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Ferguson

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I’d rather be doing a lot of things than this. I could be wrapping up my thoughts on Sidmouth, and the Folk Tradition. I could be in Greenwich, or at LonCon, or spinning, or practicing pennywhistle, or pretty much anything but writing about Ferguson. I wish my thoughts were conflicted. I wish that because it would mean there was some level of question about what’s going on.

What’s going on is the police are over-reacting to a reasonable response on the part of the community. That’s the takeaway. There is a lot more: there always is, but that’s the nub of it. It’s tied into the way the US looks at Race, the way the US looks at cops, the way the US looks at protest, but the nub is the cops over-reacted to a reasonable response.

And, even if the (less than plausible) story the police tell (that a smart kid decided to reach into a car to try and get a cop’s gun) is true, the response is reasonable.

Because cops kill people, esp. black people with impunity. In 2011 cops shot almost more than 1,100 people in the US. 607 of them died. In 95 percent of those shootings, it was determined the cops were “justified”. Out of 1,146 shootings, 1,088 were deemed to be, “good shoots”.

The remaining 58… just sort of disappeared. It’s almost impossible to prosecute cops for misconduct. From about 8,000 credible reports of police misconduct (against about 11,000 officers, in a 21 month period) there were only 3, 200 prosecutions, and 2/3rds of them were acquitted. For run of the mill criminal cases the conviction rate (at trial) is about 70 percent.

Even when they are convicted, they tend to be charged with lesser crimes, and get lighter sentences (Look at how Oscar Grant was shot and what happened to the cop convicted of killing him). So cops get away with murder. That, sad to say, is the general background of life in the US. It’s worse if one isn’t white. In the past couple of weeks I know of at least four such shootings of black men. Last month a pizza guy was shot by a pair of plainclothes cops. What is the police response? “At this time it just appears to be unfortunate for both the officers and this person,” said Deputy Police Commissioner Richard Ross”.

Yeah… “unfortunate”. I used to deliver pizza, I worried about getting robbed (we had a couple of stick-ups while I was there: pies were ordered, the driver gets out of the car and there is a gun in his ribs. They know where you are going. It’s an easy ambush. So this guy has a couple of people, not in uniform, block his car, with guns out. He tries to get away, and they shoot him, in the head. That, the cops say, is, “unfortunate for both the officers and this person.” I’d say it was a lot more than unfortunate for him.

To make it worse, the cops are being over-equipped. I was a soldier. I was in an invading army. The cops are often more heavily armed than I was. Yeah, I had access to a lot more in the way of support. We had some belt-fed light machine guns, a .50 Cal, and a Mark 19 Automatic Grenade Launcher, as well as being able to call for Artillery, Cavalry, helicopter gunships, and “fast movers” from the Air Force, but on my person I had 7 magazines, for a total of 270 rds of ammunition.

Some of the cops in the pictures in the #Ferguson photostream they seem to have at least that many mags, as well as a second weapon. Think about that; every one of those cops seems to have at least 270 rounds of ammunition. If you have only the twelve cops in this photo that’s 3,240 rds of ammunition. How many people do they think they will need to shoot?

That’s not a rhetorical question. We had that much firepower because we expected people to be using the same sort of equipment to try to kill us. We didn’t have the level of body armor cops routinely wear. So they are better protected, and as powerfully armed. Why?

Lots of numbnuts are focusing on the violent aspects of the citizens. Yeah, I think burning a gas station, and smashing up stores is a bad thing. I also know that this isn’t anything close to a riot. I’ve lived through riots (I lived in LA in 1992, and I worked in Hollywood. I’ve seen honest to goodness riots, this ain’t that).
Even if it were, that’s not how to reduce the tension. Say what you like about the failings of the LAPD (and they are legion) they have a decent handle on how to deal with crowd control (they don’t always adhere to it, e.g. The MacArthur Park incident). As a member of the National Guard we got riot training, and my unit got it from them (I had a couple of commanders who were in the LAPD, and we got some benefit from that).
First rule: cops on crowd control duty don’t carry firearms. They don’t carry shields. They do have helmets with masks, and they carry batons. There are armed cops in the area, but they aren’t at liberty. They can only shoot at designated targets, and only on command.

As decades of study has shown, adding distance between the police and the public makes things worse, FBI study on crowd management

Modern research supports a philosophy of public order policing from the 1970s referred to as The Madison Method of Handling People in Crowds and Demonstrations.7 This approach begins with defining the mission and safeguarding the fundamental rights of people to gather and speak out legally. The philosophy should reflect the agency’s core values in viewing citizens as customers. This focus is not situational; it cannot be turned on and off depending on the crisis.

Law enforcement agencies facilitate and protect the public’s right to free speech and assembly. When officers realize they are at a protest to ensure these rights, they direct their responses accordingly, from planning to implement the plan. Officers must have a well-defined mission that encourages the peaceful gathering of people and uses planning, open communication, negotiation, and leadership to accomplish this goal.

That ain’t happening in Ferguson.

What is happening is that people are upset. They have a lot of reasons to be upset:

Some stats on Ferguson

St. Louis Cty Police Lieutenant fired for telling cops to target blacks

Massively disproportionate police stops/searches/arrests

The amazing thing isn’t that they are protesting it’s that they aren’t being violent about it. Also to be considered is the level of response. I recall earlier in the year, a long (tense) standoff with a dude who was stealing from the public purse. A lot of his supporters showed up to protest the, “unfair treatment he got.

They were pointing loaded weapons at cops. They weren’t vilified in the press. Nope. A lot of folks on the Right side of the spectrum were (and still are) lauding them as heroes, standing up to tyranny. Why? Because a rancher didn’t want to pay grazing fees.

Where are they now? A group of people want to protest the killing of a kid. For that they are being brutalised. Their right to peaceably assemble is being denied. The right of the press to be free in its exercise is being denied. Their right to fair and equal treatment under the law has been systematically violated. They are being subjected to actual tyranny. Sadly what we hear from the Cliven Bundy supporters isn’t crickets… but cheerleading for the cops who call the people of Ferguson animals.

This is about justice. Its seed crystals are the lack of justice they have been suffering for years. This country was founded on the principle that this sort of abuse of state power is so fundamentally unjust that it merited revolution to remove.

The people of Ferguson haven’t done that (though perhaps they recall what happened in Tulsa when blacks chose to defend themselves against predatory whites). They did what we pretend is the way of things. They protested injustice. The assembled to petition for redress of grievance.

And the police ran riot.

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3 thoughts on “Ferguson

  1. This.
    (It’s pretty close to my own reaction – I looked at photos, and said ‘ that’s an occupying force’.)

  2. Exactly! That was also my first thought and it scared the crap out of me. White people cannot afford to sit back and keep silent about this, or fence-sitting, or cheerleading the cops. Violation of constitutional rights by people who took an oath to uphold those rights trumps some looting and running about. There are people who only seem to want to focus on what the looters are doing wrong, deliberately ignoring that this is much, much bigger than that and they need to pay heed. What they’re doing in Ferguson now, if not nipped, will be heading towards a White suburb near them in a few years.

  3. Pingback: Ferguson MO and trouble | Politics & Imagination

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