by Eric Vought
It will likely be some time yet before we have any real idea why and how Mike Brown was killed in Ferguson, Missouri. The Chief of Police has said that if the shooter is indicted, the evidence will be released as part of the trial record, and if no indictment is returned, the evidence will be made public. Regardless of the precise how or why, there are things we DO know about what is going on in Ferguson, and they are a strong argument for change.
- The public in Ferguson does not trust its police force. Sometimes people simply overreact, and perhaps the evidence will suggest a more reasonable explanation for why the unnamed police officer did what he did, but people would not overreact if they were not already willing to jump to the conclusion that an injustice occurred. That relationship between the people and the police (or lack thereof) did not happen overnight. It took time and many mistakes to develop a deep cankerous distrust of the system.
- The police force in Fereguson (and St. Louis as a whole) does not reflect the community (97% white police versus 67% black population) and is out of touch with its needs. The community does not trust that the incident will be investigated fairly, and therefore, no matter where the investigation goes, it may not satisfy. In response to the demonstrations, more— mostly white— police were brought in from a larger area to maintain order. This takes on the character of an occupying force and does nothing to allay the problems of trust.
- The police response is overly militant and very heavy-handed. Police in armored vehicles, with rifles, camoflauge, and masks are not a force of ‘peace officers’. Images of the occupation blanket media juxtaposed with similar images from, say, the Ukraine. We are apparently even arresting journalists in Ferguson and slamming them into fast-food soda dispensers. The first-night’s violence in Ferguson and the destruction of a Quick-Trip (one wonders what the owner of the Quick-Trip did to Mike Brown) were wrong, and police responding need to protect themselves, but the response is calculated to escalate, not assure. The people of Ferguson need to see faces of people they know and trust keeping order, not masked outsiders armed to the teeth.
This incident underscores everything I see wrong with policing today. Police cannot function effectively without a deep relationship with the community, without being a part of the community. Even if we recognize that and take action to correct it, it will be a long time to excise the rot and begin to build trust, but it must be done.
Image courtesy of Andrew Ferguson