In 1994, Congress passed a law that allowed military surplus equipment to be given to local police forces. This probably seemed like a good idea 20 years ago, though the inability to think this through is pretty appalling, especially since nowhere in this was it mandated that the police forces in question be trained
in how to use the stuff in a law-enforcement atmosphere.
Earlier this week, in Ferguson, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis, an unarmed teenager named Mike Brown was shot and killed by a police officer. It's certainly possible
that an unarmed teenager was a credible threat to an armed police officer, but I'm sorry if you have to use deadly force on an unarmed teenager, you are not qualified to do your job and should be relieved of it. Most cops go their entire career without even unholstering their service weapon outside the firing range or for maintenance. Firearms are the last resort, and an unarmed teenager is not a threat where last resorts should be gone to.
Anyhow, Brown is also African-American in a town that is 70% black, and the locals were understandably cranky on the subject of an unarmed black teenager being shot and killed. There was some rioting, but yesterday there was a peaceful demonstration in protest of the shooting. There were children at this protest.
The St. Louis County Police's response to this outrageous display of the Constitutional right to assembly was to show up in full riot gear with assault rifles and APCs -- generously provided from military surplus thanks to that 1994 law -- and point them at the demonstrators
. Several people on the ground reported that cops were telling people that they did have the right to assemble while the cop in question was pointing an assault rifle right at them
Look, I'm no kind of gun nut. I'd be happy if guns were eliminated from the world. But I also am realistic enough to know that that isn't happening, and that the fetishization of firearms in this country will keep that from ever happening. But if you're gonna have a weapon, you should goddamn well be trained in how to use it, and if you're pointing your weapon at a person, you're intending to shoot them. That's basic firearms discipline, and either these cops a) didn't know that or b) didn't care, and either case is scary as fuck.
And it didn't stop there. They fired tear gas into people's back yards, two reporters were arrested (here's Washington Post reporter Wesley Lowery's account of his warrantless arrest
), as was a St. Louis alderman, and they were telling people standing in their front yards to go home. They also told the media to stop filming, which they have no right to do.
We're not talking about a major city here, we're talking about a town of approximately 21,000 -- to put it in perspective, more than twice
that number of people live in my neighborhood
in the Bronx -- that has an average of one murder per year, and they have access to APCs and assault rifles. Because of this, they get to turn their town into a police state.
All this because one of their own shot an unarmed teenager. Supposedly, Mike Brown was reaching for the cop's gun, though he was shot from 35 feet away, which puts that story in a bit of doubt. Even if true, there are other recourses for dealing with such behavior that don't involve discharging your weapon.Missouri Governor Jay Nixon this morning finally took power away from the St. Louis County Police in Ferguson and giving it to state and federal authorities.
Let's hope this helps, but the damage has been done.I close with this very prescient This Modern World strip from the great Tom Tomorrow, which sums it all up nicely.
Current Mood: discontent
Current Music: "Slip Slidin' Away" by Simon & Garfunkel