We Made Police Misconduct Inevitable

by Freddie deBoer


Protest over death of black teen Michael Brown in Ferguson

The ongoing protests and civil unrest in Ferguson, MO, is in many ways a long simmering set of problems brought to a boil. Most acutely, there’s the perfectly justifiable anger and resentment from a black population that, 50 years after the Civil Rights Act, still struggles to overcome centuries of entrenched and systemic racism. Black America’s status as a permanent underclass is baked directly into the foundations of our economic and social system, and piecemeal reforms have proven utterly inadequate to the task of fixing the problem. In particular, the criminalization of black young males makes angry conflict with police inevitable. Under such circumstances, the surprise isn’t that protests and civil disobedience have broken out in Ferguson. The surprise is that it doesn’t happen more often.

Beyond the racial dynamics, there’s the growing public realization that the police in America are out of control. It’s a problem that only we, the broad  public, can fix. And we are responsible for fixing it because we’re all to blame.

If I sat down to summarize even a year’s worth of police misconduct and brutality, it would take hours and hours. Those of us who follow the news closely know that outrageous behavior by the cops is a daily occurrence. Sites like Gawker and journalists like Radley Balko have spread word of this misconduct regularly, but all it usually takes is a brief visit to Google News. And people, finally, are starting to notice. When even National Review is running a piece like “It’s Time for Conservatives to Stop Defending Police,” you know that the issue is becoming too acute to ignore. What the American poor have been experiencing for decades has become too obvious for affluent America to ignore.

Like so many of our national problems, our deep, perpetual problems with police behaving badly stems in part from 9/11 and the post-9/11 world.

I don’t want to oversell this; certainly, we’ve been living in a culture of deference towards police for far longer. But as we did with the presidency, the military, the intelligence services, and soldiers, we responded to 9/11 by buffeting our police officers with obsequious respect and endless displays of extreme gratitude. We feted them at football games and through parades in their honor. We plastered stickers celebrating them on our cars. We exhorted each other to “thank a first responder today.” We set about to create a culture of unwavering, unquestioning, credulous support for our police, and that has everything to do with today’s problems.

None of this should be surprising. In times of crisis, people often retreat to militarism, nationalism, and extreme respect for authority. This is part of why an aggressive foreign policy is so counterproductive; every time we rattle our saber at Iran, for example, we empower the theocracy and the establishment government and hurt the resistance. Our showy disdain for Russia, the way we layer disrespect on their displays of national pride and celebrations of their history– like we did during Sochi– only causes them to embrace Putin and his narrative more. You might find that foolish, but we did the exact same, affixing flags to our cars and writing our national security state a blank check in the form of the PATRIOT Act and similar legislation. And we told the cops, more or less explicitly: you can do whatever you want. The results are unsurprising.

After all, when you give any group carte blanche to do what they want, and make it clear that you will support them no matter what, how can you be surprised when they abuse that generosity? It’s human nature: people who are subject to little or no review will inevitably behave badly. No group can be expected to police itself; that’s why the foundation of our democracy is the separation of powers, the way in which different parts of government are expected to audit each other. Ultimately, though, the most important form of audit comes from the people themselves. Only the citizenry can ensure that our systems remain under our democratic control, and this function is especially important concerning the conduct of those who have the capacity to legally commit acts of violence– and to define for themselves what acts of violence are legal, whether those definitions are official or merely ad hoc. Well, we have abdicated that responsibility, and in that vacuum, misconduct, brutality, and corruption have rushed in. The problem is endemic. I don’t believe that all cops are bad, or even the majority, but I also don’t believe that this is a “few bad apples” problem. A few bad apples could not cause a problem as widespread and constant as the one we’re witnessing now.

You may not agree completely with the protesters in Ferguson. You may find their tactics unhelpful or misguided. But you should recognize: they are the front lines in a long-overdue process of reversing this problem and slowly dragging the police back under community control. It’s going to be an enormous task, one that has to occur on both the national and the local level. The acrimony and recrimination that will attend this project will be enormous, as the “law and order” brigades deride those working to rein in the police as radical, soft on crime, or worse. But we have to do it. This problem will never fix itself. The police cannot be expected to reform themselves. And since we as a people had a hand in creating these conditions, it’s our responsibility to change them. If you find the size of the task daunting, you need only think of the alternative, an ever-more unaccountable and entitled gang of men with guns and batons. Or think about an 18 year old black body, lying for four hours in a Missouri street.

