Welcome readers/viewers on Ferguson and police militarization

by Walter Olson on August 15, 2014

Above: Cato podcast, interviewed by Caleb Brown.

The events in Ferguson, Mo. have vaulted police militarization to the top of the national news. I’ve spent a lot of the past 48 hours talking with the press, covering the issue on Twitter and other social media, and fielding reactions to my blog post (reprinted at the Cato blog), which has gotten considerable attention. Highlights:

P.S. Finally some good news from Ferguson. Newly assigned cops from the Missouri Highway Patrol wear blue not camo, mingle and talk to protesters with respect — and suddenly there’s calm. And the Rand Paul piece is making news.

{ 2 trackbacks }

Militarize local cops? Six Maryland House members voted for, two against | Free State Notes
08.17.14 at 12:22 pm
In print on police militarization - Overlawyered
08.29.14 at 10:01 am

{ 10 comments }

1 Mannie 08.15.14 at 7:26 am

I’ve been talking with some people in St Louis, and the local coverage is a lot different from the national news; a lot less lurid. There are apparently two trains of protest running at the same time. The daylight protests are just that, protests. Crowds holding their hands up chanting, “Don’t shoot.” They have been peaceful, and there have been few, if any, incidents. Incidentally, the daytime protesters are somewhat biracial.

It’s after dark that the violence has happened. It appears that troublemakers from St Louis and Chicago are doing the looting and burning. Molotov cocktails have been thrown at the cops. Shots have been fired at police aircraft, and at the cops. One protester, who pointed a shotgun at the cops, was shot down. The cops have almost universally responded with proper riot control tactics, tear gas and flash bangs. I am not seeing the overmilitarized cops, here, despite the presence of some rifles and some heavy vehicles. Frankly, this is where those vehicles are most useful.

It is also at night, that cops have made their spectacular apparent screw ups, like busting the newsies at the McDonalds, and gassing the Al Jazira crew. I suspect it’s a different bunch of cops from the daylight cops. They do appear more aggressive, but then again, they’re being aggressed against.

2 gitarcarver 08.15.14 at 10:04 am

Mannie,

I am sorry, but the police have screwed this up from the beginning.

You are correct that the protests during the day have been just that – protests. That fact makes this all too common image impossible to comprehend: https://twitter.com/passantino/status/499720806516023296/photo/1

Notice that it is daylight in the picture but more than anything, notice that the cop on the vehicle has his weapon pointed at the crowd. In the al Jazeera incident as the cops lower the camera equipment, there is a cop with an automatic weapon pointed down the street.

This is contrary to every weapon safety rule of “never point a weapon unless you are prepared to shoot and kill that target.” No wonder people feel the police are targeting them and are using unnecessary force and threats of use of force.

At night, instead of protecting businesses and property, the police rolled down streets of homes lobbing tear gas into the front yards of people.

And just when you think the police couldn’t do anything that was more ridiculously stupid, the Chief of Police just held a news conference in which he gave the name of the officer in the shooting (Darren Wilson,) and then gave a somewhat rambling and incoherent time line of a strong armed robbery and the times of dispatch calls and arrival of units on the scene of the shooting. He made no connection between the robbery and Brown. He did say that the family of the officer had been informed that they were releasing the name of the officer which gives the impression that they are more concerned with the officer’s safety rather than letting information out on what happened or where they were in the investigation. He never said that the police had talked to the family of Brown or any witnesses.

This has been a major screwup from the beginning. Yesterday the governor of Missouri said that he was more interested in putting “gas in the engine rather than gas on the fire.” It is a shame that the police chief in Ferguson and his department seem to be intent on not only dumping gas on this fire, but JP-4 fuel.

3 Carol Herman 08.15.14 at 1:48 pm

Do you know how big Michael Brown was? Do you know the police had been called because (Michael, as ID’d on the video), was inside a convenience market where he STOLE cigars! The clerk, a lilliputian of a guy, is tossed into a display rack.

Did you know the people who live in Ferguson knew all along how tough and uncontrollable Michael Brown was?

Rioting is turning into “performance art.” And, Missouri? Who knew they could out-do Watts!

Cops were the villians? In an insane world, perhaps.

4 streamfortyseven 08.15.14 at 7:11 pm

Sure, but the cop didn’t know about the strong-arm robbery, all he saw were two people walking down the middle of a street in a residential neighborhood. We’re not talking about an APB on a “fleeing felon”, we’re talking about a white cop who tells a black kid to “get the fuck out of the street.” And the black kid goes over to the cop, and the cop either grabs him and shoots him, or the kid reaches into the car, with his head and shoulders in the car window (try this if you don’t believe me) and tries to grab the officer’s gun. Instead, the officer pulls the gun and gets a good center-of-mass shot into the kid’s abdomen probably at point-blank range. The kid pulls out of the officer’s grasp and starts running – wounded animals do the same, it’s adrenalin and the “fight or flight” response, and the officer shoots him again, and again, and until he goes down, then two more shots to finish him off. That isn’t normal procedure, not that I’ve ever heard of, anyway. The usual thing is to call for backup, and then using the car for cover, cover the suspect with your weapon, instruct him to go down on his knees, facing away, then down on the road with his hands behind his back, so he can be cuffed. All this time, you’re covering him, and if he makes a move it’s an easy shot. The idea is to get him into court, it’s not to increase your KIA numbers. And then, with 9 bullets in him, the officer lets him bleed to death in the street, doesn’t bother to call EMS. Nope, that’s murder by cop. It’s amazing how libertarians defend this unjustifiable use of force on the part of government, it’s one reason I’m not a Libertarian…

5 Carol Herman 08.15.14 at 8:59 pm

It may not be true, but I read somewhere on Reddit that the convenience store where Michael Brown and his friend stole cigars was looted and set ablaze?

