by Ishmael Sistrunk
Special to the NNPA from the St. Louis American
In the world of sports, big, strong black Americans are cheered, celebrated and worshipped. GMs, scouts and fans fawn over an athlete’s height, weight, reach, speed, strength and agility. On the streets of Ferguson, the St. Louis metro area and all across America, those same attributes can be a death sentence.
When Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson decided to end the life of Michael Brown Jr., he did so with an excessive amount of force. No, the full details of what happened of what happened that fateful Saturday afternoon haven’t emerged, thanks to a County investigation shrouded in secrecy. The fact remains, however, that Brown, an unarmed black teenager, was shot at least six times, including twice in the head. He didn’t have a gun, a knife or any other weapon but was slain in the middle of the street, in broad daylight. To some, the 6-foot-4, 292 pound teenager’s size and skin color offer enough of an excuse to give the officer the benefit of the doubt.
The irony in this case, which has garnered global attention, has been the police response to protesters. The community is outraged by the killing of another young black man due to extremely excessive force by police officers. Somehow, the law enforcement officials charged with maintaining public safety in Ferguson still find it appropriate to demonstrate excessive force on a nightly basis.
West Florissant Ave. has become a war zone. Mine-resistant armored vehicles roam the streets. Police officers decked out in camouflage and riot gear aim automatic rifles at peaceful protesters. Sound cannons, tear gas, smoke bombs and rubber bullets are fired into massive crowds, all in the name of public safety despite the fact that it’s the public on the receiving end of these weapons of war. How can police officers expect to maintain peace by making residents stare into the barrels of high-powered weapons all day and night? A level of resentment already existed against law enforcement. The flexing of power certainly doesn’t help.
To be fair to the officers, there is certainly an element of danger lurking behind the peaceful protesters. Outside agitators have been present on the ground in Ferguson everyday, intent to causing conflict. They are a miniscule minority but one that poses concern for officer safety and public. That is understood. Still, it’s hard to believe that in 2014, with all the technological resources at hand, the law enforcement officials cannot identify and apprehend rogue agents without attacking thousands of innocent people.
Each time I’ve visited Ferguson in the wake of Michael Brown’s death and the ensuing looting, people have pointed out outside agitators to me, faces to be wary of. Police officers walk amongst the crowds during daylight hours. They have open dialogue with the brave peacekeepers who also risk their lives to protect the people and keep unrest at a minimum. Why are citizens and peacekeepers able to identify these individuals but the police cannot? It’s hard to believe that there’s no way to find and apprehend those behaving badly, but instead treat everyone as criminals.
In hostage situations, police officers are trained to protect innocent lives at all costs. In Ferguson, their tactics are akin to gunning down hostages in order to kill the kidnappers. It doesn’t make sense. Now the National Guard has been called onto the scene. Their job? Protect the police. Yes, the group with helicopters, high powered rifles, armored vehicles and a full militaristic arsenal gets military protection while the community is left to fend for itself.
Several of the nights tear gas was deployed, the instigating factor was reported to be plastic and/or glass bottles tossed at law enforcement. Should protesters be throwing those items? Absolutely not? But do we as a society really believe the proper response by trained police personnel is to fire weapons at everyone? Man, woman, young, old, black, white, peaceful, militant are all grouped into one and the mindset of law enforcement is ‘us against them.’
That’s the mindset that got us into this situation in the first place. There’s a strange and dire disconnect between police and the people they are sworn to protect. Monday afternoon another young, black male was shot and killed by police, this time in the City of St. Louis. Police and witnesses reported the man was approaching officers with a knife drawn. There is not the same outrage as in the case of
Brown because to their credit, St. Louis Metropolitan police were transparent and timely in their reports. In a legal sense, the shooting appears to have been justified. Still, one has to wonder why a taser wasn’t used instead of lethal force. Different killing, same narrative.
Force is all these officers seem to understand. Mike Brown already paid the ultimate price of this policing strategy. How many more lives must be lost before we find a better way to protect and serve.