Monday, August 11, 2014

It isn't Rocket Science Folks: On the Civil Unrest Following the Killing of Michael Brown by the Cowardly Thuggish Police in Ferguson, Missouri

On Sunday evening, there were acts of civil unrest in Ferguson, Missouri. These disturbances were in response to the killing of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, who was shot multiple times by a police officer and whose body was left laying in the street for several hours. Witnesses to the event reported that Michael was shot without reason. The officer apparently shot him many more times once his body was on the ground. The police, have as expected, concocted a wildly ridiculous story to cover up the misdeeds of one of their own.

In response to the civil unrest, the commentariot class issues the 1) requisite condemnation of the "rioters" and 2) acts as though there is some great mystery for why people would take to the streets, "confront" the police, and "loot" businesses in their own community. 

And of course, there will be an obligatory quote from Brother Doctor King that is taken out of context in order to condemn the "bad blacks" in Ferguson, Missouri.

The pressure to follow this public script is especially heavy for black and brown people.

I choose to deviate from those trite rhetorical norms. 

Black people are not allowed to be angry. Black people are also not allowed to show the full range of righteous anger and indignation that is common to the human experience. 

The outbreak of unrest in Ferguson was predictable and understandable. In fact, I am surprised that more communities which have been subjected to onerous, tyrannical, racist, classist, violent abuse by the police do not erupt in protest. 

Like New York and other major cities, the small town of Ferguson has a history of racial profiling and harassing its black residents.

The murder of Michael Brown is a proximate cause of the unrest in Ferguson. It is not the deeper systemic root of the protests. Here too, the news media on both the left and the right will focus on the symptoms--righteous anger and rage--as opposed to the cause (over-policing; the militarization of the police; police racism; social inequality).

The Kerner Commission Report in response to the urban unrest of the 1960s offered a diagnosis and several suggestions that would likely still apply today. For example, the report noted the following:
* The final incident before the outbreak of disorder, and the initial violence itself, generally took place in the evening or at night at a place in which it was normal for many people to be on the streets. 
* Violence usually occurred almost immediately following the oc­currence of the final precipitating incident, and then escalated rapidly. With but few exceptions, violence subsided during the day, and flared rapidly again at night. The night-day cycles con­tinued through the early period of the major disorders. 
* Disorder generally began with rock and bottle throwing and win­dow breaking. Once store windows were broken, looting usually followed. 
* Disorder did not erupt as a result of a single "triggering" or "precipitating" incident. Instead, it was generated out of an in­creasingly disturbed social atmosphere, in which typically a series of tension-heightening incidents over a period of weeks or months became linked in the minds of many in the Negro community with a reservoir of underlying grievances. At some point in the mounting tension, a further incident-in itself often routine or trivial-became the breaking point and the tension spilled over into violence. 
* "Prior" incidents, which increased tensions and ultimately led to violence, were police actions in almost half the cases; police actions were "final" incidents before the outbreak of violence in 12 of the 24 surveyed disorders.
Protests and civil unrest are part of the American cultural tradition: they are politics by other means. 

There is a large literature on the topic and many experts in sociology, history, psychology, and political science who could offer sharp and smart insights on the unrest in Ferguson. It is unlikely that they will be given an opportunity to speak on national TV or radio, or to write essays for major online magazines or websites.

The unrest in Ferguson, Missouri in response to the cowardly murder of Michael Brown by the local police fits neatly within a cultural narrative of black violence, black irrationality, black hyper-emotionalism, black crime, and white racial resentment. This is the dominant discursive frame for discussions of black suffering at the hands of the racial state and white police authority. It is a type of default "common sense" knowledge; to deviate from it would mark one as "irrational" or "irresponsible". Unfortunately, this rule results in lazy thinking and a Fourth Estate which has abandoned its responsibilities to monitor the powerful, and to properly educate and inform the citizenry.

What are your thoughts on the killing of Michael Brown and the civil unrest which occurred Sunday night?

I also have some questions and observations which I have listed below:

1. The cycle of police militarization is a predictable one. In many communities, the police act as though they are fighting insurgents in Iraq. The people respond in a predictable way. The police can then justify their militarization and thuggery. 

