An American War Zone

by Dish Staff

Just a handful of scenes last night from Ferguson, Missouri, following the fifth night of protests against the police shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown:

More to come shortly.

Not Again, Ctd

by Dish Staff

With tensions in the St. Louis area remaining high following the shooting death of unarmed teen Michael Brown, Conor Friersdorf gapes at the now-famous photo of heavily armed police confronting a local protester:

[T]hose three officers are dressed and outfitted such that they could as easily be storming into an ISIS safe house in Iraq. Actually, they are on the streets of an American city, clad in combat gear, squaring off against a nonviolent protestor in a t-shirt and jeans with both of his hands raised over his head. It is easy to see how visuals like these could dissuade people from taking to the streets to assemble in protest of police shootings, as is their moral and Constitutional right.

A handful of protestors in Ferguson, Missouri have reportedly thrown rocks at police, a wholly unjustified act that ought to result in their arrest and prosecution, if the perpetrators can be identified. But in the image above, the camouflage pants and assault rifles are hardly there to protect against thrown rocks. If the police were dressed as civilians, but with helmets and shields, that would be more understandable. The other bit of necessary context: as mostly black protesters face these pseudo-military troopers to protest what they believe to be a civil rights violation, they’re staring at another police excess that disproportionately affects people like them.

Notably, the photographer, Whitney Curtis, was struck by a rubber bullet while covering the scene. Jay Caspian Kang decries the police response:

[A]s the images and stories from Ferguson, Missouri, joined the news churn, many who registered their thoughts via social media noted that what they were seeing – policemen with dogs and AR-15 assault rifles standing in a Stygian, blue-lit cloud of tear gas; crowds of protesters with their hands in the air, screaming “Hands up, don’t shoot”; members of the press being removed from the scene – did not look like America. The sentiment underlying the shock – that the United States should be better, that we have a Constitution that protects its citizens from violent excesses, that an unarmed young man ought to be able to live through an encounter with a police officer – seems almost precious, when one considers the country’s racial history. … But after last night’s militarized reaction to the protests in Ferguson, it’s worth considering whether the typical ending to the story, wherein the outrage of the community is met with silence on the part of the authorities, has changed for the worse.

Annie-Rose Strasser observes ominously that on Tuesday the FAA issued a no-fly zone over Ferguson “to provide a safe environment for law enforcement activities”:

To get more of a sense of what that means, ThinkProgress called the helicopter dispatcher at the St. Louis County Police Department. St. Louis, not Ferguson, has been “responsible for crowd control,” a Ferguson Police spokesperson said. According to the dispatcher, the department originally requested the no-fly zone – for certain flights; “the ceiling is only at 5,000 feet,” the dispatcher said, though the website actually lists 3,000 feet – for 24 hours. The department then asked the FAA to extend the ban on flying.

The reason? “It’s just for a no-fly zone because we have multiple helicopters maneuvering in the area and we were having some problems with news aircrafts flying around there,” the dispatcher, who would only identify himself by his first name, Chris, said. The effort to stop media from flying over the area to film is troubling, especially in light of reports that police have turned journalists away from the sites of the protests.

Melissa Byrne suggests the police bear some responsibility for the rioting:

They should have gathered people of faith and trauma specialists to listen to the community. They should have ordered pizzas and sodas to feed people into night as they aired their anger and grievances. They should have packed away all need to fight the community. They should have committed to an open and transparent process for justice. They should have not relied on creating the conditions for a riot to cover up for their history of problematic policing. Yes, it was wrong for people to commit property damage, but I am 100-percent confident that non-violent, non-aggressive policing would have prevented the outburst of rage.

Emily Badger examines the racial composition of the Ferguson Police Department:

The St. Louis suburb of Ferguson where the working-class, majority-black population has been clashing with law enforcement for the last three days has 53 commissioned police officers. According to the city’s police chief, three of them are black. These numbers matter not just for the terrible optics of white officers clutching tear gas canisters opposite black residents shouting back. They speak to a fundamental problem rooted deep in history and driving the perception of injustice in Ferguson today: This community isn’t represented in its own institutions of power.

