Authorities in Missouri have finally learned an important lesson: things actually go a lot smoother when the populace is not utterly frightened by the police.
After seeing the police use unwarranted force against Ferguson protesters calling for justice following the death of Mike Brown (see Care2’s update on the events), Governor Jay Nixon made a late but appropriate decision to relieve the Ferguson force of their duties and put Captain Ron Johnson of the Missouri State Highway Patrol in charge of the community instead.
The new police force has marched alongside protesters rather than in opposition to them, allowing residents to air their legitimate grievances. For the first time since the shooting, smiles can be seen in the community, and it’s no surprise why: Ferguson residents are finally feeling heard and are finally feeling respected. Contrary to popular opinion within the media and state authorities, African American citizens who exercise their First Amendment rights don’t automatically constitute “a riot.”
A Changing of the Guard
Moving forward, one of the first things that needs to change is to not leave alleged perpetrators of violence in charge of subsequently keeping the peace in a community. With tensions high, that’s just asking for more trigger-happy behavior as opposing parties face off against each other.
If police are known to stifle protests in general, then they are especially known for squashing protests against police brutality. Care2’s “What Happens When You Protest Police Brutality” rounds up several recent cases of the police unjustly attacking/arresting the same people.
Simply put, a local police force accused of racism and murder cannot be expected to impartially police the situation in front of them. Get these officers out of there while a fair investigation is conducted and cooler heads can prevail on both sides.
The police would automatically become less threatening to the populace if they didn’t insist on shrouding themselves in mystery. When confrontations go down between police and the general population, we hear of two common police tactics:
- Telling people that they must turn off their cameras and that the police cannot be filmed. (Yes, it happened in Ferguson.)
- Arresting journalists to prevent them/intimidate them from reporting. (Yes, it happened in Ferguson. Some were even gassed.)
The truth is that journalists have the legal right to be present. Additionally, filming the police is completely legal. In fact, given the police’s recent track record, that activity might even be commendable to ensure that citizens’ rights are being protected.
When they arrest or scare away journalists, the police can “apologize” later for handling the situation inappropriately, but they still got what they wanted out of the situation: removing the video cameras during likely incriminating moments.
LAPD is currently undergoing a similar controversy for allegedly shooting Ezell Ford, an unarmed black man, while lying on the ground face down. [In]conveniently, LAPD did not have the camera equipment the department uses to record these events that could have shed a clear light on what happened. Ultimately, this kind of footage that exposes lying and dangerous officers is one of the only things that help achieve real justice.
Take Away All This Unnecessary Military Gear
For many Americans, the videos emerging from Ferguson are their first exposure to the heightened military and warlike tactics of the modern police force. However, tanks and military gear have become staples of police departments throughout the country, a questionable decision for sure. (Newsweek provides a good history of the situation in “How America’s Police Became an Army.”)
When you give the police these capabilities, they’re going to use it. We’ve not only seen a rapid rise in SWAT team responses, but many of these SWAT team responses going massively wrong. Police should be working to protect the community, not storing up “less lethal” (but still potentially lethal!) ammunition to use against its people.
From a psychological standpoint, when you dress police in military gear, they’ll start to feel like combat soldiers. It becomes difficult to resist the urge to play the part. It’s no coincidence that when police show up to a relatively peaceful assembly suited in riot gear, riots have been known to erupt.
Besides, if we have so many tanks and weapons normally reserved for the battlefield to spare, perhaps we can trim down the approximately $716 billion annual “defense” budget and reallocate that money to other, more positive things.