Ferguson

imagesAs a blogger, I’m required to comment on Ferguson.

I’ve read that 65% of blacks polled believe the police overreacted to the protests. This shocked me. I thought: were those other 35% stoned?

But seriously: of course police overreacted, making a bad situation worse.* And gratuitously busting on journalists? Do those policemen think this is Russia or China?

Why did President Obama not go to Ferguson? Shame on him.

Police forces represent a Faustian societal bargain. To protect us, we arm them, while recognizing this can turn around and bite us. Not a concern if police were saints, but alas most are human, and worse, police work too often attracts the wrong sort for the wrong reasons. So cops must be kept on tight leashes by civilian authorities (in a free society, as opposed to a police state).

images-1Modern technology could help on a lot of problems. In Rialto, California, after cops were equipped with cameras recording interactions, their use of force declined 60% and citizen complaints 88%. But law enforcement generally seems stubbornly resistant to such advancements. Ferguson actually has the cameras – but hasn’t deployed them. Police still do not routinely videotape interrogations and confessions, sources of so much subsequent repercussion. Nor do they routinely test DNA. In fact, police and prosecutors often fight tooth and nail to prevent DNA tests. Because they’d rather punish an innocent than be proven wrong.**

All this is exacerbated by the militarization of the police. America has the posse comitatus legal principle barring use of the army to enforce local law. Yet now the police are turning into another army. images-2True, sometimes they’re met with bad guys toting serious weapons. But we read about local cops in a small town patrolling a pumpkin festival in an armored personnel carrier. Ferguson police behaved like an occupying army going into battle.

U.S. cops killed 409 people last year. In Britain and Japan — zero. The difference is chiefly due to the ubiquity of guns in America; police are always worrying the guy they confront has a gun, and act accordingly.

Looming over everything is the drug war. The illegality of drugs is key to the big-time criminality that is the police’s greatest challenge (just like in an earlier era, Prohibition gave birth to America’s organized crime). Race relations – and particularly relations between minorities and police – are poisoned by the high arrest and incarceration rate experienced by minorities. And that too is a direct fallout of the drug war.

images-3So is police militarization – it’s not only because police think they need heavy duty weaponry against the most extreme drug criminals, nor just because the Pentagon has been handing out surplus military kit. Under the pretext of the drug war, U.S. police forces have been on a rampage of confiscations and forfeitures, of cash and other kinds of property. I’ve written about this scandal. Any property police say they suspect may possibly have something to do with drugs can be seized, without them having to prove a thing. (Forget the Fourth Amendment!) images-6In many cases police get to keep what they grab (a big incentive factor). And this has filled the coffers of local police forces with a flood of lucre, with which they can splurge out fulfilling their testosterone-fueled fantasies with military-style toys.

Legalizing drugs might cause some harm, but not remotely approaching the harm done by keeping them illegal. The insane drug war’s damage to America is beyond calculating.

*Gene O’Donnnell of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice says, “It is hard to point to anything that Ferguson police did [after the Brown shooting] that was not wrong.” (But in the same mentioned poll, only 33% of whites thought police overreacted.)

** Thus often leaving at large the true culprit, who goes on to commit further crimes.

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10 Responses to “Ferguson”

  1. Wolfgang Kurth Says:

    While we are on the tropic of guns, I heard this morning about the nine-year-old girl who, while being taught how to shoot an Uzi, accidentally killed her gun instructor WITH HER PARENTS in full view.
    Excuse me?
    Can anyone explain to me why a nine year old girl of slight build would be handed an Uzi, especially without the rapid fire disabled, and told to shoot it? Did they really think a 50 or so pond girl could control a sub-machine gun in rapid fire mode? Did they not consider that, when this thing went off, her first reaction would be to grip the trigger tighter, rather than letting go? I, at 170 lbs, who have shot plenty of guns would be fearful that I might not be able to control that weapon.
    Or rather, let’s examine a different aspect: Why would anyone feel that their nine-year-old needs to learn how to fire an Uzi? Bragging rights at school? So she will be ready when armageddon comes? Or perhaps so when classmates tease her about some trivial matter on facebook she can bring the gun to school and blow everyone away?
    I have little sorrow for the gun instructor who has just made himself another candidate for the Darwin awards, but just think of how this event will affect this girl for the remainder of her life. Her parents, OTOH, I feel should be prosecuted for negligence. It is just sad that we cannot also prosecute people for abject stupidity.
    Wolfgang

  2. poetryaboutart Says:

    I’m proud of you. Well-said.

    ZERO?!

    Zero people were killed by cops in Britain and Japan?

    How can this be?

    (”kit” may need to,be corrected to ”kits”)

    luv, wifey

  3. Richard Follette Says:

    We do not live in nation of our birth anymore.

    China and Russia? Morally, much worse.

    Nice article.

  4. rationaloptimist Says:

    Wolf: while gun enthusiasts say they want guns to protect themselves against bad guys, the fact is that the vast, vast majority of firings of guns owned by such gun enthusiasts kill their loved ones.
    Poetry: Yes, zero. This was highlighted in The Economist. (Which also regularly uses the word “kit” as I did, meaning equipment.)
    Richard: America morally worse than China and Russia? Really? Clean your glasses.

  5. EriK Says:

    Wolf,
    I know it’s an understatement (and moot at this point) but clearly the instructor did not have (in the words of blogger Stephen Green) “the judgement necessary for a gun instructor.”

    Cameras can and do protect cops doing their jobs. A (not very) recent case in Albany comes to mind.

  6. rationaloptimist Says:

    People who know they are being filmed behave differently.

  7. Jorg Lueke Says:

    Agree with you on all this

  8. Andrew Semeiks Says:

    I agree with your comments on overreach and militarization of the police. As to the racial divide underlying Ferguson and that you previously have written about, my thoughts keep coming back to the 40 acres and a mule program for the freed slaves after the civil war and how it was quickly taken away because it showed favoritism. Race divisions run deep.

    Not to point out his shortcomings again, but President Obama is now like a deer caught in headlights. He would have been, and will be, criticized no matter what actions he took, or not took, in Ferguson. This shows again his lack of experience, now political ineptness, lack of a strong team of advisors, and lack of real connections to the Congress. On a related note, why hasn’t he called Congress back to gain their advice and consent on problems in Iraq and the Levant? All of his recent and current actions should be with an eye to the upcoming Congressional elections. This is not lame political activity but steps to muster public support for his policies.

  9. rationaloptimist Says:

    I previously pointed out how bizarre it was that Obama said he needed a Congressional vote before pinprick action in Syria last year, yet this year has mounted a far bigger operation against the Islamic State without a whisper about any Congressional vote. Why has he not made a major prime time address to the nation about the Islamic State situation, which is in fact huge? This is part of a President’s job. Obama seems to have an “I can’t be bothered” attitude.

  10. bruce Says:

    I still believe Obama had the greatest chance in history of calming the racial divide. Maybe some one like Ben Carson would fair better?
    To be fair Obama entered in an economy that skewed wickedly against the hard to enter the work force crowd. A slight shift toward greater personal responsibility and a strong economy and Ferguson doesn’t happen.
    It might take several generations but there is always hope.

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