Ferguson, Missouri explodes in protests and demonstrations after teen shooting
The events in Ferguson Missouri have dominated the headlines lately and rightly so. Much violence has transpired there in reaction to the shooting of an unarmed Black teenager Michael Brown by an on duty White police officer by the name of Darren Wilson. The protests at first peaceful, have since turned violent and destructive with much looting and vandalism, and acts of aggression against the Ferguson police force. Of late the National Guard was called in by Governor Nixon of Missouri. However they seem to be on the sidelines for now while the police take the brunt of the assaults.
What really caused these protests?
To begin we have to ask what is the real reason for these protests? Is it only what we see? That a young man was shot by a police officer, or is there more to it than that? Are there other reasons besides the shooting why all this community anger has swelled to the surface?
It is without doubt that one such reason are the lingering effects of the Trayvon Martin case which has contributed to the latent anger felt by many Black Americans. In that case the majority felt that no justice was done. In their view Zimmerman was a stalker who followed an unarmed teenager and shot him to death only to receive no punishment for his actions because of a weak and flawed justice system. This has no doubt caused a distrust among many in as far as the colorblindness of the justice system in the United States. This anger to be sure is part of the reason for the anger in Ferguson. That case was viewed as a complete failure of the justice system by the majority of Black Americans and the feelings generated by that case are still festering and are now probably one major factor behind the anger seen in Ferguson.
A recent choking death that took place in New York City where a young Black man died during an arrest might also be a cause. The perception that the young man in New York was killed by a white police officer unjustly would be enough of a reason to anger many. Though that was a case that was not as simple as it sounds at first. The young man had some other complicating factors and probably died as a consequence of underlying health issues combining with the choking hold by which he was subdued. Still in the eyes of many it was little more than police brutality and this too caused much anger and frustration.
There is also a contributing factor which is that the economy is not good, especially to young black men who feel that they are being left out of whatever prosperity there is. To be sure this too is a major contributor of anger seen in these protests. And to a degree we can understand the anger and frustration and though perhaps latent and unspoken, is still there and very much a part of what we are seeing on the streets of Ferguson. Too many black teens are seen by a majority of Black Americans as being victimized by white Americans, and the system as is, and this impression has created an explosive atmosphere, where any seeming provocation will elicit an angry reaction.
The stated reason for most of these protests in Ferguson is that the police have not been understanding enough in the past and have too often harassed innocent people, and now this practice has led to the shooting death of a young, presumably innocent Black man, Michael Brown by a White police officer. Although here too we can understand the anger felt as anyone who has been scrutinized by authority while being completely innocent can understand, in the society we have all created it has become a fact of life that we will be scrutinized by the authorities at one time or other. This happens to all of us when we board an airplane or enter a public building, or even a sports stadium, as we are all subject to frisking and pat downs even though the vast majority of us are innocent of any crime suspected. Yet, this is the society we have created in general and this is the society created in Ferguson that is causing the police to stop so many innocent people. If a problem exists here, it probably exists in the society itself and not in anything the police are doing. They for the most part are simply carrying out instructions given to them by the governing authorities and nothing else. In the end all police chiefs and executives must answer to the office of the governor and mayor and these are the people usually instructing them on what procedures are to be pursued and what procedures should not be pursued. For example in New York many people complain about the “Stop and Frisk” procedure taken by New York City cops, but this policy is not really the choice of the police, but of the Mayor. He is the authority that has commanded this policy be implemented. The police usually just do what they are told and so making them the target of community anger is most often not justified.
In the end we have to ask what good is being done for Ferguson with these protests and violence. Are these protests going to do anything good for Ferguson or communities like Ferguson? Will something positive come out of this? What is the price for that?
The truth is that attacking the police, or making the police the target of anger is never a good idea and is almost always counter-productive. All communities need the police force and the police force usually just does its job. They do nothing more and nothing less. What they do is not comfortable or pleasant. But it is necessary. Without them we can’t have a stable society.
What if the cop is guilty as charged?
Now even if this one cop, Darren Wilson did abuse his authority, we really don’t know as yet since no examinations have been completed, but even if this were true and he was not merely protecting himself, as he claimed, then what we would have is one bad cop, or rather a cop that did the wrong thing on one particular day for whatever reason. This does not give us the justification to go after all the police force or to make them as a whole the target of our anger. You can’t simply judge the entire force by the actions of one cop. The vast majority of cops are doing their jobs, and they are terribly difficult jobs to say the least. These men and women are charged with bringing in the most dangerous people in our society. They cannot really afford to be nice about it. The police too are human beings, and the police too have lives and loved ones to go home to. They can only risk so much and all communities should understand that. The police too are people, with all the strengths, and weaknesses of people.
The reality is that what seems to have come apart in Ferguson is probably policy, and general rapport between the community and the police force assigned to protect that community. Lets understand though, where there is much crime, things are going to be difficult on everyone, including the police, including the general population. If you live in a high crime area, be prepared to have the police examine you on occasion, even if you did nothing wrong. It is their duty to make certain that the law is in effect at all times and that the streets are safe. It’s their job. They have absolutely no choice in the matter. That’s what they get paid for. Sometimes things will become rough and tempers and attitudes may go sour between community and police, especially in high crime areas. But this is why the public should engage the political establishment to make whatever legislative and procedural adjustments are needed to make the police force as friendly as possible. Again there are going to be limits as to how friendly the police can afford to be in very high crime areas, and the community should understand that.