(Photo: Police forces intervene protesters, who took to the streets to protest the killing of Michael Brown on August 17, 2014. U.S. Missouri State Governor Jay Nixon Saturday declared a curfew and a state of emergency in Ferguson, a suburb of St. Louis. By Bilgin Sasmaz/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Policing The Police With Cameras

by Dish Staff

Nick Gillespie wants to make cops wear recording devices:

While there is no simple fix to race relations in any part of American life, there is an obvious way to reduce violent law enforcement confrontations while also building trust in cops: Police should be required to use wearable cameras and record their interactions with citizens. These cameras—various models are already on the market—are small and unobtrusive and include safeguards against subsequent manipulation of any recordings.

“Everyone behaves better when they’re on video,” Steve Ward, the president of Vievu, a company that makes wearable gear, told ReasonTV earlier this year. Given that many departments already employ dashboard cameras in police cruisers, this would be a shift in degree, not kind.

Derek Thompson is on the same page:

When researchers studied the effect of cameras on police behavior, the conclusions were striking.

Within a year, the number of complaints filed against police officers in Rialto fell by 88 percent and “use of force” fell by 59 percent. “When you put a camera on a police officer, they tend to behave a little better, follow the rules a little better,” Chief William A. Farrar, the Rialto police chief, told the New York Times. “And if a citizen knows the officer is wearing a camera, chances are the citizen will behave a little better.”

Matt Stroud talked with attorney Scott Greenwood about putting cameras on cops:

“On-body recording systems [OBRS] would have been incredibly useful in Ferguson,” he says. “This is yet another controversial incident involving one officer and one subject, a minority youth who was unarmed,” a reference to Michael Brown, who was killed by police on August 9th. “OBRS would have definitively captured whatever interaction these two had that preceded the use of deadly force.” Armed with footage from an on-body camera system, it’s possible that police would’ve had no option but to take swift action against the officers involved — or if Brown’s behavior wasn’t as eyewitnesses describe, perhaps protests wouldn’t have swelled in the first place. Instead, the citizens of Ferguson are left with more questions than answers.

Moving forward, Greenwood doesn’t see how on-body cameras can be avoided. “I see no way moving forward in which Ferguson police do not use OBRS,” he says. “The proper use of OBRS is going to be a very important part of how these agencies restore legitimacy and public confidence.”

An American War Zone, Ctd

by Dish Staff

At the first of two press conferences today, Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson IDed the officer who killed Michael Brown and added that the teenager was suspected of robbing a convenience store on the day of his death. At the second, Jackson admitted the robbery had nothing to do with the shooting:

Jackson on Friday said the police officer who shot and killed Michael Brown was not aware that the unarmed 18-year-old was accused of robbing a convenience store just minutes before the shooting. Jackson said that “the initial contact with Brown was not related to the robbery.” Jackson also clarified that Darren Wilson, the officer who shot and killed Brown, wasn’t even responding to a call about the robbery as initially reported. Wilson instead stopped Brown because he was jaywalking.

Brian Beutler confesses, “I find the Ferguson police department’s behavior over the past week even more baffling than I did before”:

For the sake of argument let’s assume (a huge assumption) that the Ferguson police are not trying to build a public case for Wilson’s innocence by assassinating a dead man’s character. Why did it take five days for them to release this information, none of which has anything to do with the circumstances of Brown’s death? … Per Matt Yglesias, if Brown was a suspect in a robbery, why wasn’t his accomplice Dorian Johnson arrested and charged rather than allowed to escape and appear in multiple television news interviews? Was Johnson lying when he claimed that Wilson approached him and Brown not to question or arrest them for robbery but to tell them to “get the fuck onto the sidewalk”?

Aura Bogado argues that the Ferguson police are doing transparency all wrong:

In the images and video released to the media this morning, someone who is purported to be Brown is seen pushing another person assumed to be a store clerk. We’re told that the person identified as Brown stole a box of little cigars. The problem here is that the supposed images of Brown, along with the unverified allegation that he carried out a “strong-arm robbery,” primes the media – and its readers –   to focus on the wrong suspect. Rather than releasing images of Darren Wilson – who’s suspected of something far more serious than theft – this emphasis places blame on the victim. Even if it’s confirmed that Brown took a box of cigars and pushed a store clerk in one place, he was killed in another – and witnesses claim the 18-year-old was essentially executed in cold blood.

Ed Morrissey also raises an eyebrow:

If Brown and Johnson were fleeing from a felony theft, the shooting may have been justified under Missouri law – which may explain why the police handed out the report on the strong-arm robbery. But they still have not released the report on the shooting itself, and it doesn’t explain why it took six days to get around to discussing the robbery.

