An American War Zone, Ctd

by Dish Staff

Dara Lind recaps last night’s events in Ferguson:

Late Wednesday afternoon, protesters blocked both lanes of West Florissant again. Police began making arrests quickly. A large SWAT team arrived to clear the protesters, as well as a tactical vehicle. Cops continued to push protesters back for several blocks. Those who did not move were detained.

The situation was then calm until around 8:30 p.m. Central Time, when cops began attempting to push protesters back another 25 feet. When bottles (and, police claim, a Molotov cocktail) were thrown at the police, they started firing tear gas at the crowd. After telling them that this was no longer a peaceful protest and ordering them to leave the area, police used sound cannons to disperse the crowd and fired tear gas canisters into the area — including into neighborhood backyards.

One news crew had tear gas fired at them while they were setting up for a shoot. Earlier in the evening, two reporters, Ryan J. Reilly of the Huffington Post and Wesley Lowery of the Washington Post, were arrested in a McDonald’s after a SWAT team ordered residents to clear it out.

It was just announced that St. Louis cops are being removed from Ferguson. Matt Yglesias states the obvious: “It is clear at this point that local officials in the town of Ferguson and St. Louis County don’t know what they are doing”:

Of course cops, like soldiers, must be prepared to use serious weapons from time to time. But there was no rioting last night in Ferguson. No looting. And it’s difficult to imagine any scenario that would call for police officers to be dressed in the kind of military-style camo fatigues that are visible in many pictures from last night. … Quite a few people have been injured over the past few days by rubber bullets and rough handling (although in a Wednesday press conference, a police spokesperson insisted that no one had been injured during the protests). Wednesday night’s outing ended for many protestors in a cloud of tear gas. In my experience, these “nonviolent” crowd-control tactics are a good deal more painful than people who’ve never been at the receiving end appreciate. There’s no real reason they should be inflicted on demonstrators who weren’t hurting anyone or even damaging property. We are lucky, to be honest, that nobody’s been killed yet. But somebody who does know better needs to take charge. And soon.

Shirley Li notes that the Pentagon transferred military-grade weapons to the local police:

According to Michelle McCaskill, media relations chief at the Defense Logistics Agency, the Ferguson Police Department is part of a federal program called 1033, in which the Department of Defense distributes hundreds of millions of dollars of surplus military equipment to civilian police forces across the U.S.  That surplus military equipment doesn’t just mean small items like pistols or automatic rifles; towns like Ferguson could become owners of heavy armored vehicles, including the MRAPs used in Afghanistan and Iraq. “In 2013 alone, $449,309,003.71 worth of property was transferred to law enforcement,” the agency’s website states.

All in all, it’s meant armored vehicles rolling down streets in Ferguson and police officers armed with short-barreled 5.56-mm rifles that can accurately hit a target out to 500 meters hovering near the citizens they’re meant to protect.

Kelsey Atherton’s Storify Veterans on Ferguson deserves to be read in its entirety. Some key tweets:

Adam Serwer is ripshit:

According to the American Civil Liberties Union, the Department of Defense has transferred $4.3 billion in military equipment to local and state police through the 1033 program, first enacted in 1996 at the height of the so-called War on Drugs. The Department of Justice, according to the ACLU, “plays an important role in the militarization of the police” through its grant programs. It’s not that individual police officers are bad people – it’s that shifts in the American culture of policing encourages officers to ”think of the people they serve as enemies.” Since 2001, the Department of Homeland Security has encouraged further militarization of police through federal funds for “terrorism prevention.” The armored vehicles, assault weapons, and body armor borne by the police in Ferguson are the fruit of turning police into soldiers. Training materials obtained by the ACLU encourage departments to “build the right mind-set in your troops” in order to thwart “terrorist plans to massacre our schoolchildren.” It is possible that, since 9/11, police militarization has massacred more American schoolchildren than any al-Qaida terrorist.

Mary Katharine Ham is similarly outraged:

We ask more of police in a free society than creating militarized zones out of tough situations. This requires more bravery, more risk, more patience than being a cop in a society where cops can do what they like when they like with impunity. As a result, many Americans have great respect, sometimes reverence, for law enforcement. But when an official response, even to a tough situation, looks like martial law with federally issued no-fly zones, the state isn’t honoring its part of agreement in a free society. We should be willing to demand that they do, even in the face of immense danger. The deep respect many Americans hold for law enforcement should be a function of a free society asking more from those men and women and getting it, not a reason to excuse them when they give us far less.