Police are not perfect
There will even be incidents where the police will fail to do their jobs as needed. This too is going to happen sometimes. Police officers are human, they make mistakes, they have bad days and good days. They have flaws, human flaws, and they will make mistakes, some of these tragic. The more stressed they are, the more likely it is they will make mistakes, the more likely one cop will go bad. The more difficult it is to police an area the greater the chance that a police officer will make a mistake, or that the system as a whole will sometimes become unstable and inefficient. As this happens, the greater the chance for someone getting hurt. Sometimes even fatally hurt. These are just natural consequences of what would be difficult situations. This is no one’s fault in particular-but a matter of chance. After many trials, one will go wrong, one might go bad. The police are not perfect people, they are all too human, with human flaws embedded in them, like everyone else.
But this is why the community should try to make the police’s jobs as easy and as efficient as possible. This is why you have to cooperate with the police. You absolutely do not want to stress a cop out because if you do, he may make a mistake, and that mistake can cost someone a life. Again, this is not anyone’s fault in general, but usually just the stress of the job and the difficulty of the requirements of that job. People have to understand that. The police too are human and subject to human imperfections.
In the end these cops are trying to protect lives and property of honest people. Their adversaries are usually criminals intent on the exact opposite. Communities must have an understanding of what their police force is there for. It is very rarely the police that are the real problem. If there is a general problem it is usually with policies and politics, and practices and not with the police personnel. The police do what they are told to do, and that’s as much as they can do, or will do for their own safety. They should never be the object of protests in most cases, even if on occasion one of these cops should get it wrong, or even go bad. You cannot condemn all the cops for what one cop might have done in error. You cannot blame all cops for the one that did the wrong thing.
Community must examine itself
There is also the problem of society itself. Is the community actively trying to weed out crime? If a community expects the police alone to weed out crime, it will never happen. Much crime is the result of attitudes, practices and policies of the public itself. This applies to all ethnicities, white or black, or anything else. If the attitude towards crime is that some crime is ok, usually that will result in much more crime than a community bargained for. The community’s attitude toward crime should be strict and intolerant. Otherwise a little crime is sure to become a lot in due time. If for example a community sees marijuana use as non-criminal, well then take the time to pass the laws needed, or the policies that the police can follow as prescribed by law. Don’t simply expect that the police are going to be judges on the street. They can’t afford that. Their jobs are hard enough as is. They have to enforce the laws, not judge them. Any problems should always be addressed at the highest possible levels, and that’s usually to the political leaders of the community. Only when that has clearly failed should people get into the streets and protest, but even then it should be directed to the political leaders, not the cops! The cops are only doing what they are told to do and its usually better not to antagonize them because anything that hinders their performance is going to be detrimental to the community in the long run. This is just reality, not opinion.
Economics is also a powerful contributor to instability and anger
Finally much has to do with the economy of a region. Quite often crime will take root in places where there is no opportunity for economic growth. The only way to combat this is by taking steps to create opportunities within the community. It should not just be expected that outside forces are going to come in and rescue a town or city. This is not usually going to happen. The town itself has to get together and see what kind of opportunities can be created for the youth and families of that town. Good organization on a grass roots level is absolutely necessary. In many towns, cities and neighborhoods selling drugs become a means of making real money because nothing else is available, yet the sad truth is that these same people selling drugs could just as easily sell shoes or dresses, or radios, or any one of hundreds of other goods, commodities or services if they were made aware of these. The community could make it easier for the young to become self employed and thus achieve some of that wealth they desire without resorting to dangerous, criminal activity. The community too can create the opportunity for education and employment, both private and public. Taking care of the young is a duty and a necessity if a community wants to be successful in the long run. The greater the focus is on success the less the chance that crime will prevail and the less the chance that young lives will be ruined by it. The community must take action to create opportunity and when and if it does, sooner or later outside forces will also come in and redouble the effect and thus make a town prosperous. Prosperity will almost always be the difference between a peaceful, happy town and a troubled town.
Protests were understandable, but violence and looting was self defeating
In the final analysis we can only say that these protests are to a degree understandable. We can understand some of the anger, especially after perceptions in the Trayvon Martin case, and the recent case in New York where it appears that a young Black man was choked to death during a routine arrest. And the Michael Brown shooting itself. All these viewed as unjust. But this anger is misdirected. Even if the police officer was guilty of shooting Brown unprovoked in Ferguson, something which is not likely since every cop knows that if he fires that gun he will have to explain that act for the rest of his life, but even if he did fire that gun unjustly, and even if he was wrong to do so, this is one cop we are talking about, on one particular day, and not the entire police force of Ferguson. If the anger must be directed somewhere it should be directed at those who ordered the police to do as they do. If there was a general problem with policy it is usually a problem with the political situation and the laws and not with the police themselves. Again the community should always address such problems at the top long before they lead to disaster. By making the police a target of general anger in the way we see today in Ferguson it only weakens the community as any genuine rapport between the police and the community will probably be lost and take a very long time to recover. A rapport between the police and a community is always necessary for successful communities. On the other hand, any real long lasting policy solutions will always start with the laws at the top and how these laws are written and how to be implemented on the street level, and almost never with the enforcers who are merely following orders given to them from higher up. And if one particular cop or group of cops does do wrong on occasion, then he, or they alone must answer for that, not the entire force. Just as none of us should have to answer for the evil done by another person that we have nothing to do with.
As for the looting and shooting and violence, all this was of no value. It was only self destructive in the end; most observers will not be sympathetic to such actions and usually will just make a bad situation worse.
Hopefully something good can come out of this tragedy in due time. Perhaps the community will be strengthened and a genuine rapport between the police and citizens can begin to grow into a productive, healthy community. But it will take time, and patience. If this were done, and if all matters of justice are settled honestly and openly, then Michael Brown’s death will at least not be for nothing as some greater good will come of it.