The situation in Ferguson, MO, has gotten incredible. What started as a tragic and calamitous incident has blown up into a firestorm of jaw-dropping outrageousness. At every single decision point the authorities in the city opted to take a path of ridiculous escalation, as though doubling down on their original missteps would somehow justify these ill-advised decisions. The actions of the police in Ferguson have blown up and they’ve come to unfortunately be taken as representatives of police throughout the country.
I grew up in New Orleans in the 80s, so I know what a corrupt, racist, and abusive police force looks like. Despite being a white middle-class suburban kid who didn’t drink or smoke pot, I was pulled over and hassled by cops who flat-out told me they picked me because I was a “college kid” with a WTUL bumper sticker and therefore a good target. I read the newspaper reports of the things they did to people who weren’t as white as I was and it was appalling. At the time it was one of the worst departments in the country. I got just a tiny taste of it, but enough to know it was much worse for other people. At the time I remember thinking that I would rather pay the Mafia for protection because hey, at least if you pay them, they leave you alone.
Despite my and my friends’ experiences with Louisiana cops, I didn’t grow up despising the police. On the contrary, when I moved here and became best friends with a cop I got to see that side of the experience. I know it’s a difficult, stressful, and thankless job, trying to keep safe a community that has nothing good to say about you. I now have a nephew and other friends who are police officers and I want them to be able to help people and stay safe.
I want to say that the problem in Ferguson is not cops per se, but a specific group of cops who seem to have lost their fucking minds. Hopped up on authority, fear, and a ton of surplus unnecessary military hardware they have cast themselves in some kind of action movie video game where only bigger and bigger guns can keep back the subhuman plague. LARPing as soldiers but with more weapons and less training than the real thing, they are doing everything they can to look ridiculous and appalling to everyone except the white people who are also terrified of angry black people. I want to say that but I know that there are plenty of folks out there who know that Ferguson could be their own community, given just the right spark to ignite it.
The attitude of the authorities in Ferguson is disgusting, as already thinly-veiled racial disgust has bubbled up to the surface. Yet it continues to manifest itself proudly and defiantly, as if wanting to use that old racist chestnut, “we’re just doing what everyone is thinking”. What worries me is not that only a small percentage of the Ferguson police department is non-white, but that an even smaller percentage has opted out of participating in this act of besieging their own town. It’s difficult to imagine what endgame they see to this situation, where they think the city and its police force can go from here.
We don’t yet know what actually happened with Michael Brown. Stories are circulating that sound dubious at best. The story on the police department’s side — which has changed repeatedly — is supposedly confirmed by witnesses, an odd attempt to validate it considering no one there was interested in talking to several witnesses who were there at the shooting when it happened (and who told a different story). It remains to be seen if the FBI can piece together a reasonable narrative at this point. I suspect it was, as these things often are, a case where something dumb escalated into stupid violence, resulting in a situation neither side wanted. But again, as before, the seemingly deliberate choice to choose the explosive, aggressive path every time led us to where we are now.
We keep hearing how the police in Ferguson are disobeying the number one rule of the firepower they wield: do not point a gun at someone unless you’re willing to shoot them. Based on what we’re seeing, they aren’t breaking this rule; they very much are willing to shoot their own citizens. These are no longer police, and police officers should not be rallying around them. They are an embarrassment to their badges, thugs and bullies and fascists, exactly the image they are usually trying to dismiss. No amount of looting, of which there was not much, can justify the mentality of these people. This is a perversion of their sworn duty.
It should also be noted that this situation — men from the government trampling on the rights of citizens with only guns and badges to support their side — is exactly the nightmare scenario the NRA types regularly trot out to explain why they need to own a closet full of semiautomatic rifles. This is why dozens of them went to the Bundy Ranch earlier this year and set up snipers against government agents. Yet in this case they are nowhere to be seen, their voices unheard. Why do you think that is?
Whenever an Islamic organization or individual does something awful there is a chorus of people demanding that the reasonable Muslims (as though doubting even the existence of such people) loudly denounce them. I don’t think this sentiment is necessarily wrong, and I’d say this is a good opportunity for police officers in America to distance themselves from the fascists in Ferguson. I understand why they might not want to do so, but hope they understand why those soldier wannabes in the above photo are making their job more difficult and thankless.
I don’t know the way out of Ferguson from here, and I’m afraid, literally, that it’s only going to get worse.