Why Ferguson Fails

The media has been on the idea that Ferguson, Mo. is a “war zone.”

Most of the commentary has been on the theme that the police presence there is exemplary of how policing has changed in America. In the past, policing involved patrolling, i.e. knowing the neighborhood and interacting with residents. In the last decade, policing has become increasingly militarized, not only in terms of equipment but more importantly, in terms of attitude.

Police now often have the view that force can manage chaos … force can restore calm. In Ferguson, the premise has been proven wrong. The use of military force in the form of machine guns, armored personnel carriers, and use of chemical agents to harm people has proven to escalate the violence. 

Missouri Governor Nixon said today that he was worried because the police were “stressed.” How about the people they were firing on? How about the people confronted by police pointing machine guns and seeing armored vehicles parked in front of them? Or knowing that police snipers were positioned on their rooftops? Are they stressed? The comments of the governor reveal a bias that is pervasive in the law enforcement community. 

It strikes me that the idea that the use of overwhelming force can calm tensions has been proven so wrong in history that what is happening now is so predictable. Overwhelming force was used against Gandhi in India, and protesters in Selma, Ala. years ago. It didn’t work. Overwhelming force was used in Iraq. It obviously didn’t work.

The only remedy for violence caused by injustice is justice. The only cure for the disease of violence is certainly not overwhelming violence.

What if the protest march in Ferguson last night was led by state police protecting protestors? Do you think the violence would have been worse? This is a time when I think we miss the presence and wisdom of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.   

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