A Few Things You Might Not Know about What’s Happening in Ferguson

For the past four days, protests have been ongoing in Ferguson, Missouri in the wake of what appears to be a completely, grossly unjustified killing of an 18-year-old Mike Brown by police officers. Some of the most egregious facts of what’s happening in Ferguson are already well known: Police have refused to release the name of the officer who shot the young man (though Anonymous claims to have revealed it); the officer has been put on administrative leave while the FBI investigates; police have responded disproportionately to protestors in Ferguson, including launching tear gas and shooting rubber and wooden bullets at peaceful protesters; the police randomly and unjustifiably arrested two prominent journalists for “trespassing” in a McDonald’s—one of which was slammed into a Coke machine.

What’s has happened and is happening in Ferguson is a culmination of some things libertarians have been saying for years: that police target racial minorities unfairly, that local police departments have been increasingly militarized and are getting out of control. So it makes sense for TOL to comment on what’s happening; this is the essence of what liberty seeks to avoid: tyranny. But, every roundtable we do here is different, and this one has a good bunch of things that I didn’t know about what was happening in Ferguson, and if you haven’t been following events there closely, you might find a few things that surprise (and appall) you too.

Aunt Merryweather

My first inclination when Gina announced #Ferguson for this week’s roundtable was a simple sentence: “Fuck tha police.” To be fair, that’s still my reaction, but after doing a bit of reading on the protests today (it’s August recess and there’s little work to do at the office), I’ve learned about some systemic failures that have exacerbated the tension of the situation. First, Vox’s Dara Lind explains why the cops in Ferguson seem so unaccountable: they quite literally are not accountable to a single boss. Four different independent law enforcement agencies are involved in policing the town, and none of them report to each other. Second, the always insightful Megan McArdle did some research into Ferguson’s demographics. What she found was striking: Between 1990 and 2010, the town’s population had flipped from majority-white to majority-black. Because government agency turnover often lags huge demographic shifts, the town’s government and police force has remained mostly white, creating a situation where a minority-majority with a long history of oppression is being policed by the majority-majority that even Rand Paul realizes has made their lives difficult. These two factors have created a flashpoint situation that we can only hope de-escalates soon and without further violence. Michael Brown’s family and community members deserve justice, not another “national (Twitter) conversation about race” that ultimately leads to nothing changing.

Rachel Burger

What astounds me about Ferguson–from the shooting of Michael Brown to the riots–is how racially charged the fallout has been. In my eyes, the Michael Brown shooting is not the same as Trayvon Martin–this case, particularly in conjunction with the police, has blatant racial overtone.

The entire situation screams of racial injustice. The problem is that when the police is militarized and leadership remains silent, there is nowhere to turn.

Gina Luttrell

There’s a hell of a lot to say about this that has been said, and perhaps said better, in other places. What might have turned into another instance of police brutality and excessive force that was only covered by Reason and other libertarians has now become a national outcry as the community stands up for the rights of themselves and one of their citizens. And make no mistake: What is happening in Ferguson right now is a battle. The very same people that citizens are protesting are the ones who are responsible for “keeping order.” I applaud the Ferguson citizens for refusing to stay quiet on this injustice, and I will light a candle to keep you all safe.

Addie Hollis

Oh look, another unarmed person dead by cop. How many people (and animals) will die before something is done? I’m honestly getting a bit tired of reading stories about the bad things cops do, when no one is doing anything to correct these issues. And when I mean “no one” I mean the police departments, the local, state or federal governments, the people with the “authority” to make decisions. You wanted to make them for us and police us, and as your constituents and the people you are supposed to protect, maybe you should rethink how things are being done (because people aren’t happy). Situations like these do nothing to curtail suspicions and hatred of police officers — especially in areas such as Ferguson. These situations, which occur too much, should rightfully bring about suspicion of those who are supposed to protect and serve. President Obama asks for peace in a time where solutions are needed. I don’t think the police or the government can give them as evidenced by their main screw ups. But hopefully this is a wake up call for your everyday Joe and Jane to make some changes starting from the bottom up.

Kelli Gulite

The response to Ferguson illuminates an important change in mainstream politics and the social conscience. The average non-political citizen is starting to realize that cops’ excessive uses of force and unjustified murders are not the product of one bad apple or a couple of rogue officers, but rather the result of police departments’ poor institutional practices and aggressive blue-curtain culture. After the many stories of police brutality in recent years, prominent journalists are beginning to spot trends. ABC recently ran an article detailing the over-militarization of police in America. TIME also likened the Ferguson Police Dept. to U.S. army patrols in Iraq. More importantly, politicians, who have traditionally dismissed these types of tragedies as isolated incidents are now confident enough to call out police departments without fear of political suicide. Senator Claire McCaskill rightly called the Ferguson police “a problem,” and President Obama made no apologies for their actions in his recent address. While I hate the fact that Ferguson happened, I hope it will help bring about serious reform.

Avens O’Brien

I agree with the comments above mine as I struggle to piece together an original thought that isn’t better articulated by everybody else. This morning reports spread that in 2011, the police chief of St. Louis County went to Israel for “counter-terrorism” training under the Israeli Defensive Forces. The massive increase of police militarization has been going on for decades, but recent events are highlighting it so even mainstream America can’t look away.  As President Obama calls for peace and “transparency” (something his administration isn’t very good at), it makes me wonder – who is really in control of our police forces? Who are the accountable to anymore, and whose interests are they defending? I feel like with these current events, my “Where Has All The Protest Gone?” article should really just be amended to admit – when we protest: they beat us, shoot us, arrest us or send us home. My heart hurts for the family of Michael Brown and the people of Ferguson. I don’t want America’s wake up calls to the violence of the state to be bullets in our children. I hope more incidences like this don’t have to occur in order to bring about the changes we so desperately need.