Now that the truth is out there (especially thanks to Drudge), I think most of the press has hightailed it out of there!

6 Walter Olson 08.15.14 at 9:12 pm

streamfortyseven>It’s amazing how libertarians defend this unjustifiable use of force on the part of government, it’s one reason I’m not a Libertarian…

Well, that wins the prize for bizarre comment of the week. Here, from the Washington Post, is a more sober assessment of the role of libertarians in the Ferguson controversy:

http://wapo.st/1nTPhj9

7 SmallGovernmentGuy 08.16.14 at 12:09 am

Carol-

The Ferguson police chief has reported that the officer didn’t know that Brown was a suspect in a robbery, so you will have to abandon that part of the narrative. I am certainly keeping an open mind until the whole story gets out, but I am still having a problem figuring out why the officer shot Brown so many times if he had foiled the attempt to take his weapon.

Still, this has nothing to do with the issues that gitacarver has eloquently outlined in his post.

8 gitarcarver 08.16.14 at 12:40 am

Carol,

Rioting is turning into “performance art.” And, Missouri? Who knew they could out-do Watts!

The Watts riots of 1965 resulted in 34 deaths, 1,032 injuries, 3,438 arrests, and over $40 million in property damage. The comparison of Ferguson to Watts can best be described as “uber-hyperbole.”

Do you know the police had been called because (Michael, as ID’d on the video), was inside a convenience market where he STOLE cigars!

I am unsure of your point here.

Officer Watson did not know of the theft at the convenience store, a little fact that was left out of the Chief of Police’s early Friday press conference.

Brown was not an angel and no one ever claimed he was. However, unless you are willing to say that Watson’s shooting of Brown was justified because of a $43 box of cigars (which Watson did not know about), you are still left with the idea that Brown was unarmed and according to witnesses, had his hands up and was not a threat being 25 – 30 feet away from Officer Watson.

And yes, the place from which the cigars were stolen was looted and burned. No one – and I mean no one – has defended the looting and destruction of property that occurred.

However, within Olson’s post and links is the fact that while the looting and the arson was taking place, the police were rolling down residential streets, lobbing tear gas onto private property and toward people that had not done anything. The police were also telling citizens and press they could not film the actions of the police – actions that took place out in the open. At the same time, the police were telling people they could not stay in a McDonalds to the point of arresting people even though the manager of the restaurant did not ask the police to clear the building or ask that people be charged with trespassing (which they were.)

Whether Officer Watson did anything wrong is still up for debate and will be decided by the legal system. However, what has happened is that across political and racial lines, the majority of people believe the police have not handled the actual shooting, the investigation, and the protestors well.

Olson nailed the fact that instead of being confrontational, the head of the MHP decided to work with people in the community instead of pointing guns at people expressing their opinions. The result was a quiet night on Thursday and what looks to be a quiet Friday night.

There is much to be learned from this incident. Hopefully communities and LEO’s will take the lessons and apply them.

9 William Nuesslein 08.16.14 at 8:58 am

I take gitarcarer’s figures of 34 deaths, 1,032 injur4ies and 3,438 arrests from the Watts riots of 1965, and I agree that the results from Ferguson are incommensurate. Could it be the military style in Fersuson clamped down on the explosive power of a riot? I think so.

In the comments herein is the “grocery boy error”. A young man who graduated from high school with my first wife around 1960 celebrated by driving his car at great speed along route 97 just north of New York City. The laws of physics had the boy leave the serpentine road and crash into a large rock. The boy was not perfect as shown in his propensity to speed, but speeding is not a capital offense. His death was tragic. Had police been nearby, the boy’s death would have been blamed on them.

In Ferguson, a son died at a tender age of 18. Steeling cigars is not a capital offense, and neither is walking in the street. Since police are not charged with punishment, the arguments are irrelevant as to culpability. Clearly the youth was walking in the street and the policeman was justified in asking the boy to go to the sidewalk. Why didn’t the boy just do as was asked of him? That is the problem. As to the ridiculous claim that the youth surrendered to the policeman by raising his hands, one would extend one’s hands to brake a fall to the pavement. If the boy surrendered, why didn’t he just go to the sidewalk in the first place?

10 Mannie 08.16.14 at 9:28 am

gitarcarver :

I am sorry, but the police have screwed this up from the beginning.

I agree, but that has little to no relationship to Wilson’s guilt or innocence.

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