was released with no charges and no explanation. He was denied information about the names and badge numbers of those who arrested him.
Lowery’s account is worth reading, but hard to believe it happened here.
The worst part of outfitting our police officers as soldiers has been psychological. Give a man access to drones, tanks, and body armor, and he’ll reasonably think that his job isn’t simply to maintain peace, but to eradicate danger. Instead of protecting and serving, police are searching and destroying.
There is something psychological that trips in our head: you give someone an assault rifle and body armor, and they expect to get shot. So they act as if they are protecting themselves from being shot — which is not what you want when officers just need to do crowd control.
Instead people in Palestine were offering people in America advice on how to deal with tear gas.
Let that sink in.
“Now’s the time for healing,” Mr. Obama said. “Now’s the time for peace and calm on the streets of Ferguson.”
I’m not sure a more apathetic statement could be made. And that’s a problem when it comes from our President.