Location: Ferguson, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis
The FBI report showed that Brown was shot at least six times in the front of his body.
How it started: On Aug. 9, Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson shot 18-year-old Michael Brown at least six times, killing the teenager. Wilson claims that Brown assaulted him and then went for the officer’s weapon, prompting him to open fire. However, eyewitnesses say that Brown was shot in the back with his hands above his head in surrender. An official FBI autopsy showed that Brown was shot six times in the face and front of his arm and torso.
What’s happening now: Yesterday was only the second night peaceful night in Ferguson since Brown’s death. The incident caused violent riots to bring the city into national attention. Most of these riots take place at night, and only two of those nights have been peaceful. Rioters are also looting local businesses, setting fires and throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails at police. In return, police officers used tear gas and intimidation to disperse crowds.
While the riots are the most publicized part of Ferguson, they don’t tell the whole story. The riots happen at night; during the day, locals march in peaceful protests around the city, begging for answers in the ensuing FBI investigation and criminal trial. Over 90 percent of the violent rioters come from outside of Ferguson and are suspected to be focusing on issues besides Brown’s death.
Why should you care?
The catalyst for the riots in Ferguson was racism. Ferguson is a small, predominantly African-American community with a police force that is mostly white. Brown’s death has turned the community’s attention to the possibility of violent race problems in the local police system.
Racism is the most obvious issue to discuss in the Ferguson crisis, mostly because it is an easy question to answer. Is racism bad? Absolutely. Should a police officer or any other public official be punished for racism, especially when it results in a death? Of course.
Let’s skip the easy questions, and move on to several issues that are less obvious than race.
Is our police force overly militarized?
As the riots raged in Ferguson, local police officers responded with SWAT teams and armored vehicles. The streets of the St. Louis suburb resembled a war zone, with the heavily-armed police attempting to control the protesters.
The issue of police militarization in America began when the war in Iraq ended and police began to receive surplus equipment. This allows small town police departments to acquire tanks or SWAT teams — even if they don’t need them.
Should the police be heavily armed? Definitely not in smaller communities, such as Prairie Village. But what about in cities like New York City or Detroit, who might come up against large-scale crime?
In the end, police militarization should be kept to a minimum. In a crisis situation such as Ferguson, police simply won’t have the training or the expertise to react appropriately, and increased weaponry won’t help them at all. Bringing in the professionals will defuse the situation and make sure it is handled effectively.
Can First Amendment rights be restricted in a crisis?
Three journalists have been jailed for covering the news. An Al Jazeera America broadcast crew was teargassed while attempting to film coverage. Police repeatedly try to push reporters back from the front lines at Ferguson for their “protection.”
The only way for the American people to experience what is happening in Ferguson is for journalists to give honest, accurate reports from the front lines. Yet the authorities in Ferguson insist upon trying to muzzle the press.
A free press is a necessity for a free society. At the end of the day, how much of our press freedoms are we willing to give up for a return to peace? That is a question that Americans will have to weigh the most heavily in the next few days.