Now that some of the tragic events that happened in Ferguson, Missouri have passed, can we learn anything from this? I worked as a prosecutor some years ago. In that job I had lots of contact with police as we worked on cases. Here are some ideas from my experience.
1. The level of violence on both sides—the community and the police—has gone up, unfortunately. We saw that in Ferguson, Missouri with the shooting of the young man and the civil violence that followed. I first started working in criminal law 30+ years ago. I remember cops retiring and bragging that during their entire career, they’d never once drawn their gun. They were proud to have avoided any tragedy as a result of a shooting. I don’t know why violence has increased. But cops feel unsafe on the streets and so does the community. This probably causes the cops to sometimes shoot and “ask questions later.”
2. Thanks to gifts to local police departments from the federal government, police now have many of the same weapons and armor used by the military in combat. Perhaps, this equipment would be necessary in the event of a terrorist attack. But against civilians, do the police really need all the firepower? Does this give the police the wrong attitude? Instead of policing neighborhoods cooperatively with citizens, it’s become a potential war zone—which is what happened in Ferguson, Missouri. The photos I saw looked like combat in Iraq. I get the feeling that after all the training in the use of these combat weapons, some police are even anxious to use them. That’s wrong.
3. The community bears responsibility also. In my work as a prosecutor with minority communities, I saw tragic things happen. We all know that minority communities are victimized more than others. I worked on many cases where the police attempted to investigate serious crime but didn’t get cooperation from these communiites. Of course, there’s a long-standing suspicion of the police and the system in these communities—for good reason. But the bottom line is that those people most victimized are not getting help.
4. The Ferguson, Missouri minority community is unhappy with the racial make-up of the local government and the police force. The community doesn’t feel fully represented in either institution. However, even though the minority community is about 2/3 of the population, only 6% of this community votes. In the history of the United State, many minority groups have been similarly angry about discriminatory treatment. But many of these groups went to the polls and took power in an effort to correct the problems. Maybe the people in Ferguson, Missouri should do the same.
What ideas do you have about Ferguson, Missouri and what happened there?