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.
“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.