Meanwhile, German Lopez notes that Missouri Highway Patrol Captain Ron Johnson, who’s been credited with calming the situation in Ferguson, was “not notified” that the local police was going to release the news:

The lack of communication between the two police departments raises questions about the coordination of security in Ferguson. Given the volatility in the St. Louis suburb, law enforcement, protesters, and reporters on the ground are concerned the allegations that Brown robbed a convenience store could escalate the situation. Missouri Highway Patrol Captain Ron Johnson, who’s leading security operations in Ferguson, acknowledged the mood changed in the area after Friday’s news release. Johnson suggested he would have “a serious conversation” with local police about not giving him the information prior to the release.

Jelani Cobb gets to the heart of the matter in describing the latest developments as “an object lesson about the importance of accountability and transparency”:

The release of the images that possibly show Brown assaulting a man makes these issues more important, not less. The reasons that the officer stopped Brown, the possibility that the 18-year-old struggled or just panicked, might become less inexplicable. That Brown appeared to have been involved in a robbery, even that he was a large man who might, conceivably, have resisted arrest, do not abjure the possibility of excessive force in the confrontation at Canfield Green; there is no death penalty for stealing cigars. Brown was shot thirty-five feet from Wilson, and the question of whether Brown’s back was to Wilson when the officer fired the gun—that is, if he was running away, and therefore not a threat—is just as pressing, as is the question of whether his hands were in the air, as witnesses claim, when the final volley of shots came. One of the pieces of information the police has delayed releasing is just how many bullets hit him. We also need to know why this information has been so hard to come by. The answers have not come quickly or completely—and not very willingly. What people who gathered in Ferguson have sought, even more resolutely than the police officer’s name, is, simply, respect.

Follow all our coverage on Michael Brown and Ferguson here.

(Photo: Demonstrators wrote messages while protesting on August 15, 2014, the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. By Joshua Lott/AFP/Getty Images)

Do We Really Need A More Compliant Press?

by Dish Staff

That’s apparently Joe Scarborough’s position. Chris Caesar recaps the Morning Joe host’s back-and-forth with the WaPo’s Wesley Lowery, who (as you may recall) was recently arrested while reporting from Ferguson:

Scarborough sounded off on the Wednesday evening arrests of Lowery and Huffington Post reporter Ryan Reilly while the two worked in a McDonald’s near the scene of protests in Ferguson, Missouri. “If I saw that video and my son was the one that the police arrested after that episode, I’d say ‘Joey, here’s a clue: when the cops tell you – for like the 30th time – ‘let’s go,’ you know what that means son? It means, ‘let’s go.’ I’m sorry,’” Scarborough said. “I’ve been in places where police officers said, ‘Alright, you know what? This is cordoned off. You guys need to move along,’” Scarborough added. “And you know what I do? I go, ‘yes, sir,’ or ‘yes, ma’am’ – I don’t sit there and have a debate and film the police officer unless I want to get on TV and have people talk about me the next day.”

Because as Jon Chait puts it, “Nothing says ‘journalism’ like following orders from authorities, however questionable, self-interested, or illegal they may be.” Dylan Byers is left cold by the whole debate:

Lowery and Reilly deserve recognition for their reporting efforts, but getting arrested at a McDonald’s does not a great reporter make. Video of the arrest shows that Lowery didn’t exactly move with great haste when the officer told him to vacate (though that doesn’t make the officer’s actions forgivable). MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough criticized Lowery for that on Thursday morning, and Lowery responded by telling CNN that Scarborough should “come down to Ferguson and get out of 30 Rock where he’s sitting, sipping his Starbucks smugly.” Many sided with Lowery, a few may have sided with Scarborough. One hopes that the majority chafed at how a story about race and police brutality turned, for a moment too long, into a pissing match between two members of the media.

That analysis prompts a facepalm from P.M. Carpenter:

Byers says “Ferguson is not Fallujah” – a negative comparison that certainly holds true in many ways. But in our two Iraq wars, you may recall, the American press was “handled” and often sidelined by a Defense Department worried about bad press. As a result, the American public received an often skewed view of those wars. Are police departments to be allowed the same freedom of First Amendment-nullification at home? Whenever law enforcement bungles the job of crisis management, are reporters covering the bungle expected to cringe and bow and “move with great haste” in the face of incompetent authority? And are the likes of a law-and-order politicking Joe Scarborough to assume some sort of journalistic respectability? Byers is correct; this is “a story about race and police brutality” – and Lowery’s story is but an extension of the latter, with heavy First Amendment overtones.

