It’s difficult to write about what has happened and is still happening in Ferguson, Missouri. During the past ten days, there have been times when the streets of this small Midwestern town resembled images beamed from Baghdad. Military tanks and military Humvees. Cops decked out like soldiers in full military gear – gas masks, automatic rifles, even guys riding on top of these huge tanks like snipers, ready to take out whoever misbehaved.
All of this was the result of local cops shooting an unarmed black man, Michael Brown, 18. Apparently this killing is pretty much business as usual in Ferguson, a town that is predominately black, but whose 53 police officers are mostly white – 50 out of the 53.
What really appalled me about this story was the revelation that the Pentagon sold surplus equipment from the battles in Iraq and Afghanistan to local U.S police departments under something called the Defense Department’s 1033 program. Its motto is “from warfighter to crimefighter.” These local PDs can also purchase similar equipment through grants from the Department of Homeland Security.
What business does the Pentagon have selling this surplus equipment to tiny police departments like Ferguson where, until the death of Michael Brown, there had been no murders in 2014? Does our community have such equipment?
Night after night, Rob and I watched these events on MSNBC, where commentator Chris Hayes did a stellar job of explaining what was happening. The media in Ferguson were hampered by the closing of airspace above Ferguson to any planes except police choppers. It meant that journalists were denied the larger picture that media choppers might have provided.
Watching these protestors, I was reminded of all the protests during the Vietnam War. In May 1970, friends and I drove from upstate New York to Washington DC for one of the largest protests against the war, the Kent State shootings, and Nixon’s invasion of Cambodia. There were more than 100,000 protestors.
We crashed in a city park that night, with hundreds of other protesters, and readied our meager and ridiculous bandanas with Vaseline, which was supposed to stop the effects of tear gas. Toward dawn, we were chased out of the park by cops and took to the streets.
There’s a momentum that builds in crowds this large. You can taste it, feel it, are swept up in it. People are unified by a singular vision or cause and seek to right a wrong. But in the courts, righting what is wrong takes time. In spite of that protest in 1970, Nixon wasn’t impeached until 1974.
Darren Wilson, the cop who shot Michael Brown, has his side of the story. But he hasn’t told it yet. He’s on paid administrative leave. Nearly two weeks after the shooting, the cops have yet to release details of the autopsy, the police report, or anything else that is relevant. Instead, they have released video that shows a convenience store robbery that may have involved Brown, but which they admit had nothing to do with why Wilson shot Brown. That video seems tailored to disparage Brown’s character.
More than 70,000 people have signed a petition urging the prosecutor to recuse himself from the case. He and the Missouri governor have sparred over this publicly. The governor has the power to appoint a special prosecutor, but he has said that Prosecutor McCulluch should do it on his own. So far he hasn’t.
Prosecutor McCulluch himself has a rather interesting history that could bias this case: his father, a white cop, was shot and killed by a black man.
Some sort of past life scenario may be playing out here. We’ve recognized some synchros, but didn’t jot them down because this whole thing seemed so impossible to write about. How can there be such animosity toward Afro-Americans more than 50 years after the Civil Rights Act was passed?
My daughter and her generation don’t see color. They see human beings. So perhaps there has been some progress on that generational front. But twentysomethings are not in charge in Ferguson. In Ferguson, aging white men dominate the police force and the corridors of power. In national politics, aging white men dominate the scene in both parties, in both houses of Congress.
We are a country so divided that Egypt- EGYPT – urged caution in Ferguson. Wow. The Arab Spring meets racism on the other side of the world. Go figure.
I predict that when Jay Nixon – the Democratic governor- comes up for re-election he will lose. Watch him for a minute and you’ll realize this guy is clueless. He hasn’t even visited Ferguson.
And then watch the video in which two cops gunned down a young black man less than four miles from Ferguson and ask yourself, Is this who we are? Is this the best we can do? WTF?