Robert Tracinski, in a post regrettably titled “Why Ferguson Needs John Adams,” urges observers not to rush to conclusions:

We ought to know how much can be distorted, misrepresented, and misunderstood by seemingly official or sympathetic sources on all sides, how long it can take for accurate information to come out, and how equivocal the results can be, with the evidence so evenly balanced as to convince partisans on both sides that they are right. But when every new politically charged shooting comes along, we forget what we should have learned, and there we all go, back to making confident pronouncements about who we think did what, who is the villain, and what is the remedy. The cardinal sin here is the subordination of facts to a “narrative” adopted by activists and by the media. To adopt a narrative about how all police are racist or all police lie about shootings would be as unjust as to adopt a narrative about how all young black men are violent. Instead of insisting on our cherished narrative, we should be calling for the rule of law—which applies for everyone.

But John McWhorter contends that the narrative about racially biased policing is accurate:

I am the last person to jump in with overheated rhetoric that America is engaged in a “war against black men.” There is no evidence of anything so deliberate. However, when more temperately minded people say that black lives are valued less in the clinch than white ones, jump in I must, because it’s true.

A few weeks ago, white 18-year-old Steve Lohner could tote a gun around in Aurora, Colorado (where in 2012 James Holmes gunned 12 people to death and injured 70 others), practically taunting law enforcement  to mess with him, in a quest to make a showy point about gun rights. Who among us can pretend that if a black kid was doing the same thing he wouldn’t be much more likely to wind up killed? Those inclined to pretend might note that meanwhile, black 22-year-old John Crawford was killed two weeks later for holding a toy gun at a Wal-Mart in Ohio. This kind of thing sits in black American minds and creates a sense of alienation.

Meanwhile, Landon Jones mulls over the shooting in light of St. Louis’ troubled racial history:

There is no large city in America more burdened by racial tension and mutual suspicion than St. Louis. The racial and economic problems that have beset America’s cities are particularly intense in my hometown. Despite the city’s large black population, the single black person I met during my childhood in the 1950s was my parents’ housekeeper, Willie Brown. She would arrive at our house once a week and go to the basement to change into her maid’s dress. St. Louis is the city that produced Miles Davis, Chuck Berry, and Josephine Baker. Yet when Michael Brown died, white and black residents quickly drew back to their default positions of mutual distrust: Black people took to the streets to express their anger, while white citizens expressed dismay at the chaos. There are echoes of this throughout the city’s history.

But Jelani Cobb emphasizes that such an event could happen anywhere:

Three weeks ago, Eric Garner died as the result of N.Y.P.D. officers placing him in a choke hold, a banned tactic, following a confrontation over selling loose cigarettes. His death echoed that of Renisha McBride, the nineteen-year-old who was killed when she knocked on a stranger’s door following a car accident, which in turn conjured memories of Jonathan Ferrell, who was shot ten times and killed by officers in North Carolina soon after the death, in Florida, of Jordan Davis, shot by a man who wanted him to turn down his music, which in turn paralleled the circumstances of Trayvon Martin’s demise. For those who have no choice but to remember these matters, those names have been inducted into a grim roll call that includes Sean Bell, Oscar Grant, Amadou Diallo, and Eleanor Bumpurs. These are all distinct incidents that took place under particular circumstances in differing locales. Yet what happened on Staten Island and in Dearborn Heights, Charlotte, Jacksonville, and Sanford have culminated, again, in the specific timbre of familial grief, a familiar strain of outrage, and an accompanying body of commentary straining to find a novel angle to the recurring tragedy.