Meanwhile, J.D. Tuccille castigates the Ferguson PD for refusing to release the name of the office who killed Michael Brown:

Not naming, or delaying naming, uncharged suspects in crimes may be acceptable practice if it’s applied to everybody. But it also has special risks when practiced with goverment agents, like police officers, since it allows officials to control the flow of information. Ferguson’s Chief Jackson says the officer who killed Brown has facial injuries from an altercation that let to the shooting—but the public has no way of independently checking that claim. His department also says it’s waiting on a toxicology test on Brown, allowing police to insinuate that he may have been high (and to use any positive results in their favor if he was). Meanwhile, Brown’s family, friends, and the public at large can’t so much as Google the name of the officer who shot him.

Considering the arrest (and subsequent release without charge) of WaPo reporter Wesley Lowery, Max Fisher makes a comparison:

According to Lowery’s Twitter account, the two were “assaulted and arrested” because “officers decided we weren’t leaving McDonalds quickly enough, shouldn’t have been taping them.” No charges were filed. Lowery is the second Post reporter to have been arrested in the past few months. The first was three weeks earlier and several thousand miles away in Tehran, the capital city of Iran. On July 22, plainclothes police stormed into the home of Washington Post Tehran bureau chief Jason Rezaian to arrest him and his wife, who is also a journalist. As in Ferguson, no charges have been filed in Tehran.

Lowrey described the experience of being arrested:

Multiple officers grabbed me. I tried to turn my back to them to assist them in arresting me. I dropped the things from my hands. ‘‘My hands are behind my back,’’ I said. ‘‘I’m not resisting. I’m not resisting.’’ At which point one officer said: ‘‘You’re resisting. Stop resisting.’’ That was when I was most afraid — more afraid than of the tear gas and rubber bullets. …

Eventually a police car arrived. A woman – with a collar identifying her as a member of the clergy – sat in the back. Ryan and I crammed in next to her, and we took the three-minute ride to the Ferguson Police Department. The woman sang hymns throughout the ride. Throughout this time, we asked the officers for badge numbers. We asked to speak to a supervising officer. We asked why we were being detained. We were told: trespassing in a McDonald’s.

‘‘I hope you’re happy with yourself,’’ one officer told me. And I responded: ‘‘This story’s going to get out there. It’s going to be on the front page of The Washington Post tomorrow.’’ And he said, ‘‘Yeah, well, you’re going to be in my jail cell tonight.’’

T.C. Sottek reminds readers that it’s legal to record the police:

Here’s the deal: as a US citizen, you have the right to record the police in the course of their public duties. The police don’t have a right to stop you as long as you’re not interfering with their work. They also don’t have a right to confiscate your phone or camera, or delete its contents, just because you were recording them.   Despite some state laws that make it illegal to record others without their consent, federal courts have held consistently that citizens have a First Amendment right to record the police as they perform their official duties in public. (The ACLU has a concise guide to your rights, here.) And the US Department of Justice under Obama has affirmed the court’s stances by reminding police departments that they’re not allowed to harass citizens for recording them.

Carl Franzen asks, “Is Ferguson the moment we as a people look at this situation of escalating force and say ‘enough is enough‘?”

And even if we do, what’s the right way to solve the problem? No American police department seems ready to voluntarily disarm to a more restrained level, including the one active in Ferguson. Few American citizens who have spent money and time collecting their own weapons would join them. And fewer still are the violent criminals who would willing cede their tools of destruction. Politicians concerned about electability also seem disinclined to challenge American’s gun lobby, or to be the ones who cut police resources only to see crime rise. Can the President alone do anything? Would he, distracted as he is by global conflicts that few Americans support, committing more American firepower overseas? The larger question, where do we go from here as a people?, is even more worrisome. Because from the events in Ferguson alone – filled as they are with racial mistrust and a stark power imbalance, the police at least temporarily with the upper hand— it appears that things are going to get worse before they get better.

Previous Dish on the Michael Brown shooting and the chaos in Ferguson here.