By VOICE Staff
Military tactics exacerbate unrest, tensions between police and black community
Since the shooting death of Michael Brown, no two days have been exactly the same in Ferguson, Mo. Just when violence and chaos seem to be on the mend, the upheaval starts all over again.
We’ve seen the police in riot gear, the explosive confrontations, and innumerable calls for peace subdued by abrasive violence and looting. But the invocation of peace has been consistently disrupted by missteps largely on the shoulders of law enforcement officials in Missouri.
Adding Capt. Ron Johnson, a black Highway Patrol officer for Missouri, was a promising step to intervene and defuse tensions one week ago. However, since Johnson has been thrust into the spotlight, state and local officials have been blamed for a cascade of mounting follies, including:
The delayed release of the name of the officer, Darren Wilson, accused of fatally shooting Brown.
The disclosure of Brown’s alleged involvement in a store robbery – a robbery allegedly unrelated to his encounter with Wilson.
The arrest of two journalists covering the Ferguson story.
Law enforcement recorded threatening civilians and journalists with force.
The optics in Ferguson are bad. Period.
President Obama announced Monday that U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder will travel to Ferguson. Holder officially stepped into the fray ahead of his visit Aug. 20, calling for federal authorities to do an autopsy of Brown. Holder will meet with FBI officials during his visit to Missouri.
What Ferguson needs right now is what every black community in America needs: a national coalition of law enforcement figures and community members dedicated to equality when establishing public safety.
However, the problem lies within America’s denial that race is a factor in the unrest in Ferguson. Yet oddly, and somewhat conversely, those same racial antagonists have scoffed at President Obama’s reference to race during his a press conference on Monday.
By now, it’s well-established that Ferguson is a city with a majority of blacks governed by mostly whites. Ferguson’s police force is more than 90 percent white and the community is about 67 percent black. According to a report last year by the Missouri Attorney General, black drivers accounted for 86 percent of traffic stops in Ferguson.
The racial implications are further amplified by a poll released Monday by Pew Research Center indicated that 80 percent of black respondents think the Michael Brown case “raises important issues about race” compared with on 37 percent of white respondents. In fact, the study also indicated in that same question that 47 percent of whites think “race is getting more attention than it deserves”. About 16 percent of white respondents said they “don’t know”.
If America cannot agree that race is a factor in so many allegations of police misconduct, then let’s focus on the objective data. Millions of dollars in civil lawsuits are paid by municipalities every year in cases of alleged abuse, ethics violations, and misconduct, whether those claims are true or not.
Last week, VOICE broke the story that New York Police Department (NYPD) officials met with Rialto Police Department July 31 to learn about the department’s use of body cameras among its police force. NYPD is currently mired in its own racial controversies regarding allegation of police misconduct. Rialto Police Department became the first police department in the U.S. to use body cameras in a randomized control trial experiment.
Many civil rights activists agree body cameras are not the end-all solution to establishing trust between police and the black community, but the technology has immense potential to reduce egregious complaints against officers.
If we cannot be in concert about how race plays a role in equality in America, maybe we can agree it’s costing time and money – and adopting a broad technological solution can probably save both in the future since we are not in sync about race.