Meanwhile, Ed Morrissey zooms out:

I’ve been puzzled about some reactions to the video of police arresting Wesley Lowery and Ryan Reilly at a McDonalds and the teargas attack on an Al Jazeera news crew for just standing on the sidewalk with their cameras. Some have suggested that these journalists didn’t respond to police orders to disperse, and were therefore subject to detention and counter-riot tactics. However, that’s only a legitimate argument when an emergency decree is in effect that explicitly authorizes police to act in such a manner. I’m unaware of any such declaration by Nixon, and if one does not exist, the police don’t have the authority to impose it themselves. Our whole system of civil rights is based on police being servants of the law, not on citizens being servants of the police based on their assessment of when we can and cannot exercise those rights. That includes pointing cameras at the police, and sitting in a public restaurant in a lawful manner.

More on Michael Brown and Ferguson here.

Where Do Republicans Stand On The Michael Brown Case?

by Dish Staff

Protest over the killing of unarmed teen in Ferguson

Notably, Rand Paul spoke out against police militarization with an op-ed in Time:

There is a systemic problem with today’s law enforcement. Not surprisingly, big government has been at the heart of the problem. Washington has incentivized the militarization of local police precincts by using federal dollars to help municipal governments build what are essentially small armies – where police departments compete to acquire military gear that goes far beyond what most of Americans think of as law enforcement.

Ilya Somin couldn’t be happier:

The op ed should help put to rest the notion – never very plausible to begin with – that libertarians are ignoring these issues. Paul has not gone as far in opposing the War on Drugs and police militarization as I and many other libertarians would like. I would prefer to abolish the War on Drugs completely, not just cut it back and reduce sentences, as Paul has advocated. But he has gone much farther on both than the vast majority of other mainstream politicians, including most Democrats.

Meanwhile, Benjamin Wallace-Wells sees a rare opportunity for bipartisan action:

[T]he conservative perspective on law and order has been subtly changing, most obviously in the strengthening conservative enthusiasm for reforming prison sentencing, a cause embraced not only by libertarians like Mike Lee and Rand Paul but also by more conventional Republicans like Marco Rubio and Paul Ryan. Even given this recent history, it was still striking today to see Rand Paul, in his statement, turn from more general concerns about the militarization of police to the specific topic of race: “Given the racial disparities in our criminal justice system, it is impossible for African-Americans not to feel like their government is particularly targeting them.” This is exactly the argument that liberals have been making for an awfully long time, but that conservatives have rarely joined. It seems hard to imagine, given how clearly the conversation has turned to militarization, that we won’t hear more of this.

But Dave Weigel identifies a split on the right:

The modern GOP, the one that elected Richard Nixon and built its base in the South and the suburbs, established early on that it was the “law and order” party. The crime waves of the 1960s and 1970s and the crack wars of the 1980s were crucial to Republican dominance, and led to tough-on-crime legislation that’s still on the books. Only recently, as violent crime rates have tumbled, has the libertarian tendency of the GOP reasserted itself. We’ve seen the “Right on Crime” Republican legislators pass prison reform bills; we’ve seen Rand Paul talk about restoring the voting rights of felons, and shrinking the number of crimes that can be classified as life-ruining felonies.

It’s an open question: Which of these tendencies will characterize the conservative response to Ferguson? The law-and-order tendency that assumes the cops pointing their guns at protesters are preventing the outside agitators from doing something wild? Or the libertarian tendency that asks if you really want a photo of the occupation of Crimea to be indistinguishable from a photo of the St. Louis metro area?

Ben Domenech argues, “If you want an indication about where someone sits on the dividing line between conservative and libertarian, sometimes it’s as simple as how they answer this question: how do you feel about cops?

Do you naturally tend to trust them, viewing them as a necessary and needed hedge acting in defense of law and order? Or are you naturally suspicious of them, believing them to be little more than armed tax collectors and bureaucrats with a tendency to violence and falsehood in service of their whims? Are cops the brave individuals who stand between the law-abiding and those who would rob, rape, and kill, or are they the low-level tyrannical overpaid functionaries of the administrative state, more focused on tax collection in the form of citations, property grabs, and killing the occasional family dog?

This isn’t to say that only libertarians are suspicious of cops. There has always been a strain of conservatism very skeptical of government power, and as police forces have become more interested in seizing assets and ignoring complaint, many conservatives have become openly critical of their behavior. Indeed, Mary Katharine Ham has a great response to what we’re seeing in Ferguson, as does Kevin Williamson. But how you answer that initial question will tell you a lot about your political assumptions regarding authority.

