Thursday, August 21, 2014

I Love The Ferguson Police. Maybe.

Are the police in Ferguson overdressed here?
Photo by Jeff Roberson, Associated Press.  
Yep, that's right, I think the police out there in trouble Ferguson are  totally boffo. They've done us all an enormous favor.  

Or, they, and other police officials down there, are rapidly pushing this nation toward a crisis, I'm not sure yet.

No, I don't like that police in Ferguson shot an unarmed black teenager. No, I don't like that they played dress up, pretended to be soldiers with ridiculous amount of gear, and military trucks and gear.  I don't appreciate them arresting journalists who are trying to tell us what's going on.

I don't like that the police are trampling First Amendment rights. Or telling people "I will fucking kill you" for the high crime of walking down the street.  Or telling a CNN producer to get out because those "niggers" might do anything. 

The reason I love the job police in Ferguson are doing is because they've finally got us talking about whether arming local police to the teeth with hard core battle weapons is a good idea. They've got us talking about how our rights to peaceable assembly and speech are threatened by goons who say they are trying to keep the peace.

Police in Ferguson have us talking about race, crime, rights, poverty, freedom. I have no idea if all the talking we're doing because of Ferguson will improve things, but it's better than silence.

Look, I get it. Ferguson is complicated. There are a few criminals, looters, violent offenders, and jerks amid the hundreds, or thousands of peaceful protestors that have been out every night in Ferguson.

You've got to control the creeps, arrest them, put them away, but at what price? Isn't there a better way than to also treat everybody who lives in and near Ferguson like they are terrorists?


They brought the dogs out in Ferguson. Photo
by David Carson, St. Louis Post Dispatch  
We can start by police nationwide, who are taking advantage of federal giveaways to receive enought high tech arms to make Vladimir Putin blush.

Do we really want local cops to constantly act like third rate actors making some sort of lowbrow military Rambo movie? Yeah, in extreme events, some of this stuff might come in handy. But once in a blue moon. Do we really need entire invading armies to execute basic search warrants?

The juxtaposition of peaceful protests and police so pimped up in military gear it looks like they're in a knock down, drag out battle in Baghdad is disturbing to say the least.

The Economist has a good summary of how Congress, awash in military hardware campaign cash, perpetuate this extreme militarization of what used to be the nice police on foot patrol in your neighborhood.  

"In this as with so much else in American governance, it starts with federal cash. Every year Congress passes the National Defense Authorization Act, which sets out the Defense Department's budget and expenditures. The version passed in 1990, in the wake of the sharp rise in drug related violence, allowed the Defense Department to transfer military gear and weapons to local police departments if the were deemed "suitable for counter-drug activities. 

"....The American Civil Liberties Union found that the value of military equipment used by American police departments has risen from $1 million in 1990 to $450 million in 2013."

Apparently, defense contractors weren't making enough money off of wars overseas. The bottom line would get even better if they encouraged police to declare war on us. The shareholders must be so excited. 

 U.S. News and World Report has a pretty good take on this point: 

"Have no doubt, police in the United States are militarizing, and in many communities, particularly those of color, the message is being received loud and clear: 'You are the enemy, ' writes Tom Nolan, a 27-year veteran of the Boston Police Department and professor at SUNY Plattsburgh, in an op-ed that appeared in DefenseOne in June, more than a month before the Ferguson riots.

Is that what police in this country really want? That we are their enemy? That is truly scary. 


I also love the police efforts to detain and shut up journalists covering the unrest. Yeah, like THAT'S going to work.

Lord knows some journalists are jerks, too, bloviating about nonsense and puffing up their over inflated talking head egos even more. But the truth is, most journalists, imperfect as they are,  just want to tell us what's going on. They want to make us understand the deal. And the have the First Amendment right to do so.

Apparently, the cops in Ferguson think the First Amendment is bullshit, and reporters should just shut up and regurgitate their happy little press releases.  I hope the national conversation about this crisis eventually convinces them otherwise. But I'm not totally optimistic on that one.

At least Ferguson has gotten so much attention, and drawn so many journalists, that police in Ferguson have ended up playing whack-a-mole. They detain three or so journalist to shut them up, and 30 journalists come in to yak and yell about journalists being detained.

I guess police in Ferguson police haven't figured out how to control the entire media like China has, which is a good thing.

And by the way, you Second Amendment enthusiasts. Where were you when they were trampling the First Amendment? I bet you'd be howling in the streets if the police trashed the Second Amendment as badly as the First. Aren't all the Constitutional Amendments important?

Who knows if the reaction to Ferguson will improve things in this country? At least we can count on minor victories.

The cop that told peaceful citizens and journalists to leave or "I will fucking kill you" has been reassigned away from Ferguson. (When asked for his name the "I KEEL YOU" cop said "Go Fuck Yourself" so I guess that's his unusual name)

I don't know how the rest of the Ferguson story will play out. I don't know if police will back away from arming themselves to the teeth.  I wonder if anyone will be held accountable for trashing Constitutional rights.

But something better change, dammit.


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