Ferguson: Police Are Out of Control

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Obama Administration

From where I grew up St. Louis was the nearest city. After moving away I often told people I grew up “near St. Louis” even though it wasn’t that near, actually. It’s just that St. Louis was the closest place to where I grew up anyone who isn’t from there has heard of.

It’s been many years since I’ve been in downtown St. Louis or seen any part of St. Louis County other than the airport, so I can’t say I know it at all any more. But I can’t say I’m surprised at what’s happening in Ferguson. I imagine it’s the worst of a lot of worlds — a community still suffering from the lingering effects of Jim Crow and unequal opportunity; a police force with big city equipment and rural southern sensibilities. In the Heat of the Night meets Robocop.

And now the cops are out of control. I’m sure that’s not how a lot of people see it, but that’s how I see it. Joan Walsh writes,

“This looks like a textbook case of what not to do,” Sherrilyn Ifill of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund told Lawrence O’Donnell.

On the 49th anniversary of the 1965 Watts riots in Los Angeles, it’s important to remember that the famous Kerner Commission established to look at 1960s urban upheavals found that virtually every “riot” was triggered by police brutality – and that has continued in our own time, from the so-called “Rodney King riots” in 1992 through today. On MSNBC Ifill indicted the failures of police training and culture that led not only to the killing of Michael Brown, but also the overreaction to every night of protests.

But Ifill also made the important point that the militarization of the Ferguson police is something entirely new and enormously disturbing. The images Wednesday night should wake all of us up to the alarming militarization of local cops all over the country. How did a local police department get tanks and trucks and body armor that look like it all was designed for the streets of Baghdad and not a little city outside St. Louis?

As Walsh says, political leadership seems entirely absent, and the out-of-control cops are arresting reporters guilty of charging up their laptops at a McDonald’s. Yep, this should wake all of us up. Probably won’t, though.

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15 Comments

  1. wmd  •  Aug 14, 2014 @1:27 am

    So there is a leader that needs to be encouraged to step up: Joseph McNamara – former beat cop from NYPD – started in Harlem. Later Chief of Police in Kansas City (after getting a PhD), then San Jose where he cleaned up a cowboy culture.

    He can be reached through his website

    He should want to do this. His history says this is a moment that can solidify his legacy as a quintessential good cop.

  2. William Teach  •  Aug 14, 2014 @7:41 am

    “Yep, this should wake all of us up. Probably won’t, though.”

    Unfortunately, you’re probably correct. And, even if there was a big outcry, the political class would probably make only token changes. Whatever happened regarding the NSA spying? Snowden is still releasing information. And the government is still spying.

    This is one of those issues that is neither D nor R, Conservative nor Progressive. It concerns us all. What do we do about it? That’s the question.

  3. c u n d gulag  •  Aug 14, 2014 @8:04 am

    William Teach,
    Well said!

    Imo – Like children, when you give the police ‘superhero’ costumes and toys, they want to wear the outfits and play with the toys.
    And now, a regular police uniform isn’t enough.
    And every arrest can be an opportunity to audition for the exclusive SWAT team in the town.

    This militarization of the police is all due to our stupid, and costly in blood and treasure, “War on Drugs.”
    It’s also the fault of the NRA for pushing more and more guns on everyone. And, there plenty of people unscrupulous enough to buy all sorts of extra weapons, and then sell them for great profits in urban areas which, often, if not typically, have restrictions on gun ownership, and use.

    I hope what I’m seeing is the politicians are taking steps to wind-down that ‘War on Drugs.”
    Maybe that will convince the local politician to think about not accepting hand-me-down ‘superhero’ costumes and toys from our MIC and military.
    I doubt it, but I can hope.

    The problem is, even if that happens, what can we do about the NRA?

  4. William Teach  •  Aug 14, 2014 @8:50 am

    Well, you make a few good points: certainly the War On Drugs amped things up, of course, that was in response to drug dealers, cartels, etc, becoming more and more violent, using stronger and stronger weapons. Also, the rise of serious gangs.

    As Maha will tell you, I am a conservative, and, while there are many things I could respond to in a partisan manner, I won’t get sucked into a debate on the NRA. We should all be concerned with the militarization of the police forces around the country. We can see the why’s to have some military style tactical gear, the flow of time and better protective equipment, etc, but the fact is that it used to be simply special groups, like SWAT, which used most of the gear. Now it seems it is not only readily available for most officers, but often used by most officers, especially in bigger cities.

    We certainly do not want to blame all police for this. Not all towns have this or act in this manner. But, many are getting their toys and want to use them.