Hans Fiene notes, “For many conservatives, especially those of us living in nice, comfy suburbs, it’s hard to apply the “power corrupts” doctrine to law enforcement because we’ve never seen corrupted enforcers of the law”:

We’ve never been wrongly arrested. We’ve never witnessed our children put in jail based on the false reports of police officers. We’ve never seen our neighbors beaten or tazed without cause. And in the extremely unlikely scenario that a police officer drove into our neighborhood and murdered our unarmed friend in cold blood, we cannot possibly fathom a scenario where the justice system wouldn’t be on our side and where that police officer wouldn’t spend the rest of his life in jail. Therefore Michael Brown must have been a violent thug, foolish enough to think he could swipe a cop’s weapon because, in our minds, there’s no conceivable way that a police officer would gun down an innocent man. But just because we don’t see the corruption of law enforcement in our own lives doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist.

Meanwhile, Matt Steinglass wonders where the gun-rights crowd disappeared to:

Curiously, observes Francis Wilkinson in Bloomberg View, gun-rights advocates have not used the confrontation in Ferguson as an example of a situation where possession of a gun might have protected a citizen from the illegitimate use of force by a government agent. They have not argued that Michael Brown might be alive now if he had been able to shoot back at the police officer who killed him, or that the demonstrators who fired warning shots when police tried to shut down protests would have been justified in shooting officers to defend their right to freedom of association. No such arguments have been heard with regard to any of the unarmed black men killed by American police officers over the past few years. One wonders what might account for the fact that gun-rights advocates defend the right of a white Nevada rancher to shoot agents of the Bureau of Land Management, but not the right of young black men to shoot police officers.

More Dish on the events in Ferguson here.

(Photo: Demonstrators raise their hands during a rally to protest the shooting death of an unarmed teen by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, on August 14, 2014. By Bilgin S. Sasmaz/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

An American War Zone, Ctd

by Dish Staff

Outrage In Missouri Town After Police Shooting Of 18-Yr-Old Man

Glenn Greenwald argues that the police militarization on display – until recently – in Ferguson is “part of a broader and truly dangerous trend: the importation of War on Terror tactics from foreign war zones onto American soil”:

American surveillance drones went from Yemen, Pakistan and Somalia into American cities, and it’s impossible to imagine that they won’t be followed by weaponized ones. The inhumane and oppressive conditions that prevailed at Guantanamo are matched, or exceeded, by the super-max hellholes and “Communications Management Units” now in the American prison system. And the “collect-it-all” mentality that drives NSA domestic surveillance was pioneered by Gen. Keith Alexander in Baghdad and by other generals in Afghanistan, aimed at enemy war populations. Indeed, much of the war-like weaponry now seen in Ferguson comes from American laws, such as the so-called “Program 1033,” specifically designed to re-direct excessive Pentagon property – no longer needed as foreign wars wind down – into American cities.

Phillip Carter offers a brief history of police militarization in the US:

Things began to change during the 1980s, when the nation’s leadership declared a “war on drugs,” and began to militarize its approach accordingly.

Congress allowed the Pentagon to give warfighting gear to police departments, and also created a number of exceptions to the historical rule precluding military involvement in law enforcement. Police departments raced to apply for federal funding to harden their communities and police forces against an entire spectrum of threats not previously contemplated. Sophisticated command and control systems migrated from the military to law enforcement, alongside powerful surveillance and investigative tools first developed for the military and intelligence community. Police departments touted their use of military counterinsurgency techniques, learned from Army field manuals and returning veterans.

And, most recently, as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have wound down, the Defense Department has aggressively transferred combat gear to civilian law enforcement agencies at home – more than $400 million-worth in 2013 alone.  According to a USA Today report, “police forces in the same county as Ferguson received advanced rifle sights and night vision equipment between 2012 and 2014

As Kriston Capps observes, “One issue with the militarization of the police is that military gear doesn’t come with military training”:

The U.S. Army’s handbook on civil disturbances states in no uncertain terms that the way that the approach that authorities take to crowd control can worsen a crisis – a factor that the St. Louis County Police Department apparently did not take into consideration. “During planning, leaders must consider that the crowd may become more combative with the arrival of a response force,” the guidelines explain. So the first step in moving forward after Ferguson may be to complete the militarization of the police – that is, for state and local authorities to implement badly needed training to go with their advanced gear. At the very least, armored vehicles and riot gear should come with cameras.

