Jay NixonLast weekend, it was no surprise that Missouri Governor Jay Nixon declared a state of emergency and ordered a curfew. The town of Ferguson is boiling in anger. It is experiencing, as well-known social activist Dick Gregory states, “a riot”.
Apparently, this week-long riot was sparked by the killing of an 18 year old by a local police officer. Police officers’ and neighborhood residents’ descriptions of the event are vastly different, suggesting someone is blatantly and intentionally distorting the truth.
During the past week, the Governor consistently has appeared at press conferences with African Americans. This past weekend, he was flanked by many.
It appeared as though the Governor pushed these African Americans in front of the microphone when some in the audience shouted out tough questions and demanded answers. Perhaps the Governor hoped they could quell these audience members’ anger. At best, it appeared an awkward moment for these African Americans. Unfortunately, they too did not answer the questions posed.
This week started with a peaceful Sunday afternoon meeting at a local church. Hundreds of neighborhood residents were there, continuing their demand that an unbiased and thorough investigation into the teenager’s death be completed. Some called for the arrest of the police officer.
Late Sunday night, the police continued to shoot tear gas at neighborhood residents, claiming they were violating the curfew and causing property damage. Like the previous nights, it was an ugly scene – looking more like a war zone in a far-off land rather than a suburb in America’s heartland.
On Monday, the Governor called out the National Guard. They too will dress like soldiers in combat.
In Ferguson, the military dress and armament of local police have fueled neighborhood residents’ anger, and ignited a debate about the militarization of America’s local police agencies. Having these police officers walk around, with 100-pound German Shepard dogs barking at protestors holding their hands in the air, probably did not help ease tensions either.
Daily filling the neighborhood with tear gas guarantees even those not on, in or near the streets too will suffer, including the frail elderly and tiny infants. There is no rigorous empirical research of which I am aware even remotely suggesting that police use of tear gas is among those crowd control measures endearing police to neighborhood residents.
Some observers also are questioning the racial diversity of local police forces. Most police officers patrolling African American neighborhoods are white. Ferguson reportedly has a large African American population, but only three African American police officers.
Of historic significance at the Governor’s press conference last weekend is an African American neighborhood resident’s plea that neighborhood residents be allowed to police their neighborhood rather than rifle-toting combat-clad police officers.
Calls for neighborhood policing have been ignored for decades. Many cities and towns hire as police officers and police chiefs persons not even residing within the cities and towns they patrol.
As the Governor correctly noted, the world is watching this crisis in American policing unfold. It appears the “creases” are more numerous and far deeper than many initially suspected.
Publisher’s Note: Dr. Sulton holds a doctorate degree in criminal justice and criminology. She also works as a trial lawyer.