Ferguson Law Enforcement: An 'Occupying Force' With 'Special Rights'
from the even-the-military-knows-you-have-to-win-hearts-and-minds dept
As we’ve covered in two previous stories here at Techdirt, Ferguson, Missouri is a mess. The events, which now include three days of cops vs. citizens, were set off by the shooting of an unarmed black man, Mike Brown.
The story behind the shooting is still clouded by contradictory accounts. Police say there was a “scuffle” and that Brown tried to grab the unnamed officer’s gun. The police chief points to the officer’s “facial swelling” as definitive proof of this narrative. The other story is that Brown was gunned down by a pissed off cop who didn’t like the fact that Brown didn’t immediately comply with his “get the fuck onto the sidewalk” request.
Here are two facts: Brown’s body was 35 feet away from the vehicle where the scuffle supposedly took place. Brown’s body was left unattended for hours before being removed by a police.
Here’s one more, not that it should matter, but it does: Mike Brown had no criminal record.
Even if he was a criminal, his killing wouldn’t be justified. But even the most die hard cop supporter has to wonder why a person with no criminal record would suddenly escalate a jaywalking beef to the point of trying to take an officer’s gun. That doesn’t add up. Nothing does, not when filtered through the source delivering its top down narrative.
Local law enforcement has gone into complete lockdown mode. It has detained journalists without explanation. It has fired tear gas at an Al Jazeera America camera crew. It has filled the streets with armored vehicles, police officers in combat fatigues and has done nothing to defuse the situation.
Beyond that, local law enforcement has done the following:
Enacted a no-fly zone over the town.
Told people they can’t protest after dark.
Refused to release the name of the officer who shot Mike Brown.
Refused to release Mike Brown’s autopsy results.
Instructed people to return to their homes to “avoid tear gas” and then fired tear gas into people’s yards.
It’s ugly all over and it’s a prime example of the “what could go wrong” with the steady militarization of the police. Law enforcement has rolled in like an invading force, with gunners peeking out of the top of armored cars and citizens confronted by multiple gun barrels everywhere they look.
The police department demands patience and understanding as it investigates the shooting. But it deserves none of that. For one, it’s handling of the situation has gone from bad to horrific and it shows little desire to scale back its aggression. Anil Dash at Medium points out that none of this needed to be handled this way.
It’s plain as day that the cops have no strategy, no end goal in Ferguson. There’s no leadership. They don’t even understand the situation that they’ve found themselves in.
Basic crowd management for a group that will not, or can not, disperse is to de-escalate. The rent-a-cops at a hippie music festival know exactly what to do when the sound cuts out, but somehow the heavily militarized police force in Ferguson missed the lesson. It’s a hot summer day? Well, then you hand out some water to folks. You even smile while you do it. No, the water shouldn’t be coming out of firehoses while you hold back your German Shepherds.
For that matter, take off the helmets, and holster your weapons. This is basic shit for police! Never point a gun at anything you are not willing to destroy. Don’t point an assault rifle at someone unless you intend to kill them. These are fundamentals of firearms safety that every 8-year-old who’s ever gone on a hunting trip learned.
Instead of being cops, they’re now an occupying force, setting new rules for public interaction, intimidating journalists and doing everything but ousting the population and taking over their dwellings.
This is the byproduct of militarization. No longer are they peace officers. They are now soldiers, fighting a war against their fellow citizens. Billions of dollars have been funneled into local law enforcement agencies by the DHS, giving them military tools, tactics and vehicles. And in Ferguson, we now see that every dollar of it was misspent. The local cops are geared up for a war, but they’re missing one piece of technology that could likely have cleared up the mystery surrounding Mike Brown’s shooting almost immediately.
#Ferguson Police Department: Riot Gear ?? Tear Gas ?? Camouflage ?? Assault Rifles ?? Armored Land Mine Vehicles ?? Dashboard cameras ?
— RB Blair (@TuxcedoCat) August 13, 2014
What it does have in full working condition (along with its war toys) is a handful of rights that only law enforcement officers possess. These rights aren’t found in the Constitution and the only way to access them is to be a cop. Citizens don’t have this extra layer of protection. Ken White at Popehat:
If you are arrested for shooting someone, the police will use everything in their power — lies, false friendship, fear, coercion — to get you to make a statement immediately. That’s because they know that the statement is likely to be useful to the prosecution: either it will incriminate you, or it will lock you into one version of events before you’ve had an opportunity to speak with an adviser or see the evidence against you. You won’t have time to make up a story or conform it to the evidence or get your head straight.
But what if a police officer shoots someone? Oh, that’s different. Then police unions and officials push for delays and opportunities to review evidence before any interview of the officer. Last December, after a video showed that a cop lied about his shooting of a suspect, the Dallas Police issued a new policy requiring a 72-hour delay after a shooting before an officer can be interviewed, and an opportunity for the officer to review the videos or witness statements about the incident. Has Dallas changed its policy to offer such courtesies to citizens arrested for crimes? Don’t be ridiculous. If you or I shoot someone, the police will not delay our interrogation until it is personally convenient…
The police department has not released the name of the shooter. Because he’s one of the insiders. As has been pointed out by several people, we know the names of everyone charged with looting-related felonies in Ferguson. But we still don’t know who shot Mike Brown. The police chief wants to protect the officer and his family, but law enforcement agencies will not return that favor should a citizen kill someone. And they will unleash entire police departments to destroy you if you shoot a cop. If you’re still alive enough to give a statement, your name will be prominently displayed everywhere. Your family will be harassed by cops and citizens. Death threats will make their way through phone lines and into the mailbox. But only cops are immunized against this by policies backed by police unions and government officials.
If anyone is still wondering what happens when you increase police power (with protective policies and secondhand war machines) while decreasing accountability, Ferguson is your answer. And it’s only the most visible indicator. Around the nation, it’s more of the same — but seething under the surface.