by Richard J. Rosendall -
SGN Contributing Writer
When civil disorder followed the fatal shooting of unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown by Officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri on August 9, it was fueled by police aggression that exacerbated existing community mistrust.
Ferguson police, overwhelmingly white in a community two-thirds black, offered a case study in how not to handle lawful protests. While failing to release a proper incident report and initially withholding Wilson's name, they put out information to imply Brown deserved his fate. Never mind the double standard whereby (say) gun-waving white radicals like Cliven Bundy in Nevada are spared deadly force.
As police innovated daily escalations (infringing First Amendment freedoms, firing tear gas and rubber bullets at reporters and peaceful protesters), community leaders including Alderman Antonio French urged restraint, blocked looters, and transmitted events on social media. Capt. Ron Johnson of the state highway patrol showed maturity by replacing riot gear with respectful community engagement, though events (and some headstrong officers) outflanked him.
Live tweets and subsequent reports reveal belligerent officers with a history of abuse. While demonstrators chanted 'Hands up, don't shoot,' outsiders instigated violence that gave police an excuse to 'drop the hammer,' as SiriusXM radio host Mark Thompson put it. A Missouri GOP official called on-scene voter registration efforts 'disgusting.' So pointing guns at protesters is not a provocation, but registering voters is?
A campaign on GoFundMe.com raised nearly $250,000 for Officer Wilson. Donor comments included: 'I am so sick of the blacks using every excuse in the book to loot and riot,' and references to 'protecting normal Americans from aggressive and entitled primitive savages' and rejecting 'the failed experiment called diversity.'
Hatred aside, no criticism of lawlessness is sincere that excuses police brutality and overreaction. No criticism of entitlement is coherent that ignores white privilege. Diversity is no experiment but a social fact that cannot be dispelled with military equipment and bounty payments.
Despite crime being down, fear mongering inflates police budgets. A week after the unarmed, mentally ill Ezell Ford was killed by LAPD officers, their colleague Sunil Dutta, writing in The Washington Post, essentially blamed excessive force on victims' failure to grovel sufficiently. Staring at Dutta's words, I see the faces of Ford, Eric Garner, Oscar Grant, Sean Bell, Amadou Diallo, Patrick Dorismond, and many other unarmed black men who died before they could hire a lawyer.
In the 1990s, as president of the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance, I worked with the NAACP, ACLU, and others to establish independent review of police in the District of Columbia. Civilian oversight is essential to hold accountable those we entrust with badges and guns. Public safety is not served by routine use of methods and equipment designed to confront terrorists. And something is awry when police call a video 'exculpatory' that shows them emptying their clips on Kajieme Powell, a mentally ill man with a knife, as if deadly force were their only option.
Those who deny the role of racial bias are confronted not only by data (including a racial profiling report from the Missouri attorney general), but the indelible photo of a young man with braided hair, hands up, facing a phalanx of officers pointing high-powered guns.
On August 15, Mark Thompson got choked up on the air when a 7-year-old who was protesting with his father said he was there because Michael Brown had been shot. The sacrifices of the generation before ours were supposed to keep such ugliness from clouding our children's spirits.
More work lies ahead. Only by participating in the political process, building trust and cooperation with people unlike us, and using our smartphone cameras to expose official misconduct, can we make America, in Dr. King's words, be true to what we said on paper.
Richard J. Rosendall is a writer and activist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright © 2014 by Richard J. Rosendall. All rights reserved.
1. Mike Brown Eyewitness Crime Scene Video, August 9, 2014, http://youtu.be/VdL9dqkyjhM
2. 'Holder says he understands mistrust of police as Ferguson protests dwindle,' Foxnews.com, August 21, 2014, http://tinyurl.com/mrgwr86
3. 'Anatomy of Ferguson's Police Riot,' Purvi Shah, The Nation, August 21, 2014, http://tinyurl.com/lcnpttv
4. '5 things to know about Ferguson Police Department,' Paulina Firozi, USA Today, August 19, 2014, http://tinyurl.com/kvoghge
5. 'Everything That Went Wrong in Ferguson,' Josh Voorhees, Slate, August 21, 2014, http://tinyurl.com/lxpm4u4
