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.

The police department doesn’t have a single dashboard camera in operation. It owns both dash cams and body cams, but not a single one is in use.

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.

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Comments on “Ferguson Law Enforcement: An 'Occupying Force' With 'Special Rights'”

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Anonymous Coward says:

It will have to get worse.

Hate to say it, but this will have to play out in a much more violent way before anyone will do anything about police militarization.

It is unfortunate it has become such a us vs them mentality with the police in these communities.

It reminds me of the heavy metal music the troops used to play in their youtube videos fighting in Iraq. While the music played and their buddies were also in tanks and humvees, anything goes and you could almost see the testosterone.

I used to watch those videos and think how cool they were. Now they are an embarrassment bordering on outright stupidity.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Sanity check

Raise your hand if you didn’t think this was inevitable. Now raise your hand if you think this couldn’t happen in your neighborhood.

If you raised your hand in either case, then please — for the love of your fellow man — refresh yourself on your history. You don’t have to go very far back — just looking at 20th century history will be sufficient.

If you raised your hand in one case but not in the other, then you should refresh your ability to engage in basic logical reasoning.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Sanity check

And now a word from The Mothers!

It can’t happen here
Everybody’s safe and it can’t happen here
No freaks for us
It can’t happen here
Everybody’s clean and it can’t happen here
No, no, it won’t happen here
I’m telling you it can’t
It won’t happen here
Plastic folks, you know
It won’t happen here
You’re safe, mama
You’re safe, baby
You just cook a TV dinner
And you make it
No no no no
Oh, we’re gonna get a TV dinner and cook it up
Go get a TV dinner and cook it up
Cook it up
Oh, and it won’t happen here
(No no no no no no no no no no no
Man you guys are really safe
Everything’s cool).

Ehud Gavron (profile) says:


It is true that the temporary flight restrictions (TFR) were issued by the FAA at the request of the St Louis County Police Department (according to Time, unverified.)

The FAA does their own evaluation, and in this case because of the alleged firearm attacks on the police helicopter, decided to ban specific flights under 3000ft MSL — which is about 2500ft above ground level (AGL).

This forum (http://glocktalk.com/forums/showthread.php?t=1473014) post suggests that a 1 mile range for a pistol shot is not unreasonable at a 45 degree angle. That slant-height works out to about 3700ft AGL.

So if the goal was preventing aircraft from being hit by even a small Glock 9mm pistol, it does not appear to meet that.

Alternately, it could be argued this is to keep electronic news gathering organizations away. Those, however, are equipped with cameras to whom 2/3 of a mile is of no factor. They could hover at 5000ft AGL and take perfectly awesome high resolution pictures.

What does this really prevent? If I had to guess … people can’t fly at low level and drop things (on the police). It doesn’t seem likely that people flying planes and helicopters and gliders and autogyros and balloons would be attacking crowds of other civilians.

This is an excellent example of the police flexing their power because they can, and reducing rights of the citizenry, because they can.

Ehud Gavron
commercial pilot – rotorcraft
Tucson AZ

art guerrilla (profile) says:


appreciate your information, but it is beside the point, here’s why: we 99% of lowly citizens are supposed to adhere to secret laws, laws made up on the spot, and laws that aren’t even thought of yet…
in other words, they set up an impossible task such that we WILL be jacked up no matter which way we turn…
(“Get on the sidewalk or I’ll arrest you.” “Sir, you are trespassing on a sidewalk in an illegal manner, you’re under arrest.”, etc)
same with the whatever laws or regulations are in effect for airspace, etc: it DOES NOT matter what the actual law is, The They ™ will simply ignore it or make up shit to DO WHAT THEY WANT regardless of the law…
naturally enough, us 99% are not afforded that same convenience…
i have seen -MANY, MANY times- state/county cop planes and helicopters who do NOT observe flight ceilings, etc NO MATTER WHAT… there is no hot pursuit, there is no REASON they have to fly under the ceilings, except they can with impunity, so they do…
i actually called the FAA on them once, and they blah blah blahed that yeah, they are supposed to observe those flight ceilings, but they can essentially get away with doing whatever the fuck they want…
not to mention, they use UNMARKED spotter planes to circle over areas all fucking day… i have been tempted to try and take one down with my 22 and then claim i was a hero for taking down an unmarked al qaeda plane… somehow, i’m betting i couldn’t get away with some ACTUALLY REASONABLE excuse like that, but piggies can say WHATEVER bullshit they want -or mostly, say nothing at all- and get away with breaking the law EVERY DOG DAMN TIME…

Empire must fall…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Kent State?

A tragedy shouldn’t be needed. But, I do believe a breaking point is fast approaching where such a tragedy will occur.

With all the military grade hardware being acquired by local law enforcement, who have no need of such stuff (seriously, tanks!? .50 cals!? cammo gear!?), I think it is inevitable that a bloodbath is fast approaching.

I don’t think all cops are bad. I believe most are just trying to do their jobs to “protect and serve”. But, it only takes one individual with a badge, a gun and a short temper to turn an abusive situation into a massacre. Add to this law enforcement’s predisposition to circle the wagons and protect their own from any accountability for abusive behavior and this is simply a ticking time-bomb.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Come again?

‘He knew what would happen to his family, so he just called it quits.’

