As Ferguson Burns, Heavy-Handed Police Tactics Are Only Escalating The Situation

Ferguson, Missouri, is burning to the ground, as protests and riots continue to rock the St. Louis suburb following the shooting death of unarmed black teenager Mike Brown. The situation is getting worse by the day, according to the L.A. Times, and the police response has been nothing short of draconian: tear-gas and rubber bullets used against peaceful protesters; a no-fly zone over the city (see this Inquisitr article); and the arrest of journalists covering the story (USA Today).

While some have defended the police in Ferguson (see this Inquisitr article), others aren't so quick to give them praise.

Tear Gas And Rubber Bullets Against Peaceful Protesters

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

Let us be clear here: There is a fine line between "peaceably assemble" and "engage in violent unrest," and at certain points in the past few days, that line has been crossed in Ferguson. Not just crossed, but jumped over, stomped upon, and burned. Some of the protests have devolved into looting (KSDK), and the police are simply doing their duty in protecting the homes and businesses of those targeted by the violent protesters. Similarly, the police have the right to defend themselves if they're being attacked.

But as Vocativ reports, police are deploying tear gas and rubber bullets against peaceful protesters. The vast majority of the protesters have simply held their hands above their heads -- a sign of solidarity with Mike Brown, who allegedly had his hands above his head, signifying compliance, when he was shot. And when a dozen or so armed police bear down, weapons drawn, on a single man walking with his hands above his head, the message of the police is no longer "We are here to serve and protect." The message is, "We are at war with you, and you will lose."

Image via The Guardian
Image via The Guardian

"No-Fly Zone"

Image via Think Progress
Image via Think Progress

On Tuesday, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) declared a no-fly zone over Ferguson, ostensibly "to provide a safe environment for law enforcement activities." NBC News reports that, according to police spokesperson Brian Schellman, police helicopters had come under fire.

"On Sunday night our police helicopter came under fire on 3 or 4 occasions, so we requested that the FAA put up a no-fly zone for the safety of pilots who would be in the area."

However, Annie-Rose Strasser of Think Progress says such a claim can most charitably be described as "suspicious." In reviewing the history of the FAA granting no-fly zones, civil unrest does not come up in the list of reasons; rather, no-fly zones are granted to assist with firefighting operations, when a V.I.P. (for example, the President or a foreign dignitary) is flying through the area, or, in the case of a no-fly zone over New Mexico, to keep aircraft safe from explosive testing on the ground.

What's most troubling about Ferguson's no-fly zone is the effect, intended or otherwise, of keeping news helicopters from filming what's happening on the ground. Which leads to the next point.

Journalists Arrested

Two reporters -- Wesley Lowery of The Washington Post and Ryan J. Reilly of The Huffington Post -- were arrested for the apparent crime of not leaving a McDonald's fast enough. In a message posted on his Facebook profile, Reilly reports that he is fine.

"I'm fine. But if this is the way these officers treat a white reporter working on a laptop who moved a little too slowly for their liking, I can't imagine how horribly they treat others."

Arresting reporters for reporting news that the authorities would rather keep quiet is a tactic most often employed in places like Afghanistan or Iran, not Missouri. Regardless, the Ferguson police have sent a very clear message to reporters: Stop covering this news, or face arrest.

As in all civil unrest situations, there are no quick and clear solutions to the problems going on in Ferguson. No amount of protesting, whether peaceful or violent, is going to bring Mike Brown back from the dead. But, wounds can heal, order can be restored, and trust can be regained, if and only if the right steps are taken.

First, the police in Ferguson need to stand down. If, and only if, someone's life, liberty, or property is in imminent danger, they need to back away from the peaceful protesters so their [the protesters'] voices can be heard.

Most importantly, though, is this: The Ferguson Police Department needs to release the name of the officer who shot Mike Brown, and hold him or her accountable.

Interestingly, a few hours before this post, Anonymous claimed, via Twitter, to have identified the officer in the Mike Brown shooting.

NOTE: As of this post, this information has not been independently verified; always take anything Anonymous claims with more than a few grains of salt.

Only two people know exactly what happened to Mike Brown: one of them isn't talking, and the other is in his grave. The truth of what happened may never come out, and what is done can't be undone. But to brutally and systematically oppress those calling for accountability for his death, and to try to hide the truth of the matter from the light of media, is appalling. It's indefensible. It's un-American. And it's immoral.

[Image courtesy of: Business Insider]