Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Ferguson for My Family

On August 9th, in a Missouri town of about 21,000, a police officer stopped 18 year-old Michael Brown and his friend. It was one of 5,400 stops the Ferguson Police Department conducts every year, but at the end of it the unarmed Michael Brown was dead, shot several times by Officer Darren Brown.

Accounts vary. According to the Ferguson Police Chief, Brown lunged for the officer's gun and was shot in the ensuing struggle. Dorian Johnson, Michael Brown's friend and the only surviving witness says that the officer attempted to choke the victim and proceeded to shoot him when Brown pulled away.

Locals were upset after Brown's body was left in the street for four and a half hours. No ambulance was called. Detectives weren't even called to the scene for over an hour. That night, police armored up, assuming the worst from passionate, public protests. The next morning it became obvious that the meager trust between the police and the community was thinning. 

The night of the tenth saw looting and stores being burnt down. On Tuesday, the police walked back their commitment to publicly identifying the officer involved and video was released showing another officer calling the previous night's protestors "fucking animals."

Wednesday saw continued vigils and daytime protests. Police kept most media out of the down, threatened those recording their activities, and arrested two reporters. That evening saw a full explosion of tensions as protestors gathered and police used tear gas, rubber bullets, LRAD sonic weapons, and a whole host of less-lethal weapons to disperse them.

On Thursday, amidst a middle of the road speech by a president desperate not to get any of it on him, the governor of Missouri stepped in to put Missouri State Troopers in charge of security in the town.

The first night after state troopers were put in charge of security, things were promising. The intensity of both policing and the protests have steadily slackened. Michael Brown was buried on the 25th.

The shooting of Michael Brown has a lot more moving parts than this. That up there that I just wrote is 360 or so words and it doesn't cover the bones. It doesn't even saran wrap the marrow. However, for a reader who may not have been keeping up with the story, it gets the broad strokes across.

The shooting of Michael Brown by Darren Wilson is a race issue. As most of you know, I'm a white dude that lives in she south. I identify as a Southerner. My family is from the south. This is directed to my family.

You know, the part that used to be American Nazis but certainly isn't anymore.
Flag image Mississippi's current state flag from Wikipedia

I know you've heard about Ferguson. You may not know the name of Michael Brown or Darren Wilson.  You've probably heard that Michael Brown was suspected of stealing cigars. You've probably heard that he was disrespectful towards officer Wilson. You've probably heard that he physically charged Wilson.

The belief that Michael Brown was a bad person and deserved to die is one I don't believe, but I won't try to divest you of. Instead, I want to make the point that Ferguson is a chilling example of the exercise of government power.

I've been raised my whole life to believe that the Second Amendment is there so that ordinary citizens can fight against a powerful government which cannot be yoked by any other means. My upbringing was a bit paranoid, but I've read enough history to know that people, organizations, and governments only really respect force. 

Y'know, as they do.

That's why you guys have guns. That's why you're members of the NRA. That's why you vote Republican. You think a distant government would be willing to take your guns away because public unrest always has an underlying violence to it that reigns in their most ambitious, ideological plans.

But guys, whether or not Michael Brown's killing was justified isn't an issue for you; the community felt it necessary to yoke in their government and got denied. The police of Ferguson and St. Louis County rolled out the cavalry and body armor because the alternative was making a measurable, clear, contrite action of submission to the people they ostensibly serve. 

That's it. 

All they had to do was say "Hey, maybe this guy messed up. Maybe we failed in his training. Maybe we failed in policing ourselves. Maybe we should look into this." Instead, they suited up in riot gear, instituted a curfew, and rolled military gear through the streets of an American suburb to get the outraged people to shut up.

The goal of government--whether it's the bureaucracy, police, or the military--is not to defend its own, but to serve and be transparent for those they serve. Telling reporters to fuck themselves while pointing guns at them, calling the people they're sworn to protect animals, and arresting reporters for recording them are actions which exhibit a pattern of behavior which is not interesting in respecting the rule of law, holding its own to a standard, or wisely representing their office.

When the law is upheld and executed by individuals more interested in protecting themselves and one another than being accountable to the public, that's a bad thing. When police don't even have the presence of mind to consider the ramifications of aiming weapons at and cursing at reporters, that's a bad thing. When our freedoms rely on the ability of normal people to work together and rein in institutional excess and opacity, but we find a reason to justify that institution, then there are no amount of guns in the world that will help you when it comes your turn to pull in the reins.

Okay, the guys filming it do sound like a pair of putzes, but to their defense they are putzes and it's not a crime.
But hey, it could be. Write your senator to outlaw putzes today!

Finding a few violent outliers to justify a violent crackdown isn't that hard. Regimes in Egypt and Syria both added those violent outliers to crowds to support their regimes during Arab Spring. According to protestors, that's exactly what the police in Ferguson did; inciting others to violence to justify a full on police assault. Police in Ferguson claimed to have heard gunshots and been shot at, but none of them were shot. Again, it doesn't matter if you believe that it happened in Ferguson; it only matters that you believe it could be done against you as a reason to take your guns away.

If you do think that a day will come when the government takes away your guns, but don't think it'll look like the scene we saw in Ferguson, I love you, but you're an idiot.

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