  5. maha  •  Aug 14, 2014 @9:00 am

    Hmm, I’m agreeing with Teach. Is the time-space continuum about to rupture?

  6. Lynne  •  Aug 14, 2014 @9:03 am

    😀

  7. c u n d gulag  •  Aug 14, 2014 @9:24 am

    Teach,
    I know who you are – you and I got into a number of flame wars over the years, here, and on Steve M’s site. Among others.

    And this is the first time here, or on any other website, that I agree with you.
    And, at least on this issue, you remind me of the reasonable conservatives I had discussions with, back in the 70’s and 80’s.
    We’d exchange opinions and facts, and discuss the issues – no screaming, no tantrums.

    Ah, The Good Ol’ Days…

  8. Swami  •  Aug 14, 2014 @10:02 am

    Teach…It’s good to see you back and that you’re coming to the light. Oh, by the way, I just donated $5.00 in your name to the ACLU.. You are now an honorary liberal.

  9. Doug  •  Aug 14, 2014 @11:12 am

    Here’s the thing – and I read this on Breitbart (and I read it on other sites). Minority turnout has increased in states where voter suppression laws have been enacted. This makes sense if you appreciate psychology. Voter apathy is often the highest among minorities but if you threaten to take away their right to vote, or otherwise oppress them to the degree that you arouse their sense of injustice, they CAN become energized.

    The press, likewise, is often too lazy to express outrage. However, when local cops start arresting and prohibiting the coverage of unrest, the press make awaken. This might be the story the press would not have covered, but if the local cops adopt a strategy of suppressing media coverage, this lone killing may get serious coverage. May.

    If the killing was racial, and if there is evidence to support it, there may be a federal violation. If the federal authorities arrest and move to prosecute the cop who pulled the trigger, the right will explode in bigoted glory. Teach, I don’t think you are a bigot – and most conservatives are not. This is obvious to me. However there are organized strategies which include gerrymandering and voter suppression, designed to dilute minority voting. (Yes, democrats have tried to exploit minority voting to their political advantage, too.)

    My willingness to get sidetracked is a defect in my writing. But out of deference to Teach, I will expand. Democrats have long worked to exploit the black vote. Often, the actual polices they have enacted have not benefited minorities to the degree they should. However, no policy of the democrats has undermined the doctrine of ‘one person – one vote’. The GOP has deliberately tried to prevent voting where statistically it would benefit democrats. Thus we see curtailed early voting – early voting eliminated on campus and obstacles to felons who have served their time and can’t get their voting rights back. Democrats have never worked to prevent voting. There’s a difference between GOTV for your side and ‘prevent the other side from voting’.

    It’s entirely possible that what’s developing in Ferguson will change the outcome of the mid-terms and the long-term voting habits of independent voters. Some (not all) ultra-conservative candidates are overtly racist. The issue of prosecuting a cop for murdering an unarmed black man might uncover that ugly attitude, and the rationale which is the underpinning of the GOP long-term strategy to maintain power despite the erosion of their base by forcing minorities into an unofficial second-class status.

    Maybe – just maybe – a lot of crap that’s out there for bloggers to observe is going to get pushed out into the mainstream.

  10. William Teach  •  Aug 14, 2014 @11:29 am

    “Hmm, I’m agreeing with Teach. Is the time-space continuum about to rupture?”

    Possibly. 🙂

    “And this is the first time here, or on any other website, that I agree with you.”

    I bet there are many things we can find agreement on, at least for results. Remind, who is “Steve M”?

    “Oh, by the way, I just donated $5.00 in your name to the ACLU.. You are now an honorary liberal.”

    I actually think of myself more as a Classical Liberal, going by a few notions, such as “the government that governs least governs best”, and that if it doesn’t harm me, why do I care? Government needs to take a light touch, like a safecracker (Futurama reference).

    While I do appreciate the donation, certainly, the ACLU has done some good work, there are definitely issues we can agree on, including those that pit Government against The People. This is one of them. We shouldn’t be scared of police. Even those who are criminals shouldn’t be scared of the police. They should be scared of getting arrested, most certainly, but not that the police will abuse them or do Bad Things, if you know what I mean.

  11. maha  •  Aug 14, 2014 @5:54 pm

    Teach — the thing is, Teach, I don’t know anybody who likes big government for the sake of big government, any more than anybody likes raising taxes for the sake of raising taxes. I’ve long been in favor of keeping government as small and as local as practicable. The difference is that people don’t agree on what is “practicable.”

