The sad truth is that on an average day in America the shooting of Michael Brown wouldn’t have become big news. We’ve all become numb to the reality of police officers shooting young black men on a daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly basis. It’s a reality that does not exist in a vacuum – it’s been a fact of life since before I was born. All hip-hop culture and social media have done is make the voices of the people protesting police brutality louder and more easily heard. The same people who decry rap music for glorifying violence are often same people who have the luxury of not having to live WITH the violence – they’re not in the same neighborhoods where kids shoot each other, so in turn cops shoot kids. It’s all in the name of “public safety” but I haven’t seen the streets of Chicago, Detroit, St. Louis or Los Angeles get any safer this year because Mike Brown got gunned down.
The sad truth is that society needs law enforcement. We obviously don’t need cops who harass young men and women based on their accent, skin color, religious attire or any other trumped up reason a bully with a badge can think of to harass someone they view as guilty until proven innocent. We DO need cops because when someone wants to do bad things to you or your family, you as the victim don’t give a damn about whether your assailant is black, white, brown or purple with orange spots. Police exist for the same reason that doctors and firefighters do – we need those services we can’t provide for ourselves when bad things happen. Sometimes they even prevent bad things BEFORE they happen – let’s applaud the public servants who do that honorably and professionally. Let’s NOT applaud the police force of Ferguson for any of the five following things though:
1. Escalating a minor disturbance. Walking down the middle of a street blocking traffic is certainly annoying, perhaps even worth writing a ticket for, that is if you don’t have some better way to be serving the public at that exact moment. The fact that Officer Darren Wilson just couldn’t let it go has to have bearing here. Could he have turned around? Could he have stopped the car and flashed his lights? Could he have gotten out of the car and asked Mike and his friend to move? Could he have simply driven around Mike Brown and Dorian Johnson and ignored this minor incident? We’ve been told Officer Wilson had no other reason to stop them – it was all on his own initiative.
2. Refusing to release information. Transparency is necessary for the public to trust law enforcement. In my own city of Omaha, the name of any officer involved in a shooting is released on the news almost immediately, and even if the shooting is ultimately cleared (self-defense, protecting an innocent victim, suicide by cop) there’s always an investigation and the officer is on leave until he or she is cleared. The fact that the Ferguson police refused to release the name of the officer within the mandatory 72 hours only aroused suspicion and destroyed the public trust, adding fuel to the fire of the protestors.
3. Militarizing the response. Instead of allowing the protestors to vent their much needed frustration over the death of yet another young black man at the hands of law enforcement, the Ferguson police force turned into heavy handed thugs, dispersing crowds with tear gas and even arresting the reporters who show up to cover the protests. If the people of Ferguson didn’t already think the officers sworn to “serve and protect” them were heavy handed goons, now the whole world thinks so too – a brilliant PR move.
4. Blaming the victim. At the same time the police force finally decided to name the officer involved in the shooting, they also started casting aspersions on Mike Brown, despite the fact Brown had no criminal record and was unarmed at the time of his incident with Officer Wilson. There’s been no shortage of revisionist history on the part of law enforcement though – he may or may not have been involved in a robbery (though that wasn’t known to Officer Wilson), he may or may not have been high on marijuana (which isn’t the kind of thing to shoot an unarmed teenager over), he may or may not have charged at the patrol car after a scuffle (ooh – unarmed black kid on foot is a danger to an officer with a gun and a car he could run him down with – scary). If you blame the victim you only enrage protestors even further – and they SHOULD be pissed off at the “blue wall” of cops covering their own asses.
5. Calling a curfew. At this point the tactics of the police force were clearly stirring up defiance instead of quelling the anger of the citizenry, so what good is giving the angry people of Ferguson one more thing to defy? Lawful citizens have the right to assemble and protest their grievances, even if the hours they do so are inconvenient for their neighbors or a nuisance to the cops. Clearly some people will take advantage of any situation to cause mayhem or loot, but those who do should be held accountable individually. Imposing a curfew puts the blame on everybody whether or not they are involved in criminal activity – and makes everybody in Ferguson a criminal by default just for walking out their front door.
This has to be the most mismanaged and mishandled case of police interaction with the public in at least 20 years. Unfortunately as I said at the beginning we’ve all become numb to young black men being shot down by overaggressive cops, and it only makes the news when people take a stand and protest. Amadou Diallo’s shooters were acquitted and so were the cops who assaulted Rodney King – the names are memorable because the outrage was immortalized in films and songs. The protest of Mike Brown’s death and the subsequent police response ensures he won’t be forgotten, but the ones who they don’t write songs about are just as dead as the rest. There’s always a better way than putting 19 bullets in a man with a wallet or six into a teenager who was jaywalking.