The most shocking footage from Ferguson, Missouri in the past two weeks hasn’t been from the loots, protests or riots that took place two weekends ago. Instead, the images depict what the police are doing. Image after image shows officers clad in camouflage helmets and vests, carrying automatic rifles and tear gas, using them against groups of demonstrators and journalists — even if they were acting civilly.
For many watching, the scenes of armored vehicles rolling through the small town street, and clouds of tear gas are not things anyone would picture happening in America — much less the heart of the Midwest.
This might be permissible if Ferguson was a war zone, or if protesters were excessively violent. But despite the brief spell of rioting and looting, Ferguson police aren’t dealing with any substantial danger. They are treating residents, protesters and journalists as a population to occupy, not citizens to protect.
While police are trying to prevent violent behavior, the Harbinger believes that police officers should be a peacekeeping force, and should not be armed with or use military-grade weapons against civilians. There is a difference between a police response and a military response, and the two should be kept separate.
Further, certain policies such as better training and more accountability for officers need to be revised or instilled in order to promote peaceful behavior by police and greater respect of their authority by citizens. In order for police to be deserving of respect, citizens need to feel like their best interests are being protected, not attacked.
Protesting continued in the streets of Ferguson for two weeks, Since the shooting of Michael Brown, a black teenager, by a police officer. The protests were centered on suspected racism on the part of local law enforcement.
The Huffington Post reports that police interrupted a peaceful protest with cans of tear gas without warning or provocation from crowds two Sundays ago. Among those injured in the assault was an 8-year-old boy and a woman in a wheelchair.
In this case, the violence was coming from the police officers, not the protesters.
In another confrontation, an MSNBC reporter was threatened by a police officer that he would be shot in the face when the officer mistakenly thought his iPhone camera light was on. CNN reports that 11 journalists have been arrested during the two-week period of unrest, even after President Barack Obama defended journalists’ rights to report the events in Ferguson last Monday.
While police officers have a duty to protect the citizens of Ferguson, their tactics and motives have been questionable. Detaining journalists on scanty evidence, teargassing peaceful protesters and interfering with the public’s right to assemble and protest are not among those duties.
Through these actions, the police force in Ferguson is not effectively targeting the looters and rioters that are causing the violent problems, but are directing a majority of their aggression to those that are exercising their rights lawfully and civilly.
However, steps need to be taken by both officers and citizens, to create peace and cooperation.
Open dialogues between police and local neighborhoods need to take place to create cooperative relationships, and also help to solve issues before they become conflicts.
Also, as proposed by Missouri senator Claire McCaskill, body cameras for officers would help to keep them honest, accountable and in check, adding more consequences for unnecessary actions. Unlike in the Michael Brown shooting, there could actually be concrete evidence to determine what happens when circumstances are questionable.
Better training on conflict and resolution for officers could also help reduce the amount of situations that turn violent.
However, citizens do need to recognize and respect that police officers have authority and are there to protect them. We need to be cooperative with law enforcement and let the system work, in order for tension to de-escalate.
It is a give and take system. We need to respect it, but law enforcement needs to show that they deserve that respect as well.
Everyone can learn a lesson from the situation in Ferguson. In a country that promotes democracy and peace, every extension of that government needs to make sure it is following the very principles it was founded on. Our government exists for the purpose of creating a place where citizens can trust and respect the system that is put in place to protect us. And that is the way it must stay.