You have probably heard of the recent chaos that is Ferguson. If you haven’t, I suggest you read this post. If you have, I suggest you read it anyways. I know this is totally non-book related, but I just had to get this out. Since I first heard of it more than a week ago, I keep reading bits and pieces of each side of the story, usually conflicting and confusing. I have yet to read something that breaks the whole situation down, and looks at both sides. I hope to do that here, and in the process sort out this tangle of thoughts and feelings I have about Ferguson. I am in no way an expert in any of this, but both sides of each point are taken from real arguments and points I have seen made.
Side 1: Michael Brown was a criminal and thug. He stole cigars from a convenience store and matched the description of the criminal. The cop who shot him feared for his life, and shot in self defense.
Side 2: Michael Brown was a 17-year-old boy who was about to be the first in his family to attend college. The security footage which is pointed to as evidence of him robbing the store has also been used to show he paid for them, or that it’s difficult to identify him in the video at all. Even if he had stolen the cigars, the penalty for theft is not death. Self defense is understandable, but Michael Brown was unarmed at the time, and was shot six times. According to one of the autopsies, one of those bullets entered the top of his head, indicating he was already face-down on the ground. Autopsies also showed he was not at close range (read: not dangerous) when he was shot. Also, why six potentially fatal bullets? A tazer or shot to the leg would have stopped him, without having to kill him.
Side 1: People started riots and looting after his death, and many used it as an excuse for violence. Force is necessary in return to keep order and protect the people.
Side 2: The majority of protesters were entirely peaceful, with only a handful who were violent in any way. Yet, SWAT and military trucks, assault rifles, and tear gas was brought out in full, threatening force. Many were held at gunpoint and arrested including media, and both tear gas and rubber bullets were fired on peaceful protesters. Also, some looting was out of need–such as protesters who broke into a McDonalds to get milk for those who had been hit with tear gas.
Side 1: They are trying to make everything about race. Why does no one care when it is black-on-white crime?
Side 2: Missouri, and specifically Ferguson, apparently has racism deeply embedded in its history. Many witnesses and protesters reported police officers and dispatchers calling them racial slurs when they tried to get information, or to talk peacefully. There is also a long precedent of police officers discriminating against those of color, and that has sometimes ended in tragedy, such as the recent death of Eric Garner who was choked to death by a police officer. They are making it about race because at least some part about it is, the world just doesn’t want to see it. (Also, have you noticed how few of the police officers are not white? I have only seen one man of color in the entire force.)
Side 1: Why don’t the media and protesters just go home? They are just stirring the pot. They want the attention and excitement.
Side 2: Yes, they could go home, but their problems wouldn’t go away. Maybe for the media–but it is the media’s job to show the world these things, especially the things that people try so hard to hide and keep from the public (such as the lies about tear gas and corralling media away from action). They have every right to protest, and they are angry. They want to be seen and heard, because they are tired of the way things are and they want change.
So far, I think those are the main controversies that I have observed (please point out anything I might have missed). From someone who is relatively detached from the situation and conflict, I find myself siding with the protesters. The police have lied, kept secrets, used unnecessary violence, shot rubber bullets at protesters, violated first amendment rights, and shot tear gas at peaceful protesters including children (and lied about it). For me, there are too many tallies against them that I have a hard time seeing their side, even when I look at the facts. And I did try to weigh both sides, and see how they might be justified.
But the truth is, none of this is. Even if Michael Brown had been a criminal who robbed a store and been shot by a cop acting in self defense, even if there were looters and rioters, even if they’re making this about race and trying to stir the pot, does not justify a police force that looks too much like an occupying army in an oppressive regime. Attacking unarmed and peaceful civilians? Taking away rights, violating the first amendment, and enforcing their rules with an iron fist?
Really, it makes me angry. How could we as humans do this? How could we let this happen? It makes me want to get there on the front lines and chant for justice right along with them.
It is shocking that this could ever happen, that it is still happening, and that we haven’t really done anything about it. And honestly, it is terrifying. To see how easily this did happen, how fragile our system and our little world is, and just how close we are to real life dystopia.
My thoughts and prayers are with those in Ferguson this week, and I really hope this gets resolved soon, for all of our sakes.
This video is a quick, factual, and clear breakdown of the situation and some of the factors behind it.
Also worth checking out: This news interview, these pictures, and this article.