    Going back years the pattern has been that when somebody identifies a problem to be addressed, Democrats/liberal propose a solution — which may or may not work, but it’s been since the LBJ Administration since genuinely undiluted liberal programs have been put into place, anyway, so it’s hard to say. But Republicans/conservatives usually deny there is a problem, and refuse to see it, and won’t do anything to address it until it blows up in their faces. Then they’ll scream bloody murder when the wildfires burn down their house or the drinking water in their town is rendered undrinkable because of phosphate pollution. But back when it was time to appropriate money for the Forest Service or regulate phosphates, nine times out of ten you will find that conservatives/Republicans had thrown one temper tantrum after another about Big Government!®. And nothing was done. And when Republicans do propose a solution to a problem, as often as not the “problem” was phony (no, Social Security was not about to go bankrupt), and in any event the “solution” is an ill-conceived scheme to funnel tax dollars into private pockets while providing less value to taxpayers. Medicare privatization schemes are a good example. Democrats are not innocent in this regard, but the bulk of Democrats in Washington are neither particularly liberal nor particularly progressive. And that’s been true for decades, too.

    What does anyone mean by “Big Government,” anyway? Do they mean government that wastes tax dollars? Because except for the military budget much of the federal budget has been cut to the bone, and sometimes into the bone, and a whole lot of stuff the government ought to be taking care of is being neglected. Do they mean government that is too intrusive into peoples’ lives? In what way? Republicans defended unwarranted wiretaps while George W. Bush was in office and yelled that liberals were soft on terrorism for complaining about it. Now that there’s a Democrat in the White House a few more Republicans have “got religion” and are against surveillance overreach. But sure as a world they’ll shut up about it if Republicans take over the White House and Congress in 2016. Oh, and they’ll cut taxes even more while deciding deficits don’t matter.

    The issue is not whether government is big or little, but whether it is smart or stupid. Are taxpayers getting value for their tax dollars? Are the roads and bridges and national parks being maintained? Do children have access to a decent education? Are we prepared for natural disasters and pandemics? Is drinking water being protected? Are we investing in basic science in order to stay competitive? Is the electrical grid reasonably secure? These are the kinds of things government needs to do, because if government doesn’t do them nobody else will, but without them private enterprise can’t function, either. And for a lot of this stuff, it’s less expensive in the long run to maintain it instead of letting it rot and rebuilding it. But instead, thanks largely to the legacy of Reaganomics and today’s Republican Party, we’re just letting things rot, because government is bad, or something.

  12. chris  •  Aug 14, 2014 @2:14 pm

    “I imagine it’s the worst of a lot of worlds — a community still suffering from the lingering effects of Jim Crow and unequal opportunity”

    Is this the same Ferguson?
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ue9nDQEGmsc

  13. maha  •  Aug 14, 2014 @4:21 pm

    Chris — As I remember Ferguson itself isn’t that bad, but it was a victim of “white flight” a few decades ago, and now it suffers from below-average income and housing values even compared to the rest of Missouri, which isn’t much to begin with.

    Estimated median household income in 2012: $36,121 (it was $35,647 in 2000)
    Ferguson: $36,121
    MO: $45,321

    Estimated median house or condo value in 2012: $91,808 (it was $64,600 in 2000)
    Ferguson: $91,808
    MO: $135,000

    Income and housing values are even worse where I grew up, but that’s the Ozarks for you. Poor white folks. Compared to other St. Louis suburbs, Ferguson is not doing well.

    Read more: http://www.city-data.com/city/Ferguson-Missouri.html#ixzz3AOlmar5y

  14. Buddhacrone  •  Aug 14, 2014 @4:39 pm

    Native Texan-moved to MO last year. I thought Texas was backward and stiff politically. Now I know that Missouri is way farther behind that. I’m old, female and gay. This world is not a place I really want to be, but where else is there? Disgusted with being human today.

  15. Betty Lee  •  Aug 15, 2014 @9:11 pm

    I have a relative living in the St. Louis area who has 4 mixed race sons, one of whom is 15 but looks 21, but has the maturity of a 12 yr old. Not a happy situation.

    I question why the residents of Ferguson have abdicated control of their town and police force to the minority. It seems they should find some qualified candidates and elect them to city council to advocate for all the residents of this troubled town.

    As far as Missouri politics go, we have moved from a legislature that was a Democratic majority for many years to a veto-proof Republican dominated legislature due the perseverance of the radical right and the brainwashing of average voters by fox news and Rush Limbaugh, our home boy. Aided by a big influx of money from the likes of Rex Sinqefield, a billionaire right winger who wants to take Missouri as far right as he can take it. I would say he’s succeeding.

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