From Mississippi Burning to Missouri Burning
Author’s note: This story is breaking from minute to minute. What I started out to write is turning into something completely different. I apologize if this seems somewhat rambling.
It was just four short months ago that Americans had the distinct privilege of witnessing the showdown in Nevada between the Bureau of Land Management and Cliven Bundy. After more than two decades of the Feds having Bundy thumb his nose at the Government, they moved in to do what they had long promised: Seize his cattle and move him off lands to which he had no legal right. Bundy’s response was pretty swift as America watched him host AmmosexualFest 2014, the highlight of which was where armed militia groups perched in strategic positions to aim long guns with live rounds at Federal officials. For that behavior, Bundy got his cattle back, the Feds left and Bundy is permitted to continue thumbing his nose at the Federal Government to continue waxing poetic on ‘What He Knows About the Negro.”
Fast forward to last Saturday, August 9th in Ferguson, MO. While there are wildly conflicting stories between police and multiple witnesses, the one uncontested fact remains that an unarmed 18-year old man/boy was killed by a white cop for the crime of… jaywalking. Beyond that one uncontested fact, the deeply divided sides cannot seem to agree on much of anything else.
I bring up the Cliven Bundy incident to highlight the difference in how law enforcement reacts to crimes from people of different colors.
After 6 days of civil unrest, the Ferguson Police Department finally released the name of the officer involved in the shooting. They have assured everyone that this six-year veteran of the force has an impeccable service record. I will accept that at face value until given a reason to believe otherwise. But… and this is a big but… it turns out the Ferguson Police Department doesn’t keep records of non-fatality physical confrontations in the personnel records of their officers. That turns out to be a very big deal when you look at a 2009 incident involving the severe beating of a man arrested due to mistaken identity. And it turns out to be an even bigger deal when what was supposed to be a short presser on identifying the officer turned into a very long presser accusing the deceased Michael Brown of robbing a convenience store right before the shooting. I’m to believe the officer involved in the shooting had a spotless record while a kid with a spotless criminal record decided to rob a convenience store just 2 days before he was to start college? It begs some obvious questions.
If the young man who was with Brown at the time of the shooting has been positively identified by police as having been with Brown at the time of the alleged robbery, why hasn’t he been charged as an accessory? Where are the cigars he allegedly stole from the shop just moments earlier? Moreover, the one word I didn’t hear during the press conference in reference to this crime was ‘alleged’. To wit: Michael Brown may not have been armed during his confrontation with the cop, but rest assured he was guilty of something. No need to worry about that whole ‘due process’ thing. No need to worry about the whole ‘innocent until proven guilty thing’. Michael Brown has been convicted of a crime in the course of one short hour. No need for those pesky courts or lawyers or judges or juries. Seems the Ferguson PD has taken care of that for us. Courts and lawyers and judges are juries are reserved for white cops who shoot unarmed black teens with their arms raised in surrender. The police have carefully tainted any trial that may or may not be forthcoming. And then the world wonders why the community is outraged.
Friday afternoon, the Ferguson Police Chief held yet another
press conference where he was asked about the timing of the release of the convenience store video. His answer? He couldn’t withhold it for another minute because he was getting too many Freedom of Information Act requests for him to withhold it. Interestingly, no journalist has admitted to even knowing about it, much less requesting it. Of course, the media and the ACLU asked for the name of the shooting officer for 6 days and were essentially told to shove it. When pressed if the officer who shot Michael Brown knew he was associated with the incident at the convenience store, he admitted that the officer did not. In essence, the Ferguson Police Chief admitted that he only released the video to sully the reputation of the dead teen. And the world wonders why the community is outraged. I’m sorry, but the Ferguson police chief has no business in front of a microphone.
I’m disappointed in the looting. I’m disappointed in burning down businesses. So are most of the residents of Ferguson who had absolutely nothing to do with it. You wouldn’t think these acts were perpetrated by a few people by looking at the cesspool of social media. According to some pretty unabashed racists, every person in Ferguson is celebrating the death of Brown with new big screen TVs and shoes from the looted stores. Way to paint everyone in Ferguson with one broad racist brush. They’re all alike and they all do it. No, ‘they’ don’t. And then the world wonders why the community is outraged.
It was on the 4th day of protests that the authorities decided it would be a fantastic idea to tell the community they couldn’t be out after dark and to put an exclamation point on that ‘request’, they broke out the MRAP armored vehicles, an overwhelming number of police in full armor and riot gear, the training of loaded automatic weapons pointed at peaceful protestors and a time frame. They wanted these people off the streets by dark. 9 p.m. How do I know this? I have an app called Em. RadioFree that permits me to monitor police frequencies. I heard them with my own ears. They were waiting for someone to sneeze to clear the streets. At just a few moments to 9 pm local time, all hell broke loose in Ferguson. Even protestors admit that someone threw a plastic water bottle at an armored vehicle and they heard it go ‘ping’. Turns out one of those little plastic Nestle water bottles hitting the side of that armored vehicle was just too much for those ‘restrained’ cops to take. I can’t imagine the months of therapy they’ll need to recover from such an act of aggression. What followed was hours of teargassing, flash bombs and rubber bullets against unarmed citizens. Four journalists, a city councilman and others were arrested. The police chief claims citizens threw glass bottles and rocks and firebombs at police. Thousands of cameras there and all we saw were police lobbing teargas canisters, flash bombs and rubber bullets. We have video of them lobbing a teargas canister at an Al Jazeera America crew and once they ran, video of police taking down their lights because they were supposedly impeding the officers’ ability to see, but doesn’t explain why they also laid the camera down to record nothing but the sidewalk. Journalists were arrested while sitting in a local McDonalds filing stories.