2. What about a national law requiring that police wear cameras at all times and that the data is continuously uploaded to a publicly accessible server which is monitored by an ombudsmen or citizens community police review board? This would cut down on frivolous lawsuits against the police. It would also provide some protection for citizens. I wonder why police unions do not support such a move...that question is meant to be facetious. 

3. Have you seen any serious people, i.e. professionals, academics, etc. who study social psychology, "riots", or protest behavior, quoted or interviewed on a major news network or other outlet about the murder of Michael Brown and the events in Ferguson? 

4. The pictures of the locations in Ferguson where civil unrest has taken place are depressing. Does every black "inner city" have the same dilapidated strip malls with hair extension and beauty supply stores, convenience stores, car parts and rims joints, check cashing stores, and fast food restaurants? Is this a zoning issue? A market demographics issue?

5. As a practical matter, when I see urban unrest I default to a worry about economic opportunity and infrastructure. Many areas in "urban America" are still demilitarized zones decades after the civil unrest of the 1960s. Ferguson will have fewer economic opportunities (and thus more anger, despair, and upsetness) following the cathartic release which is provided by public violence. This is a sad cycle of events.


Myshkin the Idiot said...

I can go several days sometimes weeks without ever seeing a police officer. They can't be everywhere in a rural county.

Sometimes when I do I get irrationally nervous, other times not so much. I couldn't imagine living in a community and being a person of color that was always considered suspicious and having police roll through every twenty minutes or hour. If that were the case in white communities, many more would be arrested for "resisting arrest" or other petty crimes, drug use, drug trafficking, domestic disturbances, but particularly drunk driving.

The shooting of Michael Brown just makes me sad. I feel like we hear about these things, brutality or state sanctioned murder practically everyday. As for the civil unrest, that is much less important than the death of Michael Brown and certainly doesn't justify his death and the policing of their community. I thought this was a more rural place, but of course Ferguson is on the north end of St.Louis, MO.

Impoverished white America has a similar dilapidated landscape. Homes and strip malls that fall into disrepair, in rural America it is just typically more spread out, I think. Where I live there are approximately 201 people per sq mile, while in St. Louis, MO there are about 5,140 people per square mile.

chauncey devega said...

Black and brown communities are treated as a hostile space to be occupied by a militarized police. White communities would never be treated with the disrespect, hatred, and violence the police show people of color.

galleymac said...

The UK is floating a possible initiative that will make all police officers wear cameras while on duty. It will be interesting to see if this sort of thing cuts down on race-based misconduct.

Miles_Ellison said...

If they were, it would stop quicker than you could say "civilian oversight".

chauncey devega said...

The thug cops were calling the citizens of Ferguson "animals" and trying to provoke violence. I said this on Twitter. I stand by it here. There are soldiers who get erections when shooting guns in combat and killing people. Some of them have been reported to have reached orgasm from shooting and killing. I bet there are cops in Ferguson and elsewhere--many ammosexuals too--who are responding the same way right now.

higla said...

Over 40 mil Black people in America,2.7 mil people in Jamaica. In 2012 police and security guards killed 313 Black people in the US. Between the year 2000 and 2012, 2200 people were killed by the Jamaican police..In 30 yrs of near civil war in Northern Ireland around 3500 people were killed,leaders from all over the world got involved trying to broker peace... Over 4000 murders in Jamaica in 3 yrs and silence..I am Jamaican and my people need help and the only thing that the power brokers of Jamaica pay attention to,is when outside forces shine a light on Jamaica..H E L P..

James Estrada-Scaminaci III said...

There is no doubt that the residents of Ferguson have long-standing grievances of maltreatment driven by racism by the city government, the school board, and the police. That said, the local and national NAACP, local black residents, and the family of Michael Brown have called for the rioting to stop. They do not want the narrative to be about the rioting.

The militarization of the police in America is the byproduct of the War on Drugs and the War on Terror. I've collected 31 articles on the problem, plus the book by libertarian author Radley Balko called Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America's Police Forces.

Generally, the organization, uniforms and equipment, weaponry, tactics, and mindset of the police and their Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) teams view their communities as "battle zones" or "battlefields," even in small cities with very little crime. The mindset of the police is such that citizens are viewed as insurgents or combatants. Look at the police in Albuqurque. And, if the community is black or brown, well, the effects are even more fatal and pernicious.