Not Again, Ctd

by Dish Staff

Dara Lind brings us up to date on yesterday’s developments in the Michael Brown case:

After Sunday night’s unrest, a protest and rally scheduled for 10am Monday morning was canceled, and the mayor of Ferguson has said that anyone who attempted to show up to the rally would be arrested. Regardless, people still turned up at police headquarters to protest. Police officers were there with riot gear. After about two hours, the police succeeded in getting the crowd to disperse and started making arrests.

On Monday night, protests continued. Groups gathered in the street, raising their hands in surrender and chanting “Don’t shoot” – it’s become the unofficial motto of the Ferguson protests. Police also attempted to disperse these protests, moving down W. Florissant, the main street in the neighborhood. This time, they used tear gas and explosives to clear crowds, and fired rubber bullets. One report indicates that police cocked their rifles at protesters. Police told protesters to “go home,” but several residents protested that they were trapped in cul-de-sacs while the main road was closed off. Police also threatened press with arrest if they didn’t leave the scene.

Ed Morrissey is hung up on the weekend’s rioting:

So far, it appears that no one died or got seriously injured during the riot, although that hasn’t been entirely confirmed yet. If so, consider that luck. Riots get very ugly very quickly, and usually include vendettas from old conflicts and new. That was the case in the LA riots of 1992 after the Rodney King verdict, which resulted in 53 deaths, more than two thousand injuries, and 11,000 arrests.

In the end, though, the LA riots did what the Ferguson riot did last night — damage the community that had the grievance in the first place. Riots are about rage and insanity, not justice or accountability, and it drives people away rather than heal, regardless of whether the underlying cause is just or not. It destroys investment, usually in areas which already suffer from a lack of investment in the first place, and mires the area even deeper into poverty and dysfunction. It’s senseless and harms the people that were allegedly victimized in the first place.

But Jia Tolentino is more disturbed by the authorities’ response:

The chief of the St. Louis County Police Force “ask[s] the public to be reasonable” in this difficult time. The police, in the meantime, are dealing with looting and considerable unrest, but all accounts point to them not being reasonable.

Mychal Denzel Smith is frustrated:

Rioting/looting (what some would call rebellion) may not provide answers or justice. But what to do with the anger in the meantime? We are told to stay calm, but calm has not delivered justice either. Do we wait for the FBI to investigate? I guess, but what to do in the meantime, as the images coming from Ferguson echo Watts in 1965? We’re told not to tear up our own communities, when time and time again we’re reminded that they don’t belong to us. Deaths like Michael Brown’s tell us we don’t belong here. What, then?

Counting the bodies is draining. With every black life we lose, we end up saying the same things. We plead for our humanity to be recognized. We pray for the lives of our young people. We remind everyone of our history. And then another black person dies.

Amy Davidson weighs in on the whole sad affair:

Michael Brown was black and tall; was it his body that the police officer thought was dangerous enough? Perhaps it was enough for the officer that he lived on a certain block in a certain neighborhood; shooting down the street, after all, exhibits a certain lack of concern about anyone else who might be walking by. That sort of calculus raises questions about an entire community’s rights. One way or the other, this happens too often to young men who look like Brown, or like Trayvon Martin, or, as President Obama once put it, like a son he might have had.

Not Again

by Dish Staff

Mark Berman summarizes the big news out of Ferguson, Missouri:

An unarmed black teenager named Michael Brown was shot and killed Saturday by a police officer in suburban St. Louis. People protested Saturday and Sunday, with large crowds of protesters and police facing off multiple times since the shooting. Some rioting and looting also broke out late Sunday night. Federal authorities are monitoring the shooting as groups and officials call for investigations.

The circumstances surrounding the shooting appear to be somewhat unclear. Police said Saturday that the shooting followed an encounter involving a police officer, Brown and another person Saturday afternoon, but additional confirmed details are scarce. Jon Belmar, chief of the St. Louis County police, said that the episode began with “a physical confrontation.” Belmar did not explain what prompted the confrontation, but he said that the officer was pushed back into his squad car during the episode and that one shot was fired from the officer’s weapon inside the car. Brown was shot multiple times – “more than just a couple,” Belmar said – on the street nearby, and all shell casings matched the officer’s gun. It’s not known yet why the officer shot him, nor why lethal force was used.