On Thursday, August 14th at 3:13 pm. Missouri Governor Jay Nixon held a presser after cancelling his important appearance *it is unknown at this time who was the replacement judge for the bread and butter pickles* at the Missouri State Fair. Five days after the initial shooting and a night of completely unnecessary violence, we saw Governor Nixon’s profiles in greatly delayed courage. After stating he’d been briefed by law enforcement, faith leaders, local leaders and members of the neighborhood, he wagged a finger at citizens for the looting and violence and thanked law enforcement who had pointed live weapons at civilians – and then he asked for a kumbaya moment of holding hands and coming together. When confronted by journalists about the militarized overkill response to peaceful protestors the night before, he again admonished all citizens for the acts of the few looters and those who perpetrated violence. We were told to forget the transgressions of the police tactics and just ‘look forward’. Mmmmkay, Gov. I may not be the brightest bulb on the board but the double standard for people who get paid to serve and protect was pretty obvious and the irony scorching. Thank you, Governor Scarlett O’Hara.
So what did the Governor do right? For starters,
he put a black officer, Captain Ron Johnson of the Missouri Highway Patrol in charge of public safety. Thus far, community relations between police and protestors have been like night and day. Capt. Johnson led a peace march down a major thoroughfare last night. Citizens were lining up to thank him, many to hug him. The community finally feels as though they’re being heard. There was no violence Thursday night and no arrests. Turns out when no one comes dressed for a violent confrontation, you don’t get one. Captain Ron Johnson has proven himself to be an effective leader. Turns out when you put someone in charge who looks more like the community it leads people to believe their voices will be heard.
So it’s Friday and now the world has been told that Michael Brown is guilty of committing a Class B felony. We have the name of the cop who killed Michael Brown. We know the officer and his family got a several day head start to go into hiding. We still don’t know how many times Michael Brown was shot or where those shots hit his body. And this ginormous clusterfuck of an incident is a microcosm of race relations in America and a microcosm of police relations in America. And the world wonders why the community is outraged.
I have been accused of being a cop hater. Nothing is further from the truth. I have been the beneficiary of some good and decent men and women in uniform. I have seen some of the most selfless acts of service on the part of law enforcement. There are a lot of conscientious officers serving and protecting the citizens. There just are.
One only need look to Captain Ron Johnson of the Missouri Highway Patrol as a lesson in that fact. One need only look at my friend Lynda’s husband who was murdered in the line of duty – leaving her a widow and her children fatherless. One need only look at the husband of one of my dearest friends in the world – a retired police officer who actually served the City of Ferguson for years. She’s been painfully quiet with me for the last week. I know my views hurt her. I know she thinks I’m issuing an indictment against all police officers. I’m not. I’m just not. The fact that I can’t let this go hurts her, and that hurts me.
But if anyone reading this believes they could never be at the receiving end of police abuse, I can share a personal anecdotal experience:
Several years ago, I had a confrontation of my own with the county police. Over a minor traffic incident and before it was over, I found myself lying face down in a ditch on a country road surrounded by five police cruisers with three loaded service revolvers pointed at my head. Given that, at the time, my office was across the street from the County Sheriff’s office, I find it hard to believe that none of them could recognize me. Before all was said and done, I was released without a citation. Later that morning, I had a chat with the Sheriff. The reason that I was given for the stop and the reason he was given for the stop did not jive. They denied holding me on the ground at gunpoint. It went from the ridiculous to the more ridiculous. Before all was said and done, the Sheriff came back over to my office to apologize in person for the action of his officers. Because of my job, I let it go. In my heart, I have never let it go. The lesson here is that it doesn’t matter if you’re a man or a woman, black or white, young or old – your chances of such an interaction with the police is not limited to any of those factors – they merely increase exponentially if you’re a black man. Your chances of surviving such an interaction with police decrease exponentially if you’re a black man. National statistics bear that out.
So, pay attention, white America. It could happen to you.
That was the day a middle-aged, gray-haired white woman learned to be afraid of the police.
I can’t imagine the fear in the last few moments of Michael Brown’s life. I only know that in the eyes of many, he has been labeled a violent felon and will never be given the benefit of the doubt. My heart is with his family. My heart is with the community of Ferguson, Missouri. My heart is with the police officers watching over that community who are truly there to protect and to serve. In order for us to heal, we must have an honest conversation about the disparity in how we police our citizens based on the color of our skin. We must have an honest conversation in the necessity of a militarized police force.
This is a long way from over and I’ll be covering the story as it evolves.