There is also an extensive right-wing literature on the militarization of the police and how they view it as a threat to themselves. They have incorporated this viewpoint into their movement.

Perhaps the technology of cameras would help, but communities need to bring their police under community and democratic control. Local communities need to assert that certain behaviors and tactics of the police will not be tolerated. This is an issue that could be used to generate a movement for one aspect of social change.

When I was doing intelligence work in Bosnia-Herzegovina, reform of the local police was a major initiative of the United Nations. It was vital that the police operated in a manner consistent with democratic ideals. It was imperative that citizens of different nationalities would interact and trust the police of a different nationality. That was not easily done, but it was the goal. We have the same problem here. Once the police and the community are divided from each other, crime flourishes, corruption grows, and the rule of law is fatally weakened. When people lose trust in the most basic function of government and the one most visible to citizens--the local police--you have a very serious crisis of legitimacy because the justice system is no longer seen as a venue to resolve legal issues.

This is a wake-up call for all of America.

joe manning said...

The right equates police authority with government and opposes both toward the furtherance of anarchy.

joe manning said...

Many metropolitan police departments operate as gangs and all but sign formal treaties with their local mob and gang counterparts. They routinely oppose citizen oversight commissions and public scrutiny of all kinds. Tipping points such as the Michael Brown case understandably set off riots within communities with high unemployment.

Wild Cat said...

Balko may be OK, one of the few Cato Institute Libertarians that may actually be a Libertarian, not a Republican bag man and racist like Rand Paul.

Mary Burrell said...

I wonder what are the thoughts of Michael Eric Dyson, Tavis Smiley, and Melissa Harris-Harris Perry? I will be following this conflict very closely. I wondered where were the sociologist and psychologist what are their perspectives on this conflict?

Mary Burrell said...

They left that poor young man's body on in street for several hours, that in itself is evil and hideous. I feel for his mother and loved one having to see that on social media. My heart is heavy.

Mary Burrell said...

That bully thug pig referred to the protesters as "animals" he is the one who is a animal. With that being said i feel that was a tactic by the thug pig to get the protesters riled up because they are blood thirsty and wanted to kill some more black people. And they want the media to see this so White America can agree that black people are not human.

Mary Burrell said...

@chauncey devega: I concur. I said this in my post up thread. I think those bastards get off on killing black people. I believe they get an erection off of killing and maiming black people.

Lkeke said...

Except they've been primed,just like everyone else, from decades of media indoctrination of thinking of Black people as violent animals that deserve to die for even the slightest infraction. Couple that with an authoritarian, law and order attitude, and you've got a grand trifecta for social disaster.

The Sanity Inspector said...

I'm concerned about the police department not releasing the name of the officer in question. Details like that are supposed to be public record--not "redacted" by the police as if they were the flippin' NSA!

The Sanity Inspector said...

Some private security guard firms in the U.S. already do that.

kokanee said...

It may be too late to save America through the legal route. Not much left to save anyway.

galleymac said...

I believe certain among their number get off on it regardless of the victim's skin color -- but they know they can get away with it -- hell, even lauded and praised -- when it's us.

kokanee said...

When I was doing intelligence work in Bosnia-Herzegovina, reform of the
local police was a major initiative of the United Nations. It was vital
that the police operated in a manner consistent with democratic ideals.
It was imperative that citizens of different nationalities would
interact and trust the police of a different nationality. That was not
easily done, but it was the goal. We have the same problem here. Once
the police and the community are divided from each other, crime
flourishes, corruption grows, and the rule of law is fatally weakened.
When people lose trust in the most basic function of government and the
one most visible to citizens--the local police--you have a very serious
crisis of legitimacy because the justice system is no longer seen as a
venue to resolve legal issues.

Wow! That was all he could say. Wow!

Dr. Reno said...

There is an old saying that goes "if you're looking for a fight any excuse will do," and that applies here. I can tell you who's at fault, brown grew up tempting the police to shoot him and it's just a matter of they finally took him up on his offer.
As far as "civil unrest," i.e., out and out theft, violence, etc, etc, and a dedicated intent to do as much damage as possible.
The bottom line is that the history of blacks, wherever they are is one of violence, hatred (for just about everything) and drug use... Brown was no different from the thousands of Somali pirates. With the exception that he picked a fight with the wrong bunch of uniforms.