Mary Katharine Ham suggests that a militarized police force is anathema to a free society:

Here’s the thing. We ask more of law enforcement in a free society and we should. We don’t accept that everyone in a community must be under the gun because some of them committed crimes. Or, that journalists should be arrested while trying to cover that community. We have a system that allows for going after the accused while respecting everyone’s rights, scribe or no. Stipulated that we ask cops to handle challenging, dangerous, delicate situations like riot and looting in Ferguson or manhunts in Boston. Because this is America, we ask them to do it while preserving the rights of innocent bystanders and even those who may be engaging in crime. … [W]hen 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.

Meanwhile, Ed Krayewski notes that just months ago, the congressman who represents Ferguson voted against a measure that would limit the transfer of military surplus goods to local police:

In June, the House of Representatives voted on a series of amendments to H.R. 4435, the National Defense Authorization Act. Among the amendments was one by Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) which would’ve prohibited funds from being used to transfer certain kinds of military surplus to local police departments. The amendment failed by a wide margin, with only 62 votes for and 355 against. Among those voting against this bill, which would slow down the militarization of America’s police forces, was Rep. Lacy Clay (D-Mo.), whose district includes Ferguson, Missouri, where many Americans have gotten their first glimpse of America’s militarized police in action. House leadership on both sides also voted against it, including Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), Eric Cantor (R-Va.), and Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.)

It would be interesting to see what would happen if that vote were held again today. Congressman Hank Johnson (D-GA) has already proposed a demilitarization bill in light of the Ferguson:

Georgia Rep. Hank Johnson proposed legislation on Thursday aimed at demilitarizing domestic police forces, amid national criticism of heavily armed cops going after protesters in Ferguson, Mo. “Our main streets should be a place for business, families, and relaxation, not tanks and M16s,” the Democratic congressman wrote in a “Dear Colleague” letter to members of Congress. “Unfortunately … our local police are quickly beginning to resemble paramilitary forces.”

The Stop Militarizing Law Enforcement Act would prevent the transfer of certain military-grade equipment from the Department of Defense to local law enforcement agencies. That includes some automatic weapons, armored vehicles, armored drones, silencers and flash-bang or stun grenades. … Johnson will formally introduce the bill in September when Congress returns from summer recess, his office told TPM.

More Dish on the fallout in Ferguson here.

(Photo: A police officer watches over demonstrators protesting the shooting death of teenager Michael Brown on August 13, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. By Scott Olson/Getty Images)

An American War Zone, Ctd

by Dish Staff

The Ferguson police have released new details about the events of August 9, including the name of the officer who shot Michael Brown. Ben Mathis-Lilley and Elliot Hannon have the latest:

Ferguson police chief Thomas Jackson announced that six-year police veteran Darren Wilson is the officer who killed Michael Brown. According to Jackson, Wilson encountered Brown at 12:01 p.m. on August 9th and, by the time another officer arrived on the scene at 12:04 p.m. Brown had been shot. Jackson said that Wilson did not have a previous disciplinary record. A report handed out to reporters by Ferguson police alleges that Brown stole several boxes of cigars from a QuikTrip convenience store (later burned down in rioting) and assaulted the store’s cashier shortly before the shooting.

Ezra reacts to the news:

During Friday’s press conference, Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson tried to sow doubt that Brown really was One Of The Good Ones. He released stills from a “strong-arm robbery” showing someone who might be Brown grabbing a convenience-store clerk by his collar and throwing him backwards. The Good Ones don’t rob convenience stores. The Good Ones don’t assault clerks.

But this is a sick conversation. The Good Ones don’t deserve to be shot when they’re surrendering. But neither does anyone else. … If Brown surrendered, the threat was neutralized, and Wilson shot him down anyway, then the shooting was illegal whether or not Brown had previously committed a violent crime.  This case is not about whether Michael Brown was One Of The Good Ones. It’s not even about whether he robbed a convenience store. The penalty for stealing cigars from a convenience store is not death. This case is about whether Wilson was legally justified in shooting Michael Brown.

An American War Zone, Ctd

by Dish Staff

Events in Ferguson seemed to take a turn for the better yesterday, with a “notably smaller police presence” presiding over “wholly peaceful” protests:

On Thursday, August 14, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon told voters he would be “reframing” the chain of command among police in Ferguson. The office of Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri confirmed that the St. Louis County Police Department, which had been in charge during Wednesday night’s protests, would be removed from Ferguson. The chief of the St. Louis city police department also announced that his department would not be participating in Ferguson on Thursday night.

