There’s a sense among many that the police are growing to be more of a liability than an asset and that law enforcement isn’t necessarily fulfilling its “to serve and protect” duties.
In Ferguson, Missouri, outrage over the police shooting of a teenager has led to multiple days of protest, the Federal Aviation Administration closing off Ferguson’s airspace for all aircraft flying below 3,000 feet, and an armed protester being shot at a community meeting. For many both in- and outside of Ferguson, the situation there reflects a nationwide crisis involving a police culture that is growing increasingly out-of-touch with the public it has sworn to protect.
Although details are still emerging, known facts on this case show that Michael Brown, 18, was shot by an on-duty police officer, who has not been identified due to concerns about the officer’s safety.
According to the St. Louis County Police Department, Brown, accompanied by a friend, was walking on a street near an apartment complex when the unnamed officer approached the pair by car and ordered them to the ground for reasons that have yet to be disclosed.
In the struggle, one of the pair pushed the officer back into his squad car while attempting to exit, leading the officer to fire at least one shot from within the car. The struggle spilled out onto the street, where the officer fired additional shots at Brown, who was not armed.
Dorian Johnson, 22, who was accompanying Brown during the encounter with the officer, told MSNBC that there was no fight, that the squad car’s door bounced back on the officer after hitting Brown, and — after running following the officer’s alleged threat of shooting him — Brown signalled he was unarmed by raising his hands above his head. Johnson has not been charged and is thought to also have been unarmed at the time of the incident.
Frustrations concerning how the St. Louis County Police have handled this case are partly responsible for the rioting. Rioting, in general, has historically been a foreign concept in St. Louis; the city was one of the only Mississippi River cities not to suffer any rioting during the civil rights era or in the wake of the death of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
However, threats from the police to journalists covering the story, police aggression in response to peaceful memorials and demonstrations, a perceived refusal by police to investigate the case, and the city leadership’s perceived lack of willingness to address the issues behind the shooting have all led to a situation in which 59 people have been arrested, at least nine have been injured, many businesses have been looted and police helicopters have allegedly been shot at. Johnson, an eyewitness to Brown’s shooting, for example, had not been interviewed by police by the time this article was written.
Strangely, though, most of the people rioting in Ferguson are not from Ferguson, but nearby St. Louis. “This isn’t unique to Ferguson,” said Antonio French, a St. Louis alderman, to the Washington Post. “This is no different than if it happened in Dellwood, Jennings or St. Louis. This has really been bubbling up for a long time.”
The closeness of this shooting to the chokehold death of Eric Garner by a New York City police officer has led many to look at Brown’s death as being indicative of a larger problem. This concept is reinforced by reports that Los Angeles Police Department officers fired on and shot a 25-year-old man — Ezell Ford — while he was allegedly following police orders. During an “investigative stop” Monday evening, “a struggle ensued,” according to the police news release, and the officers opened fire.
According to his mother, Tritobia Ford, Ezell Ford was lying on the ground, per the officers’ commands, when he was shot three times. The officers denied Tritobia information on where her son was hospitalized.
“They laid him out and for whatever reason, they shot him in the back, knowing mentally, he has complications. Every officer in this area, from the Newton Division, knows that — that this child has mental problems,” an unidentified witness told KTLA. “The excessive force … there was no purpose for it. The multiple shootings in the back while he’s laying down? No. Then when the mom comes, they don’t try to console her … they pull the billy clubs out.”
For many, these situations reflect a growing distrust of the police. Recent incidents, such as “stop & frisk” in New York City, the “Riders Scandal” in Oakland and the 2011 U.S. Department of Justice finding that the Seattle Police Department used excessive or unnecessary force in more than half of its arrests, indicate a growing disconnect between the notion of the police as public servants and the notion of the police as enforcers of the law. There is a sense felt by many that there is no real accountability among the police. Further, questions of bias, bigotry and personal disposition have led many to wonder if the police have grown to be more of a liability than an asset.
“If you’re angry, throw your arms up,” said the Rev. Al Sharpton, who traveled to St. Louis in the wake of Brown’s death. “If you want justice, throw your arms up. Because that’s the sign Michael was using. He had a surrender sign. That’s the sign you have to deal with. Use the sign he last showed. We want answers why that last sign was not respected.”