That corrupt cops would harass and crack down on those few honest enough to try and hold them accountable is disgusting, but not that surprising these days, but the idea that they would take that harassment and expand it to the family of the officer in question… I guess there really is no ‘too far’ or ‘too low’ when it comes to scum like that and ‘protecting their own’.

Lawrence D’Oliveiro says:

Re: the protesters are going to have to get more organized

No suggestion of defending themselves with guns? Any chance your fabled Right to Bear Arms could help here?

No, of course not. Government agents shoot at unarmed protesters ⇒ Government look like thugs, giving the protestors the moral high ground. Armed protestors shoot back ⇒ Government gets to call them “terrorists”.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Public Servants

Doesn’t help much now does it. An edit button is for after the fact, preview is still before. With an edit button I could still change it now. Preview is useless at this point.

My time is limited. Sometimes I’m in a hurry and I don’t notice something like that until later. That was the case here. Notice the time gap between the posts.

xebikr (profile) says:

Pres. Obama is immune to irony

From NYT:

Earlier, President Obama called on the police in Ferguson to be “open and transparent” as they investigate Mr. Brown’s death, and he urged calm in a city that has been rocked by violence.

“Police should not be bullying or arresting journalists who are just trying to do their jobs,”

Mr. President, they are just following your example.

Anonymous Coward says:

“Ferguson Law Enforcement: An ‘Occupying Force’ With ‘Special Rights'”

What are these special rights of which you speak? I have not heard of any such thing being officially declared, possibly they are those secret laws passed by secret politicians and blessed by secret courts. And in return, everyone secretly hates those secret assholes.

Rekrul says:

Re: Re:

What are these special rights of which you speak?

How about the fact that the police can get away with beating someone to death and call it reasonable force, but if you so much as touch a cop with the tip of your finger, you’ll be charged with felony assault?

How about the fact that the cops can video tape you at will, but when you video tape the cops, you’re likely to get arrested?

How about the fact that a cop can speed through town at 100+ MPH and kill a couple people and the worse that will happen is that he’ll get fired, but if you were to do that, you’d be thrown in jail for murder?

Anonymous Coward says:

Reichstag fire, set up by the Nazis and blamed on “Jewish terrorists” which then gave Hitler the opportunity to seize absolute power over Germany. which eventually drove the world into war.

9/11 the building were demolitioned, building number 7 is a great example as nothing hit it. In the decade since that America has become a tyrannistic police state with the illusion of a democracy. Only time will tell if Americans will be as complacent as the Germans were. The world waits with baited breath for ww3.

Digger says:

Re: where's the city leaders?

There are hundreds of townships, not cities in Missouri, often times 7 or 8 within a 40 square block radius, each having to fulfill their quotas and make money. To them it’s not about the law, it’s about raking in the dough.

That’s why you’ll see city, county and other officials being detained, gassed, etc… The cops don’t give a fuck, they just want more money and to scare / abuse / kill as many citizens as they can get away with.

steell (profile) says:


From the BBC:

“Missouri Highway Patrol’s Captain Ron Johnson, who grew up nearby, has taken charge of the operation.

He lost no time in making his presence felt, escorting a peaceful march through the streets of Ferguson on Thursday evening, shaking hands with protesters.”


One riot, one Missouri State Cop.


The Original Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Consider the other side just for one second

As a long-time libertarian, I do object mightily to the militarization of our local police. As I did not personally witness the alleged over-reaction of the city and county police to the demonstrations, I won’t pass judgement… yet.

I do have one question. It is based on this quote:

“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.”

Since we don’t know if the officer involved has any history of abusing citizens, are we still going to assume that a police officer with no disciplinary background would suddenly escalate a jaywalking beef to the point where he would shoot an unarmed man who was not resisting?

Although other police officers have committed such crimes, that does not mean that this officer has done so.

Padpaw (profile) says:

Re: Consider the other side just for one second

If he has never done anything like this before he should have no problem having his record released.

If he has something to hide then he has every reason to refuse to have his record shown.

“if you have done nothing wrong, you have nothing to fear” that favourite quote the police like to throw around.

Anonymous Coward says:

Ferguson isn’t the only place where heavy handedness is the order of the day when incidents occur. every town or city is the same. police used to do whatever they could to help people, to sort out problems, to advise and assist, now it seems that their first line of action is to try to show the public as much of a deterrent as possible by lining up the considerable amount of hardware and numbers of officers as possible to scare the shit out of people! the nation and probably the planet, is getting closer each day to being one that is ruled by aggression from the very forces that are supposed to keep us safe. instead, we are being threatened more by those than the forces we would normally actually fear. i remember reading that Bin Laden had said that there would be no need for acts of terrorism from terrorists because the ‘peace-keeping’ forces would do it instead. seems to me that his prediction is very close to the mark!

Bergman (profile) says:

Don't point an assault rifle at someone unless you intend to kill them.

Conversely, if someone points an assault rifle at you, he DOES intend to kill you. Police don’t get a free pass on pointing deadly weapons at people just because they feel like it.

Plummer v. State basically said that while police can use necessary force, even deadly force to effect an arrest, if police simply try to kill you instead of attempting an arrest it’s not illegal to shoot back, even if the cop dies.

Plummer is a state supreme court case from Indiana, but there aren’t many state or federal supreme court cases that so much as touch on the situation of a threatened or actual1 extra-judicial execution, and Plummer was based on constitutional and common law principles shared by all fifty states.

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