Jonathan Capehart hears echoes of the Trayvon Martin shooting:

When I wrote first wrote about Martin’s killing, I said that one of the burdens of being a black male was bearing the heavy weight of other people’s suspicions. The McBride murder shows that such suspicion knows no gender. I also wrote about the lessons my mother taught me growing up. How I shouldn’t run in public, lest I arouse undue suspicion. How I most definitely should not run with anything in my hands, lest anyone think I stole something. The lesson included not talking back to the police, lest you give them a reason to take you to jail – or worse. …

When you’re black and especially male – in the United States – you have to go to these seemingly overboard, extra lengths in the off-chance they might save your life. But none of those things would have helped me if I were in the shoes of Michael Brown or Renisha McBride or Trayvon Martin. We don’t know yet if Brown was asked for identification, but we know the other two weren’t. Perhaps their assailants saw all they needed to know. What frightens me more than anything in the world is that the chances are very high that one day I might be in their shoes and might meet their tragic end. The so-called victims of the nonexistent “war on whites” have absolutely NO idea what living under that kind of siege, that kind of very real threat, is like.

Capehart also has some choice words for the looters:

This is not how you protest the shooting of an unarmed teenager. This is not how you show support for his grieving family. This is not how you make authorities understand your anger and concern. This is not how you get others to join your cause. Perhaps I’m being too generous when it comes to those knuckleheads who used a tragedy to trash businesses and scurry off with bottles of wine, among other things. Perhaps I’m giving the looters too much credit by presuming they actually care about what happened to Michael Brown and how to prevent it from happening again. But there are plenty of people who do care and want answers. The actions of selfish and opportunistic looters must not distract us from getting them.

Meanwhile, Bill Chappell examines the rise of #IfTheyGunnedMeDown:

The use of different photos to portray shooting victim Michael Brown, who was killed by a police officer Saturday, prompted an interesting phenomenon on Twitter Monday: Users are posting “dueling” photos of themselves – one where the subject looks wholesome, and another where the same person might look like a troublemaker – with the hashtag #IfTheyGunnedMeDown. Behind the trend is the question of which photo the media would seize upon, if the posters had a run-in with police. For some, it’s another way this episode calls to mind the shooting death of Trayvon Martin – and the various photos used to portray both the teenager and his killer, George Zimmerman.

James Poniewozik calls #IfTheyGunnedMeDown a “a simple, ingenious DIY form of media criticism”:

It was a brilliant media critique, and while Twitter and other platforms may have no magical power to stop shootings or catch warlords, one thing they are very good at is catching the attention of the media. Journalists pay attention to Twitter–disproportionate attention, maybe–and that makes it a very, very good place to deliver the modern version of a letter to the editor. You could say similar of #YesAllWomen, or of the #BringBackOurGirls hashtag of earlier this year: no, it didn’t have the power to free the Nigerian schoolgirls abducted by Boko Haram, but it did put the story on homepages and newscasts often resistant to overseas news, especially from sub-Saharan Africa.

Yesha Callahan sighs:

It’s safe to say that Brown has become a victim of what I like to refer to as the “Trayvon Martin effect” in the media. Trayvon, who was killed by George Zimmerman, was depicted as a gold-grill-wearing, weed-smoking teenager in the photos used by the media. There were no photos of Trayvon smiling with his family members or being just your average happy teen, which his family members said he was. Similarly, the photos of Brown that have been picked up by the media included him throwing up a peace sign, which conservative media has translated into a “gang sign.” You’d be hard-pressed to find mainstream media showing Brown at his high school graduation or with members of his family. … Unfortunately, because of Ferguson police, we’ll never be able to see a photo of Brown attending his first day of college today.