The juxtaposition of the pictures couldn’t be more stark. Out in Ferguson, Missouri, in the wake of an unarmed teen being shot dead by a cop, we see a militarized police force racing in to use all their toys of crowd control: Tear gas, rubber bullets, armored personnel carriers and, of course, the military-style uniforms with riot armor. Everything about it screams, “Stay the hell away from us.”
And the other picture is one I noted on the Gothamist a couple weeks back: A cop on a bike. The article is ostensibly about being caught riding on the sidewalk, but that isn’t what captured my eye. No, I looked and saw an extremely approachable human.
Which cop do you want on your street? The one that says stay away, or the one that waves hello?
Which cop is more likely to be a calming effective?
Which cop is more likely to antagonize and make a situation worse?
Which one is more likely to infringe on the rights of others?
Which one will cost the taxpayers more money, both in hardware and lawsuits?
Which cop is the one that people would most likely to approach with important information?
Do we pay the cops to protect us, or protect themselves?
And now, the local cops are gone from Ferguson and the highway patrol cops have come in. And what did they do? They walked around in regular cop uniforms without all the toys and chatted with the protestors and worked to calm things down. Some protestors got hugs.
The Ferguson cops seem to have done everything they could to make the situation worse, though this is helped with the dumping of excess military hardware into our police departments. Hey, if you have toys, don’t those toys have to get used? (See, Rise of the Warrior Cop, The Militarization of America’s Police Forces, by Radley Balko.)
One can only hope that police departments around the country are taking studious notes on crowd control, and leaning what not to do. The use of military weapons in civilian areas is a horrible trend, and the fall-out from it can affect any one of us.
Well done, Eric.
The Ferguson saga proves the adage, if your only tool is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. The people of Ferguson, and the visiting journalists, became the nails to the police weaponry.
The problem is, they had many different kinds of tools to use. And they went after the big war-like ones instead of the human, civilian ones. Gotta find a use for those big bad toys.
Sadly, the Ferguson cease fire seems only to have lasted a day before looting and property damage returned to the scene. The only positive aspect seems to be that many community citizens took steps (somewhat late) to limit the ill effects by standing guard duty themselves. But tear gas and rubber bullets flew once again after all.
Anyone else recall the rioting of the sixties? It is partly responsible for leaving Detroit in the mess it is today by chasing away those who had the means to leave, leaving behind those who could not.
Ferguson, MO is not Detroit, but the pot simmers still in major cities, and it may well happen again in, for example, LA. And all the cammo bravado and used assault vehicles won’t stop it, regardless of what Hannity says.
The change in tactics happened too late. They already succeeded in feeding and reinforcing the worst fears im some and gave the bad apples additinionl excuses.
I’ve since read commentary on several sites claiming that the area of troubles in Ferguson is nowhere near as extensive as one might think when reading “the news”. Seems believable.
So, it might once again appear that the need for more clicks and viewers and ratings, in depicting both the “good guys” and the “bad guys”, may well be trumping accuracy of reportage.
Still, a smaller area is even bigger reason to put the armored personnel carrier in storage until a real revolution shows up.
Google John Oliver’s latest program for a great take on the entire militarization business.
But. But. Toys! We have to use those nice big toys that we never get to use when dealing with shoplifters.
It’s pure symbiosis.
The networks/print media/web sites show the toys “in action” — get big ratings/subscribers/clicks — charge more for advertising — make money.
Toys show up in action on TV — scare the crap out of uncritical citizens — uncritical citizens vote for military-loving pols — pols spend more on toys (but somehow less on wounded soldiers). Military hardware firms make money — CEOs drink toast to conflict.
This is called “each hand washes the others, but none ever gets clean”.
Here endeth the lesson*.
*as said in many Christian churches after a reading from the Bible.