On Thursday afternoon, Governor Nixon formally announced that the Missouri Highway Patrol would be taking over police response to protesters in Ferguson. However, he said, the St. Louis County Police Department would remain in charge of the criminal investigation into Brown’s death.  Protesters gathered again Thursday by the police station and along West Florissant. However, protesters did not block the road. Police were absent from afternoon protests. … Missouri Highway Patrol captain Ron Johnson marched with the protesters and apologized to those who had been teargassed.

Alex Altman describes the scene as a “dramatic departure” from the unrest of previous nights:

[It was] a peaceful – if extremely chaotic – demonstration that had the vibe of a street party. And some of the credit should go to Johnson, an African-American captain with the Missouri State Highway Patrol who was appointed Thursday by Gov. Jay Nixon to assume control of a situation that had veered badly out of hand. With the change in leadership came a change in tactics. Gone were the gas masks, the armored SWAT tanks and the semiautomatic weapons trained on angry crowds. There were no barricade lines, no cops in riot gear. For long stretches of the night, there were barely any police in sight at all. But there was Johnson, striding through the crowd in his blue uniform, approaching groups and glad-handing as if the contentious scene were a reunion of old acquaintances. “This is my family. These are my friends,” he said. “And I’m making new friends here tonight.”

Margaret Hartmann suggests Johnson’s presence made a difference:

Johnson, who is black and grew up in Ferguson, was welcomed by demonstrators, and many embraced him, thanked him for joining the march, and asked him to pose for selfies. Matt Pearce of the Los Angeles Times reports that a young man came up to Johnson and started filming as he told him his niece had been tear-gassed this week. “When you see your niece, tell her Captain Johnson said he’s sorry and he apologizes,” Johnson replied. The man walked away then came back to shake Johnson’s hand.

Dara Lind praises the turnaround:

Governor Nixon did exactly what he needed to do in placing one agency in charge of the response to protesters. Until there are no longer dozens of police from multiple agencies responding to protests, the Ferguson Police Department can’t fix its relationship with the community and defuse tension. Now that there is a clear agency to hold accountable, hopefully that tension will begin to be defused – and as tension is defused, it’s likely police will feel they need to de-escalate their presence.

Radley Balko suggests that de-escalation is exactly the right strategy for the police to take:

Maj. Max Geron is in charge of the Media Relations Unit, Community Affairs and Planning Unit of the Dallas Police Department. He’s also a security studies scholar who recently wrote his master’s thesis on policing and protests at the Naval Postgraduate School. Specifically, his thesis studied police reactions to the Occupy protests in Oakland, New York, Portland, and Dallas.  “The ideal police response to a protest is no response at all,” Geron says. (Geron emphasized that he was speaking as a scholar, and his views don’t necessarily represent those of the Dallas Police Department.) “You want to let people exercise their constitutional rights without interference.”

Barring that, Geron says, it’s important for police to communicate with protesters to establish expectations. “The technical term is negotiated management. What that means is that you want to come to an agreement about what’s expected, what’s allowed, and most important, you want to reach an agreement about what won’t be allowed.” But Geron cautions against setting arbitrary expectations, such as mandatory dispersal times. “Most protesters will meet, protest, and go home when they feel they’ve made their point. If they aren’t breaking any laws, they can be left to express themselves.” Establishing a dispersal time then gives protesters something to rebel against.

Yishai Schwartz seconds that:

This growing body of research focuses on the difference between how police and peaceful fans perceive a rowdy crowd. Police tend to see a crowd with a handful of hooligans as a uniform body inherently prone to violence, while ordinary fans near these hooligans at first see themselves as entirely distinct. But because the police are the ones with batons and armor, they end up imposing their perception onto the crowdquite literally, by advancing on the crowd, hooligans and peaceful fans alike. The crowd then unifies around their shared victimhood, turning some peaceful fans violent. The police’s perception of a crowd as violent mob becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Recognition of this dynamic led senior officers in Portugal’s police force to implement a distinctly low-profile form of policing at the 2004 European Championship. There, matches had fewer policeman overall, and virtually no police visible in riot gear. The police also worked closely with a team of researchers so that their methods could be studied both quantitatively and accurately. After Euro 2004 proved peaceful, with far fewer arrests and violence than both earlier and later championships, the team of researchers published a comprehensive analysis of police tactics and their effects. The 2008 study in Psychology, Public Policy and Law combines quantitative data with questionnaire information collected directly from English soccer fans, and the paper’s conclusion forcefully advocates low-profile policing as a means of curtailing crowd violence.

