Last Saturday afternoon an unarmed black teenager by the name of Michael Brown was shot and killed by a white police officer in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri. Brown and a friend were walking to his grandmother's house when they were stopped by the police officer. The reason for the stop remains unclear at this point. A confrontation ensued which resulted in the young man being shot multiple times. The exact number of times the youth was shot will be revealed when the autopsy is released - reportedly at least four weeks from now. The name of the police officer also has not been disclosed.
In the ensuing days since the shooting, citizen protests have erupted in Ferguson, and the national press has converged on the scene.
Ferguson, Missouri, is emblematic of the lingering impact of race and discrimination across America. As late as 1970 the city was 99% white, but as of 2010 the white citizenry numbered only 27% and blacks comprised a 69% majority. The racial shift has been swift and it has been dramatic. Many residents of Ferguson today live either in or on the edges of poverty.
The Ferguson Police Department has 53 officers with only three of that number being black. The police chief said that he is trying to racially diversity the force but that he has had trouble finding capable applicants.
(Sadly, I am reminded of when Attorney General Robert Kennedy would telephone FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, almost daily, and ask if he had hired any black FBI agents that day. Hoover, too, could not find qualified black applicants - and on those rare occasions when he did, they invariably became cooks or drivers for his agency.)
The Ferguson Police Department and the St. Louis County Police Department (separate entities) are like so many other police departments in America - heavily militarized due to the steady transfer of military equipment to state and local police departments. Since 1996 the federal government has pumped over four billion dollars worth of surplus military armaments and equipment to police departments across the Untied States - ostensibly to fight the "war on drugs." Some veterans of the recent wars in the Middle East have been tweeting the past few days that news photos of local police in Ferguson show them to be better armed and equipped than the servicemen were when they were fighting overseas.
Too many boys with too many toys - striking bad-ass poses.
There has been street fighting and violence in and around Ferguson, particularly during the evening hours. Vandalism and looting have also occurred. Ironically, while police were almost too quick to release names and personal information of the nine people whom they arrested for looting, the police officer who gunned down Michael Brown still has not been identified.
The National Bar Association, a predominantly black organization of lawyers, has announced that it is suing to learn the name of the police officer who shot Brown. It is also asking for information on the officer's history with the force and performance record.
The infamous hacker group "Anonymous" says that they have access to records of the Ferguson Police Department, and today they tweeted the name of a man they believe to be the officer who shot Brown. The St. Louis County Police Department quickly responded with a tweet of their own saying that no such officer exists in the Ferguson or St. Louis County Police Departments, and that Anonymous should release no more information on this "random citizen." Anonymous is now threatening to release a collection of personal information on every officer in the Ferguson Police Department.
Last night a pair of reporters for the Huffington Post and the Washington Post were roughed up (allegedly) and briefly taken into custody as they sat in a local McDonalds working on their news stories.
A front page article in today's USA Today contains a graphic showing information from the police blotter in Ferguson. The graphic, which did not disclose the time period for the data, showed police had stopped 686 whites and 4,632 blacks, searched 47 whites and 562 blacks, and arrested 36 whites and 483 blacks.
President Obama plans to make a statement today on the situation in Ferguson, something one conservative commentator referred to as "throwing gasoline on the fire," and Missouri Governor Jay Nixon is reportedly headed to St. Louis where he may remove the St. Louis County Police Department from the situation entirely and replace them with state police - and with perhaps even some FBI involvement.
Whatever these two leaders do, it is clearly time that someone with more authority than a local police chief step in and take charge. Order must be made of chaos, and justice must prevail.