Police deployed to Ferguson riots; Obama parties
Barack Obama had a great time not giving a damn about anything happening in the world last night. Don’t take my word for it – his deputy press secretary sent out what might be one of the most ill-conceived Tweets in the history of social media, letting everyone know that Obama’s party with the ultra-rich was a total blast:
Readout of tonight’s social gathering coming shortly – spoiler alert: a good time was had by all.
— Eric Schultz (@Schultz44) August 14, 2014
Even the French have begun muttering that “when people are dying, you must come back from vacation.” But our President-of-leisure has no intention on sacrificing the lush perks of the office to deal with little things like war and genocide in Iraq – American boots are indeed on the ground now, with Marine and special forces troops hitting Mount Sinjar where the Yazidis are trapped – or the once-more hot war in Gaza, or the Russians getting ready to make a move on Ukraine… or even violent civil unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, where a fourth night of rioting brought a very forceful response from militarized police forces. While Obama clinked champagne glasses in Martha’s Vineyard and got ready for a “hug summit” with a chastened Hillary Clinton – smacked down hard by Obama’s hatchet men after trying to position herself, absurdly, as a critic of the foreign policy she helped implement – the beverages served in Ferguson included Molotov cocktails.
(And before we get into what’s happening in Ferguson, you Obama dead-enders who think Obama’s incessant vacationing and golfing aren’t sending powerful messages to America’s allies and enemies around the world need to splash some cold water in your faces and start waking up from your six-year daze. You better believe it’s noticed, and it matters. You also know perfectly well that if a Republican president conducted himself like this, the media would be vomiting blood by now.)
From CBS News in St. Louis:
Police used tear gas and smoke bombs to repel crowds who threw Molotov cocktails during another violent night on the streets of a St. Louis suburb in the wake of the shooting of the unarmed 18-year old Michael Brown.
Hours earlier, the police chief had said race relations were the top priority in the town, where a white police officer fatally shot the black teen. Authorities have vowed to reach across the racial, economic and generational divide in a community in search of answers.
Information about the identity of the police officer involved in the shooting has been closely guarded, in part due to death threats against him. There was some speculation he might turn out to be black, but last night brought what I believe are the first official confirmations he is white. It shouldn’t matter, but of course it does.
In the streets of Ferguson, though, the polite dialogue heard at community forums and news conferences is nowhere to be found.
Instead, officers from multiple departments in riot gear and in military equipment have clashed nightly with protesters, who chant, “Hands up, don’t shoot.” Wednesday saw more tense confrontations and further volleys of tear gas from police — this time paired with smoke bombs in response to flaming projectiles and other objects lobbed from the crowd. Protesters faced heavily armed police who at times trained weapons on them from armored trucks.
“This is no longer a peaceful protest when you try to injure people,” an officer said on a megaphone to the protesters, in video captured by KTVI-TV. “You must disperse now.”
One of the odder vignettes from last night was the sight of police who looked more like soldiers pushing through the crowd while loudly declaring, “Your right to assembly is not being denied!” It’s true enough – the cops were trying to contain violence, not unlawfully deny freedom of speech and assembly to the crowd – but it’s just surreal to see this kind of force deployed in an American city while audibly announcing such a disclaimer.
The arrest of two reporters, along with St. Louis Alderman Antonio French, added to the public-relations nightmare for local authorities:
Two reporters, Wesley Lowery of The Washington Post and Ryan J. Reilly of The Huffington Post, said they were detained by police for not clearing out quickly enough from a McDonald’s where they were working, near the protests but away from the more volatile areas. The two were released without any charges. Both say they were assaulted but not seriously hurt.
There were a total of 16 arrests yesterday… which, given the ugliness of the situation, doesn’t seem excessive, leaving aside the lingering questions about the arrest of those reporters. Would it be jumping to conclusions to suggest the cops were worried about their safety, and thought it was worth hauling them to jail just to get them out of there? Or shall we go with the storyline that arrogant officers cuffed ’em and stuffed ’em because they quickly grew tired of arguing with them?
There has also been much talk of protesters approaching the police with their hands up, shouting things like “Don’t shoot us!” That counts for a lot less when the people with their hands up are providing a screen for the people with Molotov cocktails. Creating a situation of maximum chaos, and then eagerly waiting for the cops to make a mistake on-camera, is not non-violent action in the tradition of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., or responsible community leadership.
The police response in Ferguson brought strong criticism from those who have long warned about the dangers of militarized law enforcement, and the unsettling tendency of even fairly small departments to acquire armored fighting vehicles and heavy weapons. In this particular case, it has been said that a heavy-handed response guaranteed to evoke the image of “stormtroopers” from demonstrators might not be the best play when the subject of the dispute is heavy-handed law enforcement. If I might quote myself from an article I posted at RedState yesterday:
It’s uneasy seeing police officers deploy with paramilitary gear. It’s also disturbing to think that such equipment is necessary. A society that comes to this in a matter of days has seriousproblems. No one knows what lessons to draw from the death of Michael Brown yet, because we haven’t firmly established what happened yet. Did an officer with years of evidently satisfactory experience suddenly snap and murder a young man in cold blood after a verbal altercation? Did Brown, spoken of as decent and well-mannered by people in the neighborhood, suddenly snap and assault the officer? If both the police and citizen conducted themselves with polite manners and good cheer, would there be many tragic incidents? If citizens fully respect each other in a community and meet high standards of good conduct, won’t the police have much less work to do?
The great enemy of anarchy is not law, but goodwill. Imposing order in the absence of goodwill just leads to different flavors of anarchy. Likewise, prosperity cannot be engineered and imposed by force. It comes from cooperation and industry, which require goodwill. A melancholy demonstration of this truth will be provided if some of Ferguson’s merchants decide it’s no longer safe for them to do business there.
