Day after day they showed the same images on the television; the streets engulfed in chaos. The protesters hurled rocks and other debris at the heavily armed police force, who stood resilient behind their riot shields. The police had come equipped with night vision goggles, mounted rifles, and military vehicles; occasionally firing stun grenades and tear gas at the demonstrators. But these were not the streets of Nazareth, where Palestinians were protesting nor was it a scene straight out of Afghanistan. No, these were the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, which up until a couple of weeks ago were embroiled in “clashes” between riot police and demonstrators.
So, what were these policemen with military style weapons doing in suburban St. Louis? The matter arose when a Ferguson policeman was called upon in regards to a robbery at a Convenience store on Saturday, August 9th at 11:51 am. At around 12pm, in an encounter with one Michael Brown and his friend, the officer Darren Wilson ended up firing 8 rounds; killing 18-year -old Brown in a matter of minutes. Despite different perspectives coming out on the incident, there are still many questions that need to be answered.
Questions; this ordeal has revolved around a thick blanket of utter confusion. For one thing, this has prompted the public to question authority at a whole new level. At first, everyone wanted to know who was the officer involved and why had he taken to shoot an unarmed teenager in broad daylight with his hands up? But since then, it has been the lack of answers from the hierarchy that has led hundreds to take to the streets in their demand for an explanation.
Looting, angry mobs, confrontations, violence, the destruction of property; has been shown repeatedly on a mass scale by the media. But can the public really be blamed? Are the police really in any position themselves to play this blame game? As citizens, their actions; exaggerated or not, can be understood; to the extent that it shows how fed up they’ve become with the lack of responsibility taken by the authorities. Just like Brown’s parents and the NAACP have stated, these acts of violence are something I denounce. But it doesn’t mean we should forget what the issue at hand is. The blame game has already been played by the media as they try to paint Michael in a different light, but the authorities shouldn’t have played the same card. The media had decided to cover the past few weeks with certain bias and focused more on the damage and turmoil caused by a few rioters, rather than focus on the police. State Governor Jay Nixon went as far as imposing a State of Emergency, amid the unrest. But once again, it’s the men in blue who are in the firing line, and rightfully.
One can look at both sides and point a finger. The protesters have been peaceful for the most part; in their appeal for an explanation. But we have been treated to images of looting, there has been talk of anarchists coming in from neighbouring areas, and rioting. But what about the authorities? The question posed so far has been that of “why was Mike Brown killed?” which is just in it’s own regards, but it’s time that we as a society looked at the bigger picture.
Sean Bell, Amadou Diallo and Henry Glover, are just a few who had the same fate as Mike Brown; slain at the hands of a “police officer”. Are these the guardians of justice and liberty? Or are they cold blooded killers? The debate rages on in households in America, but the question that America really must ask is “Who polices the police?” It is time America comes to terms with it’s own mythology in regards to it’s law enforcement. Because that’s exactly what they have become “law enforcement”. No longer do we feel safe when a cop car drives by. This paranoia and hysteria of cops stems from their own doing. This brutality that we have witnessed over and over again has never been confronted properly.
Throughout history, governance has sought to restrain it’s citizens with force in order to keep law and order. Even in Ferguson, the justification for assault rifles and military weaponry at hand was “to keep the peace”, but it only went to exasperate the demonstrators. A Hobbesian viewpoint of nature would suggest that the grieving families, set out to march in remembrance of their slain son would turn violent. By suggesting that disorder would commence, it goes to show the sceptical nature that the law enforcement has when dealings with the public. The very fact that the cops were using militarized weaponry is outrageous, given how it got there.
The job of a policeman is “to uphold and enforce the law impartially, to protect life, liberty, property, human rights, and the dignity of the members of the public”. In incidents such as this, the police not only failed to fulfil their duties, but also failed those whom they serve. The police serve the public, and at times like this it is forgotten. Carrying a gun and a badge should not give you a moral high ground in any situation. No one should be ‘above the law’, especially those who are there to uphold it. Yes, they must also uphold internal security, but not at the cost of the lives of innocents. The argument that the officers are doing their duty by ‘presuming’ the victims were a threat is reprehensible. This ties into these assumptions being made on the grounds of racial stereotypes; skin colour or attire, of who’s dangerous and who’s not (selective punishment). The countless incidents of harassment bought forward with the NYPD’s Stop and Frisk Program exemplifies this growing phenomenon.
Through social media and a highly digitised world where news travels fast and trends in an instant, it’s up to us as citizens to decide what must happen next. Although the Department of Justice has taken steps to investigate what exactly happened in Ferguson, and residents also stepping up their efforts for justice, more must be done. Mass opposition to question police power and a crumbling justice system is barely existent, but that is what we must strive for. It is us, who must mobilize into movements that seek to regain our civil, democratic and human rights at the grass roots level. Education is key; spreading the word on what is happening is vital to changing the mindset of the majority of the public. We don’t have to carry billy clubs or assault rifles, but we must never stop demanding, until we see results. The federal and local authorities will do investigation after investigation; but trials won’t curb this problem. It exists within America’s genetic make up. We must stop denying that arbitrary police power is an issue and that a prejudiced system doesn’t exist. We no longer live in the McCarthy era and it’s time we move forward. The law enforcement, just like the government, exist to protect us and therefore should only be answerable to us. It is the citizens who must ‘police’ the police.