6. 'ACLU: Ferguson police report on Michael Brown's death violates law,' Jason Sickles, Yahoo News, August 22, 2014, http://tinyurl.com/m4q3x2h
7. 'Ferguson Cops Busted? New Video Seems To Show Brown Paying For Cigarillos,' Crooks And Liars, August 18, 2014, http://tinyurl.com/m94oud4
8. 'Cliven Bundy vs. Ferguson's peaceful demonstrators: A tale of two protests,' Brad Friedman, Salon, August 18, 2014, http://tinyurl.com/k9sd78l
9. 'First Amendment,' Legal Information Institute, Cornell University Law School, http://www.law.cornell.edu/constitution/first_amendment
10. Tweet, Antonio French, August 16, 2014, https://twitter.com/AntonioFrench/statuses/500637106813689858
11. 'Ferguson Residents Gather to Stop Looters,' video, The Washington Post, August 16, 2014, http://tinyurl.com/pdok23j
12. 'In pictures: Ferguson protests calm as Highway Patrol Captain Ron Johnson takes over security,' Reuters, August 15, 2014, http://tinyurl.com/mackdtw
13. 'Officer in Ferguson Calls Ron Johnson Strategy 'Hug a Thug,' Says He Wants to Punch Eric Holder,' Ben Mathis-Lilley, Slate, August 21, 2014, http://tinyurl.com/p8h7t9b
14. 'Get the fuck out of here or you're getting shot with this,' video, Argus Radio livestream, August 17, 2014, http://youtu.be/6lOuMQ-apd0
15. 'Ferguson Police Officer Justin Cosma Hog-Tied And Injured A Young Child, Lawsuit Alleges,' Ryan J. Reilly and Ashley Alman, The Huffington Post, August 24, 2014, http://m.huffpost.com/us/entry/5705409
16. 'Hands up, don't shoot,' Lauren Williams, Vox, August 13, 2014, http://tinyurl.com/neamb6k
17. 'Highway Patrol: Outsiders are destroying Ferguson,' KMOV.com, August 17, 2014, http://tinyurl.com/q4xvvmo
18. 'Missouri GOP official: Ferguson voter registration efforts 'disgusting,' Alex Stuckey, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 19, 2014, http://tinyurl.com/p3oga9j
19. 'Crowdfunding Campaign for Officer Darren Wilson Has Raised Nearly $250K,' Matt Wilstein, Mediaite, August 22, 2014, http://tinyurl.com/plv475d
20. 'Thunderstruck?': Missouri Governor Helped Ferguson Get Surplus Military Equipment,' Melissa Quinn, The Daily Signal, August 18, 2014, http://tinyurl.com/pse83q2
21. 'Violent crime is lowest in more than 40 years, so how did we become the United States of SWAT? NY Times explains,' Mark J. Perry, American Enterprise Institute, August 16, 2014, http://tinyurl.com/oncqlez
22. 'Ezell Ford Family Attorney Calls LAPD Shooting 'An Execution,' Matt Ferner, The Huffington Post, August 20, 2014, http://tinyurl.com/qfc2uyk
23. 'I'm a cop. If you don't want to get hurt, don't challenge me.' Sunil Dutta, The Washington Post, August 19, 2014, http://tinyurl.com/nde93eu
24. 'NYPD Kills Man For Selling Untaxed Cigarettes,' video, The Young Turks, July 18, 2014, http://youtu.be/s3ZOu__nVHg
25. BART police shoot Oscar Grant, video, January 1, 2009, Los Angeles Times, http://youtu.be/Q2LDw5l_yMI
26. 'New York on edge as police kill unarmed man in hail of 50 bullets on his wedding day,' Julian Borger, The Guardian, November 26, 2006, http://tinyurl.com/kt56xtj
27. 'Officers in Bronx Fire 41 Shots, And an Unarmed Man Is Killed,' Michael Cooper, The New York Times, February 5, 1999, http://tinyurl.com/lb32avs
28. 'The Patrick Dorismond Case,' Editorial, The New York Times, March 21, 2000, http://tinyurl.com/pg2z86v
29. 'Beyond Trayvon: Black and Unarmed,' Jenée Desmond-Harris, The Root, June 8, 2013, http://tinyurl.com/oqrdeoa
30. Testimony on Citizen Complaint Review Board, Rick Rosendall, Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance, February 24, 1998, http://glaa.org/archive/1998/ccrb0224.shtml
31. 'Did the St. Louis police have to shoot Kajieme Powell?' Ezra Klein, Vox, August 20, 2014, http://tinyurl.com/q2myeds
32. 'Ruth Bader Ginsburg Skewers High Court For Forsaking Fight Against 'Real Racial Problem,' Shadee Ashtari, The Huffington Post, August 22, 2014, http://tinyurl.com/ktno532
33. 'Turmoil in Ferguson, Mo.: What you need to know,' Lauren Rabb, Los Angeles Times, August 21, 2014, http://tinyurl.com/nnw69gt
34. 'Racial Disparity in Police Contacts,' Robert D. Crutchfield et al., Race and Justice, July 2012, vol. 2 no. 3 pp. 179-202, http://tinyurl.com/nfnrjhe
35. 'Missouri Vehicle Stops Report,' Years 2000-2013, Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster, http://ago.mo.gov/VehicleStops/Reports.php?lea=161
36. News photo of man facing police, Whitney Curtis, The New York Times, August 12, 2014, http://tinyurl.com/msr9yyz
37. 'Bullets and Ballots,' Jelani Cobb, The New Yorker, September 1, 2014, http://tinyurl.com/okd87zg
38. 'Cop Watch,' Reeves Wiedeman, The New Yorker, September 1, 2014, http://tinyurl.com/mtrd5dt
39. 'The Mountaintop,' video excerpt, Martin Luther King, Jr., April 3, 1968, http://youtu.be/_l7cKzld5oo
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