I wrote that before the evening brought armor onto the streets of Ferguson. Clearly that vitally important ingredient of goodwill is now in even shorter supply.
And yet… what are the cops supposed to do, when people are throwing rocks and bottles at them, lighting up firebombs, and firing gunshots? Obviously they hoped an overwhelming display of force would reduce the possibility of serious violence, and they might be right – who is to say what might have happened last night, if a smaller and less imposing force had been present? I doubt anyone involved in prepping the riot squad was motivated by the desire to have a good time swaggering around and menacing random people in some kind of live-action “Hunger Games” role-playing session. I suspect you’d have to interview quite a few of those officers before you found one who honestly wanted to be on the streets of Ferguson last night.
It’s also likely that everyone up the chain of command knew how they were going to look when the rolled out with that kind of firepower, and while they might have underestimated the degree of revulsion from both local people and nationwide observers, they can’t have been entirely surprised by it. They thought this was necessary, and as stunning as the images from yesterday evening might be, I would advise a little restraint before second-guessing them. If a smaller force had been overwhelmed by rioters and been forced to defend themselves – or if the police had just thrown up their hands and stayed out of town, leaving the good folk of Ferguson at the mercy of the looters and vandals – what might the headlines say this morning?
The police chiefs praised their officers’ performance:
County Police Chief Jon Belmar, though, said his officers have responded with “an incredible amount of restraint,” as they’ve been the targets of rocks, bottles and gunshots, with two dozen patrol vehicles being destroyed.
“It’s pretty amazing how impressed I am and inspired by these officers,” he said. “This is a very difficult circumstance.”
Police had also asked earlier that people assemble in “an organized and respectful” manner and disperse before evening.
The city and county are also under criticism for refusing to release the name of the officer involved in Brown’s shooting, citing threats against that officer and others.
Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson called improving race relations “the top priority right now” but also said he won’t be pressured into publicly identifying the officer — despite, he said, mounting demands from clergy, computer hackers and protesters.
“We have the right to know, and the family has the right to know who murdered their son,” said Sahari Gutierrez, a 27-year-old Ferguson legal assistant.
Jackson said he also welcomes Justice Department training on racial relations in the suburb, where two-thirds of the 21,000 residents are black while all but three of the police force’s 53 officers are white.
May I interrupt this ritual of racial abasement with a question? Is there some evidence to suggest that the Ferguson police force has been rejecting qualified black applicants? I find that rather difficult to believe, given the level of diversity enforcement prevalent throughout the government at all levels. Have we got any complaints on file from minority applicants who feel they were unfairly denied consideration for employment? And if we’re going to bring in Justice Department consultants to train the cops on suburban racial relations, would it be out of line to suggest setting up some seminars to teach local citizens how to interact politely with the authorities?
I wouldn’t dismiss the complaints of local residents against the police out of hand. They might have some perfectly valid criticisms, although I once again marvel that nobody from Ferguson has previously been able to attract the attention of a titanic civil-rights bureaucracy that is generally quite eager to find cases to process. The incident that sparked all this unrest remains under investigation, and while there are few imaginable scenarios where the police officer involved could come out looking good, it was simply absurd and outrageous for the people of Ferguson to launch angry protests and riots before any sort of investigation could be undertaken. They had no logical reason to believe the investigation would not be conducted properly, and really no reason to think the Justice Department wouldn’t get involved with alacrity.
Here’s where the investigation of Michael Brown’s death stands at the moment, only a few days after he died, according to CBS News:
Police have said Brown was shot after an officer encountered him and another man on the street. They say one of the men pushed the officer into his squad car, then physically assaulted him in the vehicle and struggled with the officer over the officer’s weapon. At least one shot was fired inside the car.
The struggle then spilled onto the street, where Brown was shot multiple times. In their initial news conference about the shooting, police didn’t specify whether Brown was the person who scuffled with the officer in the car and have refused to clarify their account.
Jackson said Wednesday that the officer involved sustained swelling facial injuries.
Dorian Johnson, who says he was with Brown when the shooting happened, has told a much different story. He has told media outlets that the officer ordered them out of the street, then tried to open his door so close to the men that it “ricocheted” back, apparently upsetting the officer.
Johnson says the officer grabbed his friend’s neck, then tried to pull him into the car before brandishing his weapon and firing. He says Brown started to run and the officer pursued him, firing multiple times. Johnson and another witness both say Brown was on the street with his hands raised when the officer fired at him repeatedly.
It’s long past time for all police officers to be equipped with inexpensive digital cameras to record these encounters. It would benefit both the police and the citizens they encounter. Absent such indisputable evidence, a few weeks to investigate such an encounter is hardly unreasonable. That means the people who created the atmosphere of unrest in Ferguson, and those who created a culture so fragile it could explode into this spiral of violence so quickly, bear the responsibility for conducting themselves unreasonably, just as the police are responsible for everything they say and do while attempting to restore order. Goodwill must be reciprocal.
If only we had elected some kind of unifying racial healer as President, some great orator who could have spoken to the people of Ferguson a couple of days ago and helped to turn down the heat in the community! If only there weren’t so many modern “civil rights leaders” more eager to cultivate their influence by peddling victim mythology, rather than urging peace and brotherhood above all, teaching every individual person to become a civil rights leader by taking personal responsibility for the restoration of goodwill! And if you want to criticize local authorities for a puzzling lack of racial sensitivity, in a bureaucratic culture that values it highly and makes extensive resources available to promote it, that’s fair enough. In a nation with the most titanic government ever conceived, leadership is an awfully rare commodity.