Yes, the world is a cruel place. We are not living in the 1950s anymore when a few squad cars were usually enough to calm most any civil disobedience. Since the 1960s and beyond with massive riots and demonstrations, school shootings, and 9/11, I’ve seen a few “squad cars” just for pulling a car over to the side of the road. Even the infamous “swat teams” seem like a thing of the past-almost antiquated in today’s world. With the latest cop killing of a black man in Ferguson, Missouri, the scene afterwards seemed reminiscent of a deployment in Iraq or Afghanistan. I’m not saying the police shouldn’t have “heavy artillery” or even protective gear to wear, but armored personnel carriers with machine guns mounted on the roof, and snipers, makes for a look one might see in a war zone-somewhere in a distant land or third world country headed by a dictator.
It’s too early to properly describe the black youth killed in Ferguson which started this debacle as a boyscout, but for the second time in as many weeks, a black man was killed by a white police officer. Two weeks ago in New York, a man was killed when he may have rejected the police overreaction because this man was selling cigarettes illegally. From what apparently transpired at that scene, a choke hold was overkill, and was the apparent reason this man died while in a needless tussle with the police.It’s not as clear what happened with Michael Brown in Ferguson, but one minute he was walking in the street with a friend, and the next thing we know-he’s shot dead by a police officer. What happened in-between is murky, and we only have Brown’s friend, and the officer who shot him as witnesses. There’s an investigation on-going, but circumstances may cloud reality no matter what is found.
A few days ago as tensions mounted against the Ferguson Police Department, a convenient store video seemed to show Brown stealing some cigars, and pushing what may have been the store manager/owner(?) to the side as Brown departed with the stolen goods. Allegedly, the police office who shot Brown, claimed he didn’t know of any robbery. This may be true, but if Brown thought he was being targeted for this illegal deed, maybe he reacted accordingly, and the situation heated up from there-ending with gunshots and Brown’s death. These are circumstances which may never be answered.
As the world’s leading weapons manufacturer and dealer, America has so much surplus, that the government is now selling older equipment to the nation’s police departments. The end result is many of our cities, and some smaller areas like Ferguson are taking on the look of a war zone, regardless of the crime taking place which “necessitated” such a reaction by law enforcement. Is this really what we want in our country? Naturally, black America gets such a primary focus by the police because an inordinate amount of crime is taking place in these neighborhoods. But still-does this always require sending in the Marines-so-to-speak? I believe the police- when instituting such an overwhelming show of force, only serves to intensify the reaction of a crowd when tear gas is thrown and armored cars are sent in. The only item missing are tanks or bazookas. What does this type of force look like to the outside world? We preach practices of temperance and understanding to other nations, but look quite the military power when reacting to even limited disobedience in our own neighborhoods.
It’s not always black neighborhoods either: we have a growing number of cameras at major intersections taking pictures of all of us, resulting in tickets on occasion; we have police check points throughout the United States, randomly pulling over citizens in case they’re drinking and driving, or maybe because they don’t have a valid driver’s license or insurance. Yes, some of this may be going on for our own good and safety, but talk about “mission creep”! Will the police one day be allowed to perform house to house searches? It may seem outrageous to think about this happening, but a growing police state could be happening so slowly, we don’t even realize it. We already have issues with our email being hacked, and our private information being checked out by (so called) law abiding agencies of government as well as by anonymous hackers all over the world.
There are things we have to do here in America to assure no citizen is needlessly thrown into the judicial system thereby destroying one’s life over what can be minor infractions. The “war on drugs” was another version of overkill which resulted in an obscene growth of our penal system which now outnumbers such law abiding nations such as China and Russia. We have about two million people in prison, an outsized number being people of color. Is it really necessary throwing people away like garbage over some (relatively minor) infraction like a drug bust? Once incarcerated, many of these “offenders” learn crime from the experts, and have no recourse but to resort to crime because when they’re released-there’s simply no reasonable job offers for a person with a record. The issue of greater or longer prison sentences for those busted with crack cocaine is an obvious targeting of blacks because of their use of that type of drug. Police can pick up blacks all day long on those type of offenses, and does this really result in a safer America?
What happened in Ferguson, Missouri is another in a never-ending series of wake-up calls for America. I wouldn’t want to be a cop, but as a citizen, I want a law enforcement system which is reasonably balanced in the way they do their job. If armored personnel carriers seem like a necessity, they should be utilized at the right time, and not just because a crowd needs to be dispersed. Can we cool it with the snipers? Walking a beat may seem so yesterday, but getting to know a community can’t always be done inside a car. Filling up prisons for small crimes is no answer, when there may be other ways to punish someone for breaking the law. In the end, we must always seek to generate jobs and opportunity: having a job, learning some discipline, and getting ahead is still the way to a brighter future-no matter what neighborhood you’re from.