Meanwhile, Obama impressed few people with his remarks on the matter yesterday:

President Obama took a break from his vacation on Martha’s Vineyard today to speak about the death of Michael Brown in Missouri. Referring to the shooting and subsequent demonstrations as “something that’s been in the news,” Obama said, “I know many Americans have been deeply disturbed by the images we’ve seen in the heartland of our country as police have clashed with people protesting.” “Today,” he said, “I’d like us all to take a step back and think about how we’re going to move forward.” Obama called once again for calm reflection, acknowledging both sides. “There is never an excuse for violence against the police,” he said. “There is also no excuse for police to use excessive force against peaceful protests.”

Scott Shackford rolls his eyes:

I thought about highlighting some comments from the four-minute speech, but it’s just that shitty that I can’t quote anything that you can’t just make up in your own head. Calls for peace and calm? Check. Statement that feds are investigating? Check. Declaration that we all have “shared values” in the face of clear evidence otherwise? Check. Belief that we’re all equal under the law as though that has ever been the case for law enforcement officers? Check. … Completely absent: Any sort of reference to the militarization of the police, the very thing that has become a central, fundamental part of this narrative. It’s the one component that is drawing the left and the right together. And yet, the issue of these police officers having absurd, unnecessary weapons and trucks is completely unmentioned.

Paul Waldman cuts the president some slack:

It’s understandable to hear Obama talk this way. First of all, he was probably eager to avoid saying anything that would get anyone too riled up, particularly while the situation is ongoing. And since the Justice Department is participating in the investigation, it’s important for him as the head of the federal government not to express an opinion (yet) about what actually happened between Michael Brown and the officer who killed him, lest it appear that that investigation is anything but an objective one.

All that may be true, but it still won’t go down easy.

But Brendan Nyhan suggests there’s no good way for Obama to address the issue:

Many who have called on Mr. Obama to speak up may not realize that it could be counterproductive for him to be visibly involved in the debate. Research by a Brown University political scientist, Michael Tesler, shows that the mere mention of Mr. Obama, the first African-American president, polarizes the public along racial lines on issues ranging from health care to how people feel about his dog, Bo. The Ferguson controversy may end up being as divisive as the Trayvon Martin case and the arrest of the Harvard professorHenry Louis Gates – two racially charged controversies that became more prominent and arguably more polarized after Mr. Obama addressed them.

Previous Dish on Michael Brown here. More to come shortly.

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.

Where Are the Libertarians on Ferguson? Here, LMGTFY

by Elizabeth Nolan Brown

Apologies for another defensive libertarian post, but there seems to be a meme going around that libertarians don’t care or aren’t talking about what’s going on in Ferguson, Missouri. And like most things mainstream left/right pundits say about libertarians, it has almost zero relation to the truth. “Why aren’t libertarians talking about Ferguson?” The Washington Post’s Paul Waldman asks. Why, indeed?


Radley Balko, a libertarian writing for the same paper as Waldman (and who literally wrote the book on the dangers of U.S. police militarization), reported on Ferguson in the paper and has been tweeting nonstop about it. Here are some thoughts from Jonathan Blanks of the Cato Institute from the day of the shooting. Here’s Reason, where I work, covering the shooting and its aftermath this whole time.  Here’s Conor Friedersdorf covering it at The Atlantic. Here’s some more of the ample, ongoing commentary from libertarians on Twitter:

If you don’t think libertarians are talking about (and outraged over) Ferguson, you’re clearly not reading or talking to many libertarians.

To make his case that libertarians were being silent on this, Waldman cited two Republican politicians and one libertarian journalist that only writes a weekly column. (He does note at the bottom of the article that Reason was, in fact, covering Ferguson.) Leaving aside the fact that two-thirds of this sample of libertarians does not consist of libertarians, it’s still an absurd premise. One could easily pick three GOP or Democrat politicians and writers not talking about Ferguson and conjure up a similar storyline.

Waldman et al clearly want to give the impression that libertarians “believe that when somebody’s grandson has to pay taxes on their inheritance, it’s a horrifying injustice that demands redress, but when somebody else’s grandson gets shot walking down the street, that’s just how things go sometimes,” as he wrote at the Post. But this is a lie, or at least self-deception. Cato’s Jason Kuznicki sums up the mindset nicely:

People like Waldman and Pollitt try to claim the moral high-ground on these issues. But in times that matter, they would rather waste time and space on making libertarians look bad than come together with